Zimbabwe's Latest Stay Away Flops
ZIMBABWEANS yesterday largely ignored calls for a national stay-away by pro-democracy activists, with businesses opening as usual despite a slow start by entrepreneurs who feared an explosion of violence.
The stay-away had been called following the success of a similar one last week which shut down the country as citizens protested widespread corruption, government’s delay in paying civil servants as well as the general economic decline.
Reports from across the country indicated that despite people’s initial hesitancy, it turned out to be just another normal day.
But tension was high at the Harare Magistrates Courts as hundreds of people converged there in solidarity with Evan Mawirire of #ThisFlag who had been arrested for inciting violence. His bail hearing was postponed from morning to afternoon after the court was jammed by dozens of sympathisers
Observers said the majority of Zimbabweans were now self-employed and could therefore not sustain successive work boycotts without undermining their financial interests.
This, said the observers, was the reason a call for a stay away on Thursdayand Friday last week, on the back of the success of the Wednesdayprotest, had not succeeded.
Political scientist, Ibbo Mandaza, said it was too early to call for a fresh work boycott.
“A statement was loudly and clearly made last week and so it was too early to call for another shutdown, but since we have one more day to go, we might see the situation getting different,” Mandaza said.
The stay away was called for yesterday and today.
Alexander Rusero, a political commentator, said it was “too much to expect people to stay away from work for two days in as many weeks; in an environment with record unemployment.
“This signifies direct loss of income and, in the end, they will fail to put food on the table. Obviously government workers now have no reason to be absent from work since they have already received their salaries.
“Anyone who would elect to stay away would risk losing their job. Government has even threatened to fire employees that do not report for duty,” said Rusero.
A Harare-based entrepreneur said: “We need to work otherwise there would be no bread and butter on the table.”
John Phiri, who operates a business at Harare’s Siyaso, an informal traders market, said: “We cannot afford to stay-away. We have nobody to stay-away from because we are the employers.”
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president, George Nkiwane, said people reported for work because they had been intimidated by a heavy-handed State machinery.
“People are at work because of the intimidation and the arrest of the leaders of the protests. We support the stay-aways. As ZCTU we are also arranging demonstrations against late payment of salaries and the special economic zones,” said Nkiwane.
Close to 200 people, including some instigators of last week’s boycott — Evan Mawarire of #This Flag campaign and Promise Mkwananzi, spokesperson of #Tajamuka/Sesijikile group which is agitating the public against government corruption — have been arrested in connection with the organisation of the stay away.
They are now facing charges of inciting public violence, an offence which carries either a hefty fine or a lengthy jail term.
In a statement yesterday, #Tajamuka/Sesijikile defiantly said: “Any attempts to conduct a witch hunt for Tajamuka/Sesjikile leadership would be futile because you would arrest everyone except the corrupt politicians in ZANU-PF and government whose stomachs thrive on the suffering of ordinary Zimbabweans that they steal from on a daily basis.”
Some companies in Harare’s Msasa industrial area opened as usual, but a significant number were also closed. Workers in the closed companies did not even report for work because their employers reportedly told them not to risk coming to work because of the possibility of violence.
The country’s second largest city of Bulawayo was open for business although some shops, initially unsure of what form the second stay-away would take, opened for business well after 0800 hours.
Pockets of shops that are mainly white-owned were closed in the city’s central business district (CBD), as well as in the upmarket outlying areas of Hillside and Bradfield.
In Bulawayo’s Makokoba, the scene of tensions last week, police were out in full force to ensure that the city’s oldest township did not have a repeat of similar scenes like last week.
In Mutare, government offices, schools and health facilities were all operating normally while informal traders at Sakubva Flea Market, which trades in second hand clothes was also fully operating. It was also business as usual at Chidzere Bar, a vending site.
Informal traders said the dire economic situation could not allow them to participate in another stay-away.
“Things are not well. Last week all traders here joined others in the stay away, but in as much as I wanted to do the same today, the situation I left back home could not allow me to sit for another day, so this is why I’m here and I think many others who are here have similar cases,” said Japheth Marunga, who works at Sakubva Flea Market.
It was also business as usual in Masvingo. All schools and shops opened, unlike last week when OK and Pick n Pay were the only ones that opened for business.
There, was, however, a heavy police presence in the CBD close to OK Supermarket.
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