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A school boy looks at a burning barricade during a shutdown demonstration in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (Zinyange Auntony/Getty Images)
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While Zimbabwe was on fire, president Emmerson Mnangagwa was abroad telling the world it was open for business. The irony of preaching openness whilst the entire country was cut off from the whole world, is striking, writes Redi Tlhabi.
I know a
young Zimbabwean mother who works in Johannesburg. It is a tough and thankless
job, cleaning a fancy gym; wiping the sweat from the exercise equipment, making
sure every client has a fresh and crisp towel and that the floors, toilets and
showers are pristine.
say she loves her job. It is what it is. It puts food on the table and ensures
that her children, who are being cared for by a relative back home, lack for
nothing. But for her to achieve this most basic human endeavour, she has to
live and work in South Africa – an often unwelcoming country.
She puts up
with the xenophobic, racist slurs; the condescending stereotypes, the
disrespect, from young and old. She is uprooted and lives with the chilly winds
of displacement. Her host country uses bureaucracy, documentation and
inefficiency to punish her and remind her that she does not belong.
her wait and wait and wait for processing, her status is akin to that of a
stateless person. But this young mother battles through it because that is what
she has to do. Her country, Zimbabwe, has
nothing to offer.
But three weeks
ago, it offered her violence. Like many migrant labourers, she trekked home to
prepare her children for the start of the new school year. She was proud
because although she had not seen them for a year, she had a lot to show for
her absence. Her labour had produced new, crisp school uniforms, stationery,
toys, litres of cooking oil, jumbo packs of snacks, maizemeal, flower, rice,
proud. But all of this is now a distant memory. What she remembers are soldiers
shooting dead a young man, right next to her. She remembers being pulled out of
a moving car and being prevented from accessing public transport to return to
children could not attend school as soldiers shut them down, whilst brandishing
machine guns that she had only ever seen on television. Weapons of war, aimed
at innocent citizens who were tired, weary and fearful of the impact of a 150%
fuel price increase. Their lives are already fragile and burdensome. The increase was their undoing.
reasonable citizen would be angry at this steep increase, whatever the
justification and rationale for it. But that is not what the paternalistic state
expected. It wanted total obedience and acquiescence. It wanted total
acceptance of its decisions, and not once felt the need to negotiate and
cajole. The people had to trust the government and relent.
When it could
not achieve this, it exacted acceptance of this unfair increase by using brutal
force; arresting and in some cases, murdering citizens. It did so behind closed
doors. It shut down social media and imposed a blackout on the flow of
information. The state did not want the world to witness its shameful
Why shut down
communication channels if all you are doing is within the confines of the law
and the frameworks of decency and fairness? It justifies this brutality by
claiming opposition elements are destabilising the country and fuelling
violence. The opposition does not command the army and has no authority to
control borders, shut down schools and mow people to the ground.
The army is
still preventing people from moving freely. A government that has nothing to
offer its people, is jeopardising the livelihoods of its citizens, knowing very
well that it cannot absorb them into its non-existent labour market and
country was on fire, the president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was abroad telling the
world that Zimbabwe is open for business. The irony of preaching a message of
openness whilst the entire country was cut off from the whole world, is
eventually returned home, but it was too late, the crisis had long fermented
and the dead were buried, struck by the bullets of his army. He promised to
crack down on wanton violence, blaming everybody; citizens, opposition parties,
community leaders, religious leaders, the youth, the army. This of course
ensures that nobody actually takes accountability, nobody gets punished because
all are responsible. A state of paralysis ensues.
the entire citizenry, he added, "It is a betrayal of the new Zimbabwe."
The "new Zimbabwe" looks very much like the Zimbabwe that was ruled
and ruined by Robert Mugabe, with Mnangagwa by his side.
Union has predictably shown no leadership, issuing lame platitudes. South
Africa, whilst it cannot dictate to a sovereign country, can speak out and
demand a respect for human rights, free speech and an end to violence. South
Africa should have demanded that the Zimbabwean army vacate the border and
allow the free movement of people, some of whom merely wanted to return to
work. South Africa should have cared enough to reach out and hear the voices of
mother slept in the bush for two days, with no food and water. She chose the
bush, because it was safer than her home. Mnangagwa's army was knocking door to
door, rounding up young people, accusing them of stirring up the violence.
government that fears its youth and shuts down social media because it does not
like the resounding message, is not a government of the people.
tweeted, "Chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated." The people have been warned.
- Redi Tlhabi is an award-winning author, journalist and talkshow host.Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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