Zimbabwe in flames as dreams of reform die
Spiralling fuel costs and economic hardship have sparked mass protests in Zimbabwe. At least 12 people have been killed in a brutal crackdown — Zimbabwe’s worst violence for a decade.
At least 12 people have been killed. More than 600 have been imprisoned, and countless more beaten and wounded — all by their own security forces.
The violence broke out over a week ago in Zimbabwe’s capital when protesters hit the streets, enraged at the government’s decision to sharply increase fuel prices.
The response of the authorities was brutal. Troops were deployed, using live ammunition against the protesters. An internet and social media blackout was also imposed. “When things get out of hand, a bit of firmness is needed,” a government source told the BBC.
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa was out of the country when the violence erupted. And his spokesman initially had harsh words for the protesters. The crackdown is “a foretaste of things to come,” he said.
However, returning to Zimbabwe on Monday, Mnangagwa shifted the blame onto the military. Violence and misconduct by security forces was “unacceptable and a betrayal of the brand new Zimbabwe,” he stated. “If required, heads will roll.”
Economic woes, violence, political oppression — there is a tragic familiarity to this chain of events.
Before Mnangagwa won power in 2017, Zimbabwe was ruled by dictator Robert Mugabe for 37 years.
With abundant mineral wealth, fertile land and a highly educated population, Zimbabwe was often called the “jewel of Africa”.
Mugabe changed all that. Under his rule corruption thrived, economic mismanagement left millions in poverty and dissenters were murdered.
Some see the same cycle happening again. “I have seen both Mugabe and Mnangagwa. This is worse than Mugabe,” said Albert Taurai, a man injured in the latest swell of violence.
Others insist we look deeper into history. In the late 19th century, Zimbabwe was seized by British colonisers. The country was renamed Rhodesia, and for decades the nation’s black population suffered under the violent and oppressive minority-rule of white settlers.
According to reporter James North, this “poisonous legacy of British colonialism” is responsible for the cycles of political violence that Zimbabwe’s leaders still resort to.
The question is: can the cycle be broken?
Mnangagwa has promised action — but will this help ease the crisis, or make things worse? There was cautious optimism when he took over after years of harsh rule under Mugabe. Has the situation gone back to the way it was? Is there any real hope for change?
And what of our role in all this? The legacy of the British Empire cannot be ignored. Could the violence and oppression of previous generations be responsible for what we see before us now? If so, what responsibility do today’s governments have to right the wrongs of the past?
- Does history always repeat itself?
- Is politics more about powerful individuals, or the actions of large groups?
- Consider this statement: “Power always corrupts.” Do you agree? Why/why not? Discuss you ideas in pairs and report back to the class.
- Read the James North piece in Become An Expert. Summarise his argument into three bullet points. Is he optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Zimbabwe? Select one sentence from the piece that you think is the most powerful. Why did you choose this sentence?
Some People Say...
“We should never remain hostages of our past.”Emmerson Mnangagwa
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- At the heart of the issue is Zimbabwe’s currency. The country has a currency called bond notes. Officially, one bond note is supposed to be worth one US dollar. In reality, the currency is traded on the black market at far less than this value. Meanwhile, fuel must be sold for bond notes at a price set by the government. Therefore, people with access to dollars can exchange them for a greater number of less valuable bond notes, and hoard fuel at lower prices. This is what made the government increase the price of fuel (with such catastrophic results).
- What do we not know?
- We do not know the actual death toll as a result of the violence. Some activists and journalists believe it to be higher than 12. We do not know what measures Mnangagwa will take to stop the violence.
- Fuel prices
- Petrol prices rose from $1.24 (£0.97) a litre to $3.31 (£2.53) — making Zimbabwe the most expensive place to buy fuel in the world. The government blamed black market dealings for creating fuel shortages, however, its own economic polices are also to blame.
- Out of the country
- He had planned to go to the World Economic Forum in Davos to drum up foreign investment for Zimbabwe’s ailing economy.
- There are rumours of a power struggle between Mnangagwa and his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga — a former army chief who helped him seize power.
- Zimbabwe has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, with 89% of the adult population able to read, according to World Bank data from 2014.
- Mugabe’s rule is particularly notorious for the hyperinflation which destroyed Zimbabwe’s currency.
- Named after the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. He is regarded as an extremely controversial figure, with critics labelling him a white supremacist.