The first week of July 2016 has started on a fiery note. Harare, Beitbridge and Bulawayo have been burning.
Questions have been asked about the faces of the people or individuals behind the general July people’s protests and the 6 July stay away. Some sectors of the society, for their own interests have begun to dishonestly ascribe to some social media characters these obvious results of general resentment against the bad governance in Zimbabwe. They have chosen to ignore that touts can organise themselves, and likewise cross-border trades do not need social media prodding to agitate their grievances. The same with civil servants who had virtually had a months’ salary taken away from them by the Ministry of Finance.
The July protests by Zimbabweans were organic. That is the answer. At Beitbridge, informal traders were incensed after the Ministry of Industry and Commerce issued SI 64/2016, also cited as the Control of Goods (Open General Import Licence) (No.2) (Amendment) Notice, 2016 (No.8) on 17 June 2016. The statutory instrument (SI 64/2016) is a law which seeks to control the import of basic goods and foodstuffs into the country. The merits or demerits of the SI are not the subject of this opinion. However, it cannot be doubted that people were not consulted. Hence the major grievance seemed to have been on lack of consultation and adequate notice from the government. Due to its usual disregard of the people’s views, the government got its just deserts when the border town of Beitbridge burned.
With the heat from Beitbridge still on, touts and public transport operators staged some powerful protests in Harare and Bulawayo, notably in the poor, working class suburb of Epworth, just outside eastern Harare. Epworth is a community which lies in the forgotten periphery of the capital city, and is usually associated with prostitution, school dropouts and crime. This is also a community which is not really the territory for social media activisms and where there is virtually little to no Wi-Fi availability. But where people suffer the worst of economic crisis. It is a community where the majority of unemployed youths, decided to say enough s enough and to face down the ever-worsening harassment by traffic police on combis, which was their main source of livelihood.
Whilst these protests were ranging, civil servants were mobilising for strike against lack of payment of June wages by the government. Organisations such as the Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ) had been calling for action since the day the salary postponement was announced (which incredibly was the same day SI 64/2016 was gazetted). Likewise, the youth coalition/movement known as #Tajamuka had been fearlessly leading protest-actions from the front, at bank queues and at courts.
Media bosses and fear for radical actions
Now despite the actions by these various organics groups and movements, it shocking when on the day after the stayaway, the private press have decided to ascribe the people’s efforts to have been caused by a mere call from a certain social media character. The intention behind that is obvious and shall be analysed here.
They try to water down radical protest and place moderate characters as front men, denying credit to the grassroots. The Daily News and Newsday editions of 07 July 2016, have gone at length to claim that the recent 06 July #ZimShutDown2016 / #ZimbabweShutDown / #ShutDownZim action was called by people whose recent disregard for vibrant protest and whose efforts at demobilising and dismissing visible ground protests by groups like #Tajamuka, opposition parties and the general populace have been well known and well documented. Genuine people and their grievances as well as the frontline actions of organic movements like #Tajamuka are deliberately and shockingly being side-lined.Most of the private press in Zimbabwe is owned by business interests. These interests, no matter how they may try to support pro-democracy activism, themselves fear the rise of anti-capitalist sentiments. They feel threatened themselves when they witness organic movements calling for the burning of business and private property. This is because media bosses also attend meetings and play gold with fellow business executives from targeted sectors. In addition, media bosses also invest in various businesses such as in the transport and supermarket sectors.
In a nutshell, through it is good to acknowledge the power of social media, it is also pertinent that we do not forget the most factual conclusion that can be carried away from the events of these weeks. The fact is that it is the people’s actions on the ground that can shake a system, i.e., the vibrant actions of ordinary people who rise up and express genuine grievances against, among other things, police harassment, corruption and the exploitative taste for lavish living by government elites. It can never be sole twitter and social media activisms that can uproot a system. Social media activism is good, but only when it supplements vibrant action on the ground.
At the other end, throughout history, the private press and the state media have almost always tried to hijack or distort people’s efforts. This is due to considerations for profit-making, politics as well as the protection of private business interests and property. However, history will be the judge. Bravo, the ordinary people of Zimbabwe and those in foreign lands who are in solidarity.