Analysts have said the absence of public outcry in Zimbabwe over the deteriorating state of the economy and other sectors that have stifled progress, while puzzling to some, is not indicative of acceptance of the status quo. Many say fear and lack of strong leadership have preventing many from openly displaying their frustrations.
Senior Consultant Piers Pigou of the International Crisis Group said while unhappy with their lives, many restrain themselves from participating in protests due to fear of the brutality of the country’s state security agents. Pigou said while protests have been taking place in the country, they have failed to attract large masses.
“There have been protests, let’s not get away from thinking there haven’t been. People have been protesting – vendors, students, teachers, etc., etc.” said Pigou. “But what we have seen in the past year when protest raises its head in isolated cases, the state has come down and moved on those protestors very, very quickly.”
London-based political analyst Clifford Mashiri agreed, and said the alleged abduction of activist Itai Dzamara from a barber shop last March, left many subdued and in fear of the state security agents, whom he said the government works hard to please.
He said while many government workers, including doctors and nurses are complaining of not getting their salaries, the government made sure the state security agents received theirs on time.
“Before [President Robert] Mugabe went on holiday, he insured that security services...were paid, the CIO [Central Intelligence Officer], the police, the army, and so on, and particularly obviously the top brass,” said Mashiri.
“These are the people who are dangerous in the country, and they are the ones that cause people to be very nervous, and not sure that they can go and protest, having seen Dzamara disappearing, in broad daylight.”
Mashiri added, “people are not courageous enough, or they don’t want to sacrifice their lives to a regime that can cause them to disappear.”
Professor Shadreck Guto of the University of South Africa in Pretoria, said the fear runs deep across all levels.
“Zimbabweans, even those who are intellectuals seem to be scared of really dealing with the situation and that is the complexity of it all.” But Professor Guto warns, “a time comes when something begins to ignite the whole uprising, I cannot say what it will be but it will be sooner than later.”
Lack of Leadership and Strong Opposition
But even if that time spark is ignited and people feel compelled to take to the streets, many analysts contend that Zimbabwe lacks the strong leadership needed to mobilize people into action, or feel secure.
Speaking in his own personal capacity, lecturer Israel Moyo of the Catholic University of Zimbabwe, said Zimbabwe’s suffering will continue until such leadership appears.
“This is a political problem that requires a more active role from the political leaders, which unfortunately at the moment I am afraid to say is fragmented in the sense that you see now political leaders pursuing individual goals at the expense of…national goals.”
Professor Moyo said the caliber of leaders such as Zimbabwe’s late vice president and founding leader of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), Joshua Nkomo, is lacking in today’s arena.
“We don’t see leaders now in the mold of Joshua Nkomo even in the mold of the president [Mugabe] during his prime time. We no longer have that,” said Moyo.
Director Pedzisai Ruhanya of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute concurs, saying during struggle for the country’s liberation, leaders like the late founder of the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu) Ndabaningi Sithole, provided the leadership that motivated many to fight against the repressive minority government of then Prime Minister Ian Smith.
“When you look at the liberation struggle, it had leaders, the likes of Ndabaningi Sithole, the likes of [President] Mugabe himself, people were disgruntled but the leadership then stood up, and organized people to stand for their rights.”
Ruhanya added, “I can describe it as the crisis we are facing is that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.”
National coordinator Jenni Williams of the activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arize (Woza), said many are disappointed and discouraged by what they see as self-serving politicians.
“We have been very disappointed with an opposition that is absolutely just part of the same system of personal enrichment and getting on the gravy train…and many Zimbabweans say for what will I sacrifice myself when there is no opposition?
In defense of the opposition parties, spokesperson Murdoch Chivasa of the National Constitutional Assembly, said while he agreed that things needed to change in the country, he said citizens have an equal role to play in bringing about change.
He urged citizens to use the power of the ballot box to vote in new leaders, and not the ruling Zanu-PF party or its President, Mugabe.
“The issue of what is happening, in terms of the political leadership can only be addressed by the people themselves,” Chivasa said.
“Because as opposition we also have our limits, all we can do is try to influence policy and policy development. And in that absence the people themselves have got the power to change governments when we get to elections."
But Zanu-PF legislator for Pumula-Makokoba and central committee member Joseph Tshuma however, dismissed all plans or talk of forcing the government’s hand to change through pressure from opposition parties or street demonstrations and protests.
He said any attempt to shake up the government is the work of the devil, and one that is counter-productive and devilish.
Zanu-PF Calls For Unity
“To me that is purely the devil who’s playing with people’s minds, and the devil is very good at that, said Tshuma. “There is no need for that, but there is need for coming up together and focusing together, stopping the blaming game and looking forward to making 2016 a better year and all that can only happen if we are united, if we are focused.”
Tshuma said anything outside that would destabilize the country and cause the ruin seen in countries in North Africa following the so called Arab Spring.
“Look at all the other places where such things have occurred. Look at Libya for example, look at Egypt, look at Tunisia, look at even Syria, look at all those places where people have tried to go on the streets and demonstrate,” challenged Tshuma.
Analysts said while they are not advocating for the forceful removal of a government or violent civil unrest, they urged opposition leaders to be better advocates for Zimbabweans by pressuring Zanu-PF and President Mugabe to better the lives of the country’s citizens.