Thirty-year old Nelson is waiting and hoping for a mass riot. Like many other residents of the Highfield township in Harare, he knows Zimbabwe is on a knife-edge.
“Every day there are protests over food prices, the lack of bread and other shortages,” he told Socialist Worker.
“A large section of the population is so desperate that anything is possible in Zimbabwe now. Prices in the shops rise almost by the hour – inflation is officially 1,700 percent!
“It is rare to have a job, nearly everyone I know is unemployed. HIV/Aids is killing very many people.
“On the one hand people face the most harsh treatment from the police and the authorities. On the other, they know they must struggle to survive.
“Can the feeling for change overcome the fear of the baton and the jail and the torturer?
“We need a clear lead from organisations that are rooted in the people and can be trusted by the people, bodies that are not going to run away when the going becomes tough or who will allow the regime to continue with a few new faces in charge.
“It was here in Highfield that the Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai was so severely assaulted earlier this month.
“We respect his courage. We ask him to show more courage and to rally the people for united resistance.
“The stayaway from work on 3-4 April, which has been called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, must become a focus for all who hate the government of president Robert Mugabe. There have been strikes by teachers, doctors, nurses and civil servants. We need more action like this.”
Certainly Zimbawe is ripe for change. There is turmoil at the top of society as well as the bottom. The ruling Zanu-PF party, which has been in charge for 27 years, is now deeply divided.
Mugabe has been pushing for the presidential ballot scheduled for 2008 to be delayed until 2010 so, he said, that it can take place at the same time as the parliamentary election due that year.
But official sources within the government have acknowledged that this plan goes too far for many of Mugabe’s supporters and may be abandoned.
Some senior Zanu-PF figures would like to get rid of the 83 year old Mugabe, regularise relations with the world’s powers, and get on with working alongside business in a “new Zimbabwe”.
But such transitions are always a gamble. They involve confronting strong interests inside the ruling group and are never simple or smooth.
A Zimbabwean policeman told the UN’s IRIN news network of the “unbearable conditions” the police now face as a result of the political tension.
“When violence breaks out due to political disturbances, work becomes unbearable for us as police officers. Since February we have not been allowed to go off duty or on leave,” he said.
“Our bosses say the police force is understaffed and no-one should even think of taking a rest. That means we are on duty 24 hours a day.
“The pressure is even greater for us who are attached to PISI [the intelligence unit] because we have to be out, in plain clothes, gathering information on who is saying what and whether there are plans to carry out rallies or demonstrations, and where,” he complained.
“People are growing increasingly angry with the police and army, as they say we are being used by the government to beat them up, yet we are simply be carrying out orders. It is not that we like to beat up people, no.
“Remember, some of them are our relatives, friends and neighbours. But we have to safeguard our jobs – employment is difficult to find these days, and I have a family to look after.”
The police could split if there was a coordinated push for action by MDC leaders. Tsvangirai and his colleagues bear a heavy responsibility.
But there are other forces that will try to derail real change.
The US is pursuing a twin-track strategy. On the one hand it keeps channels clear to certain figures inside the regime, such as Gideon Gono, the governor of Zimbabwe’s reserve bank.
His neoliberal polices have been noted by the International Monetary Fund, which has been loath to cut off Zimbabwe.
But the US is also trying to co-opt the opposition. Last week US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice presented an award to Jenni Williams as one of ten “International Women of Courage”. Williams is national coordinator of Women Of Zimbabwe Arise, an organisation that defied Mugabe’s governments to hold successful protests last month.
The butchers of Iraq will not deliver freedom for the people of Zimbabwe. But if the feeling in the townships and the villages can be focused on 3 April, the ruthless regime may be shown to be much weaker than it appears.
Send messages of support to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions at [email protected]