AT a Southern African Political Economy Series (SAPES) conference attended by over 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and opposition parties recently, a resolution to create discontent, chaos and crisis at the grassroots to attract the international community was passed.
The conference, sponsored by Britain’s Chatham House and US’ National Endowment for Democracy (NED), stressed that in order ‘to make Zimbabwe burn’, there was need to revamp social movements by getting them to influence the rural folk – where the majority is.
Chatham House and NED are organisations well-known for interfering in internal affairs of sovereign states to effect regime change.
After failing to effect regime change using urban voters, the rural folk who bore the brunt of the liberation war and have not been swayed by Western rhetoric have become the new target.
It was agreed opposition political parties and NGOs had failed to bring about regime change in the last 19 years, hence the new strategy of getting social movements to villages.
And it was concluded that if social media activists want to make a successful contribution to political change in Zimbabwe, they have to work in sync with traditional civil society groups and village opinion leaders as well as rural development organisations.
Lately, the dominant and recurring themes in civil society discourses is the creation of ‘vibrant’ social movements that will orchestrate chaos ahead of the 2018 polls.
At almost every NGO workshop or meeting that has been convened since last year’s violent protests, there has been a general consensus that the past demonstrations by social movements proved ineffective.
And the critical shortfall identified by the NGOs has been that protests have been an urban phenomenon, characterised mainly by youths and urbanites.
Thus the SAPES two-day conference outlined how this social movement mobilising process is supposed to be done, the kind of social movements envisioned and the role that contemporary NGOs are supposed to play in the whole process as well as the strategies required for such a process to be successful.
In a space of a year, Zimbabwe has seen more protests than before, organised by social movements and opposition parties.
Zimbabwe has witnessed various faces to protests; from ‘mass’ stay-aways to the new one-man protests as well as from placards to hash tags on social media.
From social media groups and hashtags #Shutdown, #ThisFlag fronted by Evan Mawarire, #Tajamuka/Sesijikile, to Zimbabwe Yadzoka, Mayibuye iZimbabwe, Buya, #ThisGown and #TheZimbabweWeWant, among many others, social movements were born.
Social movements are defined as ‘organised sustained collective campaigns pushing for the implementation of certain policies or specific changes in society’s structure or values in order to achieve a specific social goal’.
One of the commonplace calls in Zimbabwe last year was anything to do with protesting, be it suggesting one, participating in one or even joking about protesting against the most mundane of things.
But the protests failed to yield the desired results of overthrowing a constitutionally-elected Government through anarchy.
Social movement activists said the biggest criticism that has been levelled against them has been failure to yield tangible results, in particular, removal of the ZANU PF regime.
But this is about to change, they stated.
Most activists live in major towns and are young, while hashtag activism does not encompass older generations, or people in rural areas where the majority live.
Chitekete, Gokwe, 500 km from the capital Harare, is generally cut off from the internet – and the social media-based groups mobilising the protests.
The sporadic demonstrations in Zimbabwe’s towns and cities are being organised through social media that few people have access to in remote villages.
According to the World Bank, only 34 percent of Zimbabwe’s population is classified as urban.
This is far less than Tunisia where the Arab spring started, where 68 percent of the population is urban.
Hence the sudden need to tap into the 67,6 percent of the rural population.
According to the point-plan guiding the NGOs, they will identify influential ‘opinion’ leaders in rural areas such as traditional leaders, indigenous grassroots development organisations and rural community co-operatives to spearhead social movement protests in their areas.
This was demonstrated by the presence of small grassroots development organisations from Plumtree, Chipinge, Murehwa, Gwanda and many more other rural places at the SAPES conference.
Most rural areas have snubbed well-known NGOs such as Plan International,
USAID and Care International’s propaganda following the expose that these organisations are fronting a regime change agenda.
Hence the coming in of grassroots development organisations founded by individuals in those areas as these are trusted by the people.
These trusted opinion leaders would then sow seeds of dissent among villagers.
They envision that once the protests are ignited in cities and towns, through co-ordination, simultaneously the same protests would also be orchestrated in the rural areas.
Hence this will create a picture of a ‘burning’ Zimbabwe, which they need for the international community to intervene.
For example, this week’s demonstrations by the MDC-T and civil society in Harare were supposed to be complemented by riotous uprisings in Chitekete, Chipinge, Chiredzi and Binga.
Speaking at the conference #Tajamuka/Sesijikile spokesperson Promise Mkwananzi said one of the reasons protests against Government have not been successful is because they are only limited to urban areas.
“As we approach 2018, we must build sustainable grassroots-based social movements and we must mobilise the Diaspora community,” said Mkhwananzi.
“We must involve the rural folks as well.
“These demonstrations should be all-inclusive; the old, the young, those in Chipinge, Gwanda, Plumtree and in Harare, everyone.”
He appealed to one representative of a rural grassroot development organisation based in Chipinge to take the message back to Chipinge that the social movements are all inclusive and hence they should also participate.
“Hazvisi zvinhu zvemuHarare chete, for these protests to be effective, they should be well-co-ordinated countrywide tijamuke tose,” said Mkhwananzi.
Soon after the SAPES conference, the first part of the strategy, which is mobilising the social movement process, was implemented.
So-called ‘disgruntled’ groups, to push this agenda both in urban and rural Zimbabwe, were identified.
Students from tertiary institutions, the informal sector such as vendors, public transport operators, resident associations and churches were handpicked to lead the protests.
