WASHINGTON DC —
Many have described the year 2015 as a great one for Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe – highlights include hosting several high-level international delegations to Zimbabwe including Chinese leader Xi Jinping, being recipient of the controversial Confucius Peace Prize - which he rejected, and of course chairman of both the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, responsibilities that took him out of the country, a lot.
But for many of the country’s citizens, the year was not so great - increasing unemployment turned many into harassed street vendors, demolitions of illegal structures displaced hundreds, foods shortages subjected many to hunger, and the final straw, delayed salaries and bonuses left many desperate and destitute.
But in the nation’s streets, peace and calm – hardly the signs of the public outrage displaced even in neighboring South Africa, where Senior Consultant Piers Ashley Pigou of the International Crisis Group is based.
He says while South Africans, who endured apartheid, admire their neighbor’s silent resilience and adaptation to the harsh realities, many are puzzled. Pigou said while there’ve been random demonstrations and protests, they were minimal.
“I think even from a South African perspective, South Africans look at what Zimbabweans have had to endure and they scratch their heads, they do not understand why Zimbabweans are taking this,” said Pigou.
London based political analyst Clifford Mashiri also found this curious.
“Civil servants have not been paid, they are told you will be paid in January, you’ve finished the whole of December without pay, and even when that pay comes there is a deduction you don’t understand, that’s for the teachers. Others are still in a limbo. And the rest of the economy is right on its knees,” said Mashiri. “And people don’t act, they just promise the President we are going to strike next year if you continue doing this.”
The internationally recognized, firebrand activist, Jenni Williams of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise or WOZA, said this is the strength and yet weakness of many Zimbabweans.
“This is the nature of people in this country, we are very peace loving, very calm and try to be as laid back as possible," said Williams. "On the other hand I do feel years of colonialism and then dictatorship has made people still have this attitude that someone is going to come and do it for them."
But the calm and appearance of peace does not signal acceptance of the situation or resignation to their situation said, Director Pedzisai Ruhanya of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute. He said people are merely lacking guidance.
“Yes, Zimbabweans are very angry, the problem we have is that their anger is not being mobilized, their anger has no leadership, their anger is not being directed to ask the government to address the problem that people are suffering,” Ruhanya said.
With so much going wrong for so many in the country, from shortage of cash to buy even the basic commodities, power and water cuts that have many planning their lives in advance, Pigou also concluded that many Zimbabweans are simply too distracted with trying to survive to be out protesting and toy toying as happens in South Africa. Simply he said, many are stuck in the moment.
“Waiting and also very much and for a number of years now in a situation of survival and survival tactics, and part of that has translated into not forcefully taking up any kind of oppositional position against the ruling party, Zanu-PF,” Pigou said.
Further Pigou said, Zanu-PF’s seemingly triumphant 2013 election victory over the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, took much of the regional and international spotlight away from Zimbabwe, leaving citizens feeling they are on their own.
“Since the election of 2013, two and half years ago, the SADC region has effectively gone to sleep on Zimbabwe thinking that it has somehow resolved the fundamental problems that led to the disaster of the 2008 economic decline and then of course the violence that led to the government of national unity in 2008.”
Pigou stressed, “none of these issues have been resolved.”
But Williams warns the time of calm and peace may soon give way to more rumbling in the streets, as people’s patience runs out due to the deterioration of their livelihoods and too much disappointment.
“There’s been so many broken promises it’s just horrific,” Williams exclaimed. “And how many more broken promises are we going to put up with as a nation. For how much longer are we just going to keep on smiling, and smiling?” she challenged. “I am not saying that people should hate, I am saying we can still with the smile on our faces, hold our placards outside parliament in our thousands and say enough is enough.”
So left to Zimbabweans to bring the change they desire so desperately, what seems to be the hold up? Analysts say it comes down to one thing – lack of clear leadership and fear of the wrath of the ruling Zanu-PF party.