Zimbabwean demonstrators, many who had come from other regions of the UK, gathered at Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester on 13th May 2017. The demonstration was one of the cross-country series of protests for #Take2Zimbabwe lined up by Zimbabwe Human Rights Organisation (ZHRO), Restoration Of Human Rights Zimbabwe (ROHR) and Zimbabwe Citizens Initiative (ZCI). This was the third of those planned for this year, after those held in London on the 18th and Birmingham on the 22nd of April.
The main goals of these demonstrations is to fight for the right to vote, to highlight corruption, and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans working together in groups are getting involved and uniting through working in partnerships, hoping that these non-violent protests will turn into voting rights, recognitions of human rights and ultimately, a real democracy.
Reports on possible amendments to the constitution have also angered many Zimbabweans, especially the Diaspora who should be credited with keeping the country’s economy afloat through remittances. The anger emanates from the recent announcement by the Registrar General, Tobaiwa Mudede, that he intends to abolish dual citizenship.
On the list of demands, speakers from these organisations criticised intimidation and violence and encouraged the protection of protesters as per the constitution.
Speaking at the event, ROHR Zimbabwe’s organising secretary for the UK chapter, Delina Mutyambizi expressed the need for Zimbabweans to unite saying;
“It is time for us now, as citizens of Zimbabwe, to find each other and come together as one to fight together for the best Zimbabwe we want. The current government has spent the entire 37 years violating our human rights. We have to stand up now and fight for the restoration of our dignity as a Nation”
We are asking the Zimbabwean people, friends and partners to rise up and challenge our government to restore human rights. Zimbabweans need to stand up and be counted to create democracy for ourselves, our children and future generations. That includes exercising the freedom to demonstrate in a free world like the UK, even if ZANU (PF) will be getting the messages through social media. ZANU (PF) has outlived many predictions of the their demise, in 2008 and then in 2013, therefore if we lose focus, it will be vindicated for its strategy of using violence and intimidation whilst making no political compromises on human rights, electoral reforms and democracy.Electoral reforms can shape prospects for a peaceful election by reducing pre-election violence which can translate to promoting peace and democracy.
The demonstration included flaunting leaflets that read “What independence?” signifying that Zimbabwe was not yet independent.
During the event, demonstrators also cited some of the most recent reports of violence and attacks on human rights defenders, civil society activists, and journalists.There were other activists groups gathered at the venue and John Burke of ZHRO was given a platform to share the Zimbabwe situation. He told the several hundreds of protesters who were waving Syrian, Palestinian, and Zimbabwean flags about the ongoing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. “I feel that most English citizens would support upholding human rights in Zimbabwe if they were made fully aware of the real situation and not the soft propaganda peddled out by the regime”
ZHRO recruited at least 10 new members whilst more than 40 members signed the attendance register. The political parties that included Build Zimbabwe Alliance (BZA) signed their own register and manyothers may not have signed.
“Zimbabwe is due to hold elections in 2018 and what we want is a democratic Zimbabwe regardless of who is in power. I am here because I cannot be in my own country, let us keep fighting this evil regime” said one new recruit.
ZHRO’s marketing director who was the Master of Ceremony (MC), Mable Kayiya said; “We’re appealing to the Zimbabwean community in the UK, to come stand with us as one, on issues and matters where there is almost complete unanimity – betrayal of the promise of independence, justice for Gukurahundi victims and their kith and kin, no more stolen elections and a demand to uphold and respect our constitutional, civic and human rights”
Rashiwe Bayisayi who led the drum and percussion said; “Mugabe and his regime should go to save Zimbabwe. As ZHRO, we call upon every citizen to rise up and fight for our right to vote in the Diaspora. We want change of governance in Zimbabwe”.
The rhythmic chants by the protesters included “Mugabe must go to save Zimbabwe”, and “Together Stronger” People should have the right to take a stand and to protest because it is a way of giving a voice to those with no platform or privilege. ZANU (PF) has been and is renowned for using epressive means to stifle dissent. Social movements have become a threat to ZANU (PF). Direct repression of social movements and political opponents using the youths and police exists in every part of the country.
These protest have become part of a wider political struggle in Zimbabwe as they have been seen to inspire the advancement of human rights in some parts of the world. For example, protest have been instrumental in forcing the introduction of most freedoms that now exist in many Western liberal democracies like the UK. A non-violent direct action against ZANU (PF) can play a vital role in ending it’s ruthlessness, and ultimately extending rights to the majority Zimbabweans.
The issue of seeking treatment in Singapore, by the state president, shunning the institutions that he presides over was brought up towards the end by activist and artist Sylvanos Mudzwova.
Although the protest movements in Zimbabwe have not achieved all their goals, they have managed to capture the Zimbabweans’ imaginations and have encouraged the development of an engaged and informed citizenry through the use of social media.
The Zimbabwe government has tried to limit the effectiveness of these protest movements by shutting down the social media. ZANU (PF) must stop criminalising dissent and we should be able to tell our government that something needs changing without reprisals as enshrined in the nternational human rights law.
Apart from being the medium for enabling protests to take place, the social media, particularly Facebook and WhatsApp have also become a platform for protest.
The social media has offered new opportunities to social movements in Zimbabwe and is now being widely used, to share ideas, views and opinions, to express dessent and grievances, to expose the flaws of the ZANU (PF) regime and to publicly demand that they correct the problems that the country is facing and to try and make them accountable for their actions.