HARARE - Abducted journalist-turned-human rights activist Itai Dzamara’s continued disappearance is acting as a catalyst for unity among President Robert Mugabe’s political opponents, as they say his government has destroyed all the gains of the country’s liberation struggle against white minority rule.
The rising demands for the government to either release or find Dzamara — who went missing after staging sit-ins agitating for the resignation of Mugabe — are broadening into a concerted national fury that is being made worse by the country’s worsening economic crisis and Zanu PF’s misrule.
So negative have sentiments towards Mugabe and Zanu PF become in the country, that Saturday’s prayer meeting in Harare in remembrance of Dzamara very quickly descended into a spontaneous anti-government demonstration enjoying the full spectrum of Zimbabwean society — including church leaders, NGOs and opposition politicians.
Almost without exception, speaker after speaker savaged Mugabe and Zanu PF, calling on the nonagenarian and the government to account for the missing activist or step down.
Earlier last week, Mugabe — the only leader Zimbabweans have known for the past for 35 years — reshuffled his “deadwood” Cabinet in what analysts said was a desperate endeavour to appease warring factions in his party, as well as the restless citizenry’s growing anger.
But the Cabinet musical chairs failed to gain any support, with most critics saying the nonagenarian continued to wittingly or unwittingly misunderstand what Zimbabweans really wanted — democracy, progress and development in the country.
“You can reshuffle the Cabinet as much as you want, Mugabe,” said a carpenter John Moyo, “but we will not stop until you leave”.
Moyo pointed to the country’s high unemployment, rising living costs, endemic corruption and worsening poverty levels — all now underlined by the informalisation of the economy — as the reasons why Mugabe needed to go.
And like most disaffected Zimbabweans feel, Moyo also accused Mugabe’s cronies of gross corruption and “accruing extravagant wealth at the expense of the Zimbabwean people”.
“When mudhara uyu (Mugabe) is gone, Zimbabwe will regain its pride,” he said resignedly.
In the meantime, the location selected for Saturday’s prayer meeting could not have been more appropriate and politically resonant.
The Zimbabwe Grounds are the epicentre of people power and are famous for having hosted Mugabe’s “Star Rally” in 1979 where he made his famous prediction of a landslide victory at the impeding independence elections, which the ruling party won.
The Zimbabwe Grounds were also the scene of State-orchestrated violence and widespread chaos on March 11, 2007, after the opposition, church members, civil society and the general public gathered for a prayer meeting to protest against the death of democracy in Zimbabwe.
The government then responded with a much-criticised iron fist, resulting in the fatal shooting of an MDC activist Gift Tandare, as police resorted to using live ammunition against the masses.
Thankfully, riot police were conspicuously absent from Saturday’s prayer meeting — a welcome first for Zimbabwe, after the government banned the same prayer meeting last month.
Still, Saturday’s prayer rally showed that peace in Zimbabwe was nascent and fragile, with many detailing the hardship and oppression they faced in their daily lives.
A big MDC banner at the rally said, “Muchatipa Dzamara chete (You will be forced to produce Dzamara)”.
The party’s spokesman Obert Gutu yesterday said Saturday’s gathering was a harbinger of bigger things to come.
“Zimbabweans, across the political divide, are discovering that there is more that unites them than that which divides them. The MDC is confident that with this growing momentum on national convergence, the people of Zimbabwe are on the verge of liberating themselves from the yoke of Zanu PF tyranny and subjugation.
“Come what may, 2018 (that year’s general elections) will be a defining moment in the political history of Zimbabwe. We are on the verge of true political liberation and socio-economic emancipation,” Gutu said.
The spokesman of the MDC Renewal Team, Jacob Mafume, said it was clear that there was growing anger against the government.
“The government is in the stage of what we call new failure. They are setting records for failure every day. The anger against Mugabe can be touched or even sliced by a big knife. To say life is hard does not even begin to describe it, life is impossible.
“There is urgent need for a coalition of opposition forces, and more importantly a winning strategy to rescue the Zimbabweans from this seemingly unending maze of suffering, because every turn we take now we seem to suffer.
“It’s a huge snakes and ladders of misery,” Mafume said.
However, Southern Africa project director at the International Crisis Group, Piers Pigou, said the opposition would only capitalise on growing negative sentiment if it could overcome its own internal differences.
“There seems little evidence of this, but the national convergence meeting in August will be a key indicator of prospects in this regard,” Pigou said.