These are the same features of the participants of the Arab uprisings, especially in Tunisia, as it mainly comprised youths, students, union movements and the unemployed.
These groups met at Daves Guzha’s Theatre in the Park to launch a Citizen Manifesto draft which they said is ‘crucial’ as it will become the mainstay of the social movement.
The Manifesto launch, fronted by Briggs Bomba of Zimbabwe Alliance and Brian Kagoro, was attended by Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC), Zimbabwe Christian Churches, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), Youth Empowerment Trust (YET), residents associations, students, vendors, #Thisflag leader Evan Mawarire and Magamba TV, among others.
All organisations that attended are linked to Western governments and institutions, who have not only determined and mapped the course of action, but also the content of their ‘struggle’.
Speaking at Citizen Manifesto launch recently, a Bulawayo Progressive Resident Association (BPRA) representative said social movements were critical in achieving the dream of a new regime in Zimbabwe.
“Cde Bomba, it is high time we started building social movements,” said the BPRA representative.
“We look forward to roll out this programme in Bulawayo as it will bring together elders and youths suffering from the current dispensation.”
Gwanda Residents Trust ‘lamented’ that the rural folks have been left out in the protests and demonstrations being instigated by the so-called social movement.
“Where we come from, we just stand and hear things are happening in Harare (sic),” said the Gwanda Resident Trust representative.
“We are here to say, can we be part of this?
“We hope that one day our people back in rural Gwanda, who do not have access to television, radio or cellphones, would be part of this new dream.
“That one day the bread crumbs from Harare would find their way to Gwanda so we can put them together and develop a loaf of bread.
“We need to take this dream back home.”
Community clubs and associations in both urban and rural areas are ideal to front protests as they day-to-day engage their members from the community.
Furthermore, residents’ associations such as Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA), Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA), Gwanda Residents Trust (GRT), among others, are active in the country’s key urban areas in mobilising residents under the banner of delivery and citizens’ rights.
CHRA executive director Mfundo Mlilo, working with CiZC, has established himself as a very active agent of regime change.
He benefitted from the George Soros’ fund as an Africa University’s Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance (IPLG) graduate.
He is on record saying the people of this country have lost faith in elections as a means to change.
In 2014, together with his colleagues at CiZC, they went to South Africa to tell the world that there will be a coup in Zimbabwe.
And to him and his colleagues, a ‘burning’ Zimbabwe is all that they need to overthrow a Government as he knows through the ballot, the chances of the opposition are slim-to-none.
At the same time, NGOs have realised the various informal sector organisations representing hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwe’s informal workers have the potential to organise and mobilise multitude members for demonstrations.
They feed on the grievance of the group and make everything politically inclined.
National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) was also another critical platform for mobilising protests in the country.
Many illegal vending sites have mushroomed in most cities, forcing the Municipal Police and ZRP to clamp down on these vendors.
Hence they have been identified as a ‘disgruntled’ group.
Last year, NAVUZ leader Stan Zvorwadza made headlines for numerous unsanctioned one-man protests.
More so, students from tertiary institutions, through ZINASU and Student Solidarity Trust have been instrumental in mobilising students to take part in violent demonstrations in the past.
“For ZINASU, the interests of students come before everything else: at this particular juncture in time those interests require ZINASU to align itself with all progressive forces fighting to end ZANU PF misrule in the 2018 elections be they fellow civic society organisations or political parties (sic),” said ZINASU spokesperson Zivai Mhetu, in a statement on 2018 elections and the coalition of opposition parties.
Last month, ZINASU organised demonstrations at the University of Zimbabwe and invited #Thisflag founder Mawarire to incite students to demonstrate against the university authorities.
ZINASU has also been fingered in last month’s MDC-T protests in Harare’s central business district (CBD) that resulted in the death of a police officer.
The anarchic protests were led by public transport operators, students and vendors.
Last year, Harare, Bulawayo and Beitbridge were rocked by violent demonstrations.
Violent protesters hurled stones at law enforcement agents, set tyres ablaze, burnt vehicles and razed CBD and Government properties to the ground.
They looted shops and attacked innocent citizens in the mayhem.
But in a few weeks, the movements protests had lost lustre or rather had died a natural death.
And one of the opposition party’s chief strategists Dr Alex Magaisa, based in UK, immediately underlined the need to take social movements to the rural areas.
“The new citizens movement which has made waves in recent weeks has been concentrated in the urban areas,” said Dr Magaisa then.
“In this regard therefore, it is not very different from the traditional political opposition and organised civil society.
“To my mind, this is the crucial issue, meaning this will remain a protest movement, but not one that brings change, unless wider alliances are built and a rural agenda is forged, something that opposition groupings coming from trade union backgrounds have singularly failed to do in the past.
“A failure to engage with rural politics by the urban and Diaspora commentariat along with activist organisers is a big mistake.”
Thus taking such advice, NGOs have since realised that Zimbabwe has a different geographical and population setting compared to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, hence the necessary changes and adoption of social movements.
Barely a week after Western sponsors said they could not extend support on the basis of a crisis as there is no crisis in Zimbabwe, the country has been rocked by violent demonstrations.
Clashes spread on the streets of Harare as the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) fought running battles with violent ‘protesters’ who hurled stones at law enforcement agents and set cardboard boxes ablaze.
And it seems this is the beginning and it is expected to gain momentum ahead of the 2018 polls.
So, as we march towards the 2018 harmonised elections, Zimbabweans must remember there are some among us who wish to see Zimbabwe burn in order to please their Western founders and funders.