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Deadwood cabinet stokes the fire of public ire in Zimbabwe

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Zimbabwe, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Human Rights, International Relations, Politics, Protest, Women & Gender

Facing unrelenting pressure for change, Zimbabwe's beleagured leader, Robert Mugabe [1], reshuffled his cabinet two weeks ago, but did little to aleviate the suffering of a nation that has been ravaged by a porous leadership and failing economy. The reshuffle, which wasn't much of a reshuffle, only saw one minister dismissed [2], and has now been appropriately dubbed a “deadwood reshuffle [3].”

Right on cue, Zimbabwe's longsuffering people took their disapproval of the new cabinet and hyperinflation to the streets during valentine's week. First it was the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) [4] and their male counterparts that took Zimbabwe's baton happy police by surprise with a demonstration on the eve of Valentine's. The last four times they held their Valentine's day march, it has been on the 14th of February. This was the first time that men joined WOZA in the march.

In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, around a thousand people turned out for the demonstration which went uninterrupted until the end when the police pounced on the demonstrators with their usual brutality. In Harare, where the crowd was twice as large, there was a little more drama [5].

The peaceful demonstration then moved on to Parliament, singing in Shona, ‘your term is up – you have stayed too long’. As the group neared the entrance, riot police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. Initially the crowd retreated but then bravely regrouped, stood their ground and threw back the tear gas canisters; hitting the Parliament walls and sending those watching from the parliament balcony scurrying back into the building.

Almost 250 people were arrested as a result. Most of these have since been released without any charges [6].

Just two days later, a loose coalition of MDC [7] supporters and members of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) were back out on Harare's streets. These last two demonstrations are unique in that in both cases demonstrators retaliated against police violence,

One of the demonstrators said: “What happened was as we were approaching XIMEX Mall near the main Post Office, the police pounced on MP Madzimure and then as we were trying to rescue him the police tried to resist and we had no option but to inflict a bit of pain so that they would release him.”

He elaborated; “What they had done to the MP is exactly what we did to them. Unfortunately, maybe they felt more pain than our MP.”

This is the second time this week that angry protestors have retaliated against police brutality. On Tuesday the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) staged mass protests in Harare and Bulawayo marking their 5 th Valentines Day and distributing the People’ Charter. WOZA coordinator Jenni Williams, who was with the protestors in Harare said they were confronted by riot police who fired teargas canisters at them but the activists threw the tear gas canisters back in defiance.

People in Zimbabwe are not happy about the status quo. Mugabe's government is dealing with a nation in which doctors, nurses, teachers, college students, and the opposition have either been on strike or have staged street demonstrations in the last weeks. The tide is certainly turning.

All this culminated in an on again-off again rally by Morgan Tsvangirai [8] and his faction fo the MDC on Sunday afternoon in Harare's Highfield suburb. Certainty on whether the rally was going to happen was up in the air until the last minute as the MDC wrangled with the police over whether they could have the rally. Under the oppressive Publice Order and Security Act (POSA), it is an offense to hold a public gathering without prior police sanction. The lastest information on hand is unclear as to whether rally went on or not [9].

As if his problems at home are not enough, Robert Mugabe also endured two incidences that confirmed his increasing isolation among the world's diplomats. First was the Chinese premier who skipped Zimbabwe on his whirlwind tour of Africa [10] meant to solidify China's business relations with the continent. This despite Mugabe's touted “look east policy” which has seen Mugabe seek to economic help from the far east after western nations cut off much of their aid to his government. As if that was not enough, it emerged late last week that France did not invite Mugabe [11] to the France-Africa summit in Cannes.

This government is in dire straits.