The date July 6 2016 marked a turning point in the history of Zimbabwe. The citizens of an angry nation staged a mass stay-away, with most businesses in the capital, Harare, closed, in protest at the government’s utter failure to deal with the rampant corruption, injustice and poverty that have crippled the country.
A few months ago, this would have been unthinkable: from beatings, rape and torture, to demolitions, arson and forced disappearances, the Zanu-PF-led government has long mastered the violent art of silencing dissent. But this time, something is different. Something has snapped in the national psyche. The people are fed up, and tired of being afraid.
Shortly after Zimbabwe’s independence day earlier this year, agonized by the humiliation of not being able to afford my kids’ school fees I posted a video to YouTube. Little did I imagine how raw a nerve my sentiments would hit.
Since that video was posted, thousands of fellow citizens have demonstrated their disregard for the regime’s tried-and-tested methods of shutting down any criticism. This is the #ThisFlag movement! Through it, Zimbabweans have given vent to an urge long suppressed to demand what is rightfully theirs. This demand is neither new nor alien to Zimbabweans.
Patson Dzamara, who has gone to great lengths to find his missing brother, and Jestina Mukoko, who has suffered torture in defence of her political beliefs, are just two of the many whose courage, and sacrifices give us strength.
Tragic stories have emerged. Vegetable vendors forced to sleep on the streets because they can’t afford the 50 cents to take a bus home. Citizens pushed into servitude across our borders because there are no jobs in our country. Millions of mothers and fathers whose savings and pensions were wiped out by the 2008 government-engineered economic crisis. Millions more who have not had stable electricity or running water in over a decade. Uncounted thousands who have lost a relative to a curable disease because hospitals lack antibiotics.
Our message is simple: we are fed up.
We are fed up with a government that bulldozes anyone and anything that questions its kleptocratic rule. We are frustrated by a government that is utterly dismissive of the plight of its citizens. We are disgusted by our vice-president, Phelekezela Mphoko, who spent $400 a night of our money living in a five-star hotel for over a year and a half because the $3.5m mansion offered to him as his official residence was “not good enough”.
We are outraged by the brazenness of a government that refuses to account for $15bn of diamond revenues that mysteriously disappeared, while a quarter of the population is at risk of starvation.
Through years of looting the public purse, brutalizing the opposition, criminalizing dissent and destroying the social fabric of the country through colonial-style forced urban removals, Zanu PF has gutted the nation. While our country is falling to pieces, the ruling party, led by the 92-year-old Robert Mugabe, is itself disintegrating in a vicious succession battle.
We are fed up of being treated as a helpless nation – fit only for conditional loans and food aid. Our mineral resources are bounteous: some say Zimbabwe has the highest natural resource wealth per capita of any country on Earth. Our people are creative and resourceful. Our destitution is inexcusable.
Pushed to the brink, we are also tired of being afraid – a fear on which the regime has thrived since it first carried out mass killings to quash dissidents shortly after our independence. On 6 July 2016 we issued a call to shut down the country.
We need the solidarity of the global community, and draw strength from the fight for human progress everywhere: from Chile to South Africa, Tunisia to Ghana. This is the beginning of our fight to force the state to acknowledge our right to a dignified existence.