History Monday: Pro-Democracy Movement 2


Civil society has continued to put pressure on the regime. Although the ZCTU lost most of its active constituency to unemployment (which was estimated at more than 85%), it still remains very active and relevant in mobilizing its regional and international partners to exert pressure on Mugabe.

After defeating the ZANU-PF Constitutional Commission in the February 2000 plebiscite, the NCA continued to conduct frequent countrywide street protests not only for a new constitution but for other bread and butter issues like commodity price hikes and political tolerance.  These protests have always been violently crushed by armed police.

In 2003, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) was formed, based on principles of strategic nonviolence.  WOZA was made up of ordinary poor mothers who want to be “a litmus test proving that the power of love can conquer the love of power.”9 It mobilizes under a motto of “Tough Love”—the “disciplining love of a parent” to fight for better governance and social justice.  Some of its successful tactics are: handing out roses on Valentine’s Day to “spread the love,” “asking for bread” and picketing at schools in poor suburbs to register displeasure with continuous school fee increases.

Countless times WOZA members, often with their babies, have been beaten by armed police, threatened, arrested and detained in filthy jails and released without charge. But they have not succumbed to this repression. WOZA’s nonviolent tactics and the simplicity and legitimacy of their message and issues—juxtaposed with the brutal punishment they get—has helped this organization earn sympathy while at the same time exposing the repression and moral bankruptcy of Mugabe’s regime to the world. WOZA has tried to spread within Zimbabwe by establishing a men’s wing, Men of Zimbabwe Arise (MOZA).  WOZA has also achieved international recognition, and in November 2009, two of its founders and leaders, Magondonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams, were presented with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award by US President Barack Obama.

In the absence of basic rights of association and free expression, the internet has been influential in the fight for freedom. A plethora of foreign-based online news agencies has helped expose the regime’s human rights abuses and corruption without fear of persecution.

The underground movement Zvakwana/Sokwanele (“Enough!”) uses guerrilla tactics to swamp urban surfaces with so much protest graffiti that authorities fail to clean most of it—thereby allowing Zvakwana/Sokwanele’s message to reach millions of citizens.

The Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) disseminates council telephone numbers to residents and encourages them to inundate the mayor’s office with calls demanding better service delivery. It also uses SMS alerts via mobile phones to raise awareness amongst residents about city events, power or water cuts, environmental pollution or arrests of members—a fast, inexpensive and effective tool to mobilize for action.

Volunteer Organizations

One of the government’s common strategies of repression is to overwhelm opponents with expensive lawsuits and prosecutions, including the charge of treason which is punishable by death. It has the capacity to inflict mass arrests and detentions and to deny the accused access to lawyers.

Organizations such as Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights (ZDHR) offer free legal representation and medical care respectively to grassroots activists who otherwise could not afford any of these in the face government persecutions. They also document cases of human rights abuses.

In fact, ZDHR, partnering with the international Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), was instrumental in fighting a disastrous cholera outbreak in late 2008 that killed over 4,000 people10, which occurred mainly due to the government’s failure to provide clean tap water, collect refuse and combat sewage bursts in urban centers.


The illegitimacy of Mugabe’s “win” in the 2008 elections led his African supporters to speak out against him, particularly Botswana, Zambia and Kenya. In April 2008 South African dock workers refused to unload a Chinese ship, the An Yue Jiang, that carried weapons meant for Zimbabwe. Mozambique, Namibia and Angola followed suit and the ship was eventually recalled back to China.11 The sudden ouster of South African President, Thabo Mbeki, the one African leader who had helped block international action against Mugabe, worsened Mugabe’s isolation. Mbeki resigned in late September 2008 and was replaced by Jacob Zuma, who publicly expressed disapproval of Mugabe’s excesses.

Hamstrung by Western “targeted sanctions,” waning African support, and an unprecedented economic catastrophe with inflation at a record 231 million percent, Mugabe was forced to negotiate with the MDC as suggested by African leaders. The negotiations resulted in what became called the “Global Political Agreement” (GPA), which gave rise to a Government of National Unity (GNU).  In February 11, 2009 the GNU began when Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister and Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a smaller MDC faction, became his deputy. Robert Mugabe remained Zimbabwe’s president and, critically, maintained control of state security forces.  Government ministers were drawn from the three parties (ZANU-PF and the two MDC formations) with ZANU-PF still retaining the majority.

