The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has called for nationwide demonstrations for today, Wednesday 13 September in what the union has termed ‘Operation tatambura: usadherere mushandi’ [we are suffering: don’t take workers for granted]. The ZCTU is demanding salary increments aligned to the poverty line which would currently require more than double what most workers are earning. In addition the union is demanding a reduction of income tax to a maximum of 30% and access to anti-retroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV/Aids..
A sense of looming mass action hangs heavily in the air of Zimbabwe’s cities. For the past few months various civic group have successfully organising confidence building actions. Only yesterday the radical urban women’s movement Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza) besieged the Harare town house protesting against awful service that the imposed commission running the affairs of the city has subjected residents. The women were also demanding an elected council that will serve the interests of residents not Zanu PF politicians. Over sixty women - some with babies on their backs - were arrested for participating in the peaceful demonstration at Town House, the municipal offices for the City of Harare.
The Woza demonstration follows demonstrations by the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) which in the past few months has successfully transformed itself into a militant residents' movement. In the past few weeks CHRA has organised decentralised community based actions which saw residents in townships like Glenview, Budiriro and Dzivarasekwa protesting and dumping waste at local council offices. Only last weekend over 400 residents organised by CHRA marched through the city of Harare demanding a democratic city council. At the same time CHRA is coordinating a campaign to boycott paying of rates to the city council and to resist water cut offs and evictions. Two of CHRA’s officers are currently in court charged with an alleged abduction of a city council official when all they did was stop him from cutting off the water of a resident.
Its not surprising that the matter of service delivery in cities has become such a hot issue. Some of the worst manifestations of the crisis of neo-liberalism are seen in municipal service delivery. Huge expenditure cut offs have led to perennial sewerage bursts, dangerous pot holes and manholes, erratic water supplies that sometimes come with raw sewage. Generally municipal infrastructure has collapsed - including street lighting, refuse collection and community facilities. Council clinics are now ghost centres where residents can't even find painkillers. Even more infuriating is the fact that the government sacked popularly elected MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) mayors in many cities and replaced them with corrupt political appointees who are not accountable to residents.
Youth organisations are getting involved with mass actions - a component that has been missing in the past. In particular the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) in association with the Student Solidarity Trust is reorganising the 50,000 strong tertiary students constituency, while working closely with other civic groups to escalate pressure on the regime. The government recently increased fees by over 1000% and students are up in arms.
On Monday over 50 student leaders from colleges around the country were cornered by armed riot police at a ZINASU general council and effectively put under house arrest for a whole day. The police disrupted the council meeting on the flimsy grounds that it was an illegal gathering because the students union had not applied for permission to hold the meeting under the draconian Public Order and Security Act which requires that a public meeting of more than three people must get police clearance.
Another significant youth formation is the Uhuru Network, a radical network of youth activists that emerged from the Zimbabwe Social Forum process. Uhuru - which is in close alliance with CHRA, Woza and other Zimbabwe Social Forum groups - has taken an innovative grassroots, community based approach to confidence rebuilding, mobilisation and actions involving ghetto youths, young workers and resistance artists.
The Morgan Tsvangirai faction of the MDC has also been talking of action for some time now. Since March Tsvangirai has been on a nationwide tour holding rallies and consulting on action. His party’s exact plans however remains unknown as they have not been made public. Last week Morgan led the leadership of his party in an unannounced demonstration on which they handed over a petition to parliament demanding an end to the suffering of Zimbabweans.
The remaining key challenge for progressive civic groups and opposition political parties generalising their struggles and learning to work together in a progressive United Front, it is clear that Zimbabwe is counting down towards a second wave of resistance - much more rooted and ideologically richer in its demands because of the prominence of bread and butter issues. The socio-economic crisis is totally unsustainable now and the masses are regaining their confidence and coming to the realisation that victory can only be through struggle.
Shinga Mushandi Shinga! Qina Msebenzi Qina!