Notably, civil society was from both the negotiations and coalition government. Consequently some pro-democracy organizations, notably the NCA and ZCTU, were very skeptical of whether or not the GNU would result in genuine democratic progress.  Soon there became open friction between the MDC and its past civic allies. The NCA has started another “No” campaign to oppose a multiparty parliamentary committee initiative to create a new constitution, saying it’s “politician driven” rather than “people driven.”12

However, in justifying his choice to form the GNU, Tsvangirai argued that “This is a strategic decision of positioning a party in order to unlock the tentacles that have spread around the whole country… To democratize, cut those roots and create (favorable) conditions for free and fair elections… Without the firing of a bullet, we did it. Without losing the lives of Zimbabweans deliberately, without violence, without other known African conflicts, but we did it.”13 Tsvangirai has also consistently stated that he could work with Mugabe.

Ensuing Events:

The GNU has achieved substantial success in restoring political and economic stability. The finance ministry (controlled by Tsvangirai’s MDC faction [the MDC-T]) abolished the worthless Zimbabwean dollar, replacing it with US, South African and Botswana currencies, and launched other major reforms that stopped hyperinflation and scored some economic growth. Goods are available in shops, and services in hospitals, schools, municipalities, government departments are functioning again.

It was envisaged that the GNU would then create a new constitution and good conditions for free and fair elections in 18 months. The constitution-making process indeed commenced work but is currently 12 months behind schedule due to lack of funding and violence by some ZANU-PF activists trying to frustrate the realization of a democratic constitution.

In defiance of the GPA president Mugabe has continued to act unilaterally, appointing public officials and changing ministerial mandates without consulting the prime minister. Mugabe has also resisted resolving some outstanding issues in the agreement such as swearing in MDC-T agriculture minister-designate Roy Bennett, and rescinding Tsvangirai’s appointments of Reserve Bank governor, attorney general, provincial governors, ambassadors and other ministerial posts.14 ZANU-PF says that the MDC has to convince its Western backers to remove “targeted sanctions” before it would cooperate. That poisoned the uneasy coalition, leading to Tsvangirai boycotting cabinet meetings in protest.15

Regardless of whether or not international targeted sanctions are removed, observers say that the massive discovery of diamonds in Chiadzwa, Marange in Mutare that could earn US$1 billion annually has bolstered Mugabe’s confidence in the face of dwindling international funding sources.16

On December 18, 2010, Mugabe unilaterally called for elections in mid-2011 “with or without (constitutional) reforms”17 saying he’s “very confident” of winning.18 He said he wanted the power-sharing agreement to end, accusing the MDC of being a Western project. Opposition groups, businesses, civil society groups and the general population rejected the declaration noting that conditions were still not conducive for free and fair elections to happen. Even the electoral body (ZEC) chairman, Simpson Mtambanengwe, concurred.19

Evidently the GNU has given Mugabe and his supporters ample breathing space to reassert their grip on power. While opposition parties continue to unravel Mugabe’s pillars of support, loyalty to Mugabe among state security forces remains intact after the GNU failed to reform them. The minister of defense, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man who coordinated the violent repression during the 2008 presidential runoff election has stated that “ZANU-PF will rule forever even if you don’t want”20 while ZANU-PF chairman, Simon Khaya Moyo, has urged security forces to “crash journalists.”21 War veterans and soldiers have deployed countrywide where they intimidate opposition supporters and independent journalists, opposition groups and civil society activists also continue to be harassed by police.

No tangible electoral, media and security reforms have been made as promised in the GPA, as ZANU-PF insists its MDC partners must first cause the removal of “sanctions” imposed by Western countries.

Furthermore, organizations that administer elections in Zimbabwe—the ZEC and the registrar-general’s office—which are accused of helping Mugabe fraudulently win elections in the past—announced after Mugabe’s declaration that elections should be held in mid-2011 that they were ready for elections contradicting previous statements by ZEC chairman, Simpson Mtambanengwe.

Mugabe is also aware opposition is currently divided, fragmented and its supporters too scared of another election after the violence of the 2008 run-off. There is infighting within the two MDC factions (MDC-T and MDC-M), a revived ZAPU party, and the Mavambo/Kusile party and other new opposition parties are mushrooming, but there is no effort to form a united opposition front to challenge ZANU-PF. Any divided vote works in favor of Mugabe.


  1. Taundi, J B (2010) ‘The pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe (1998-present)

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