Zimbabwe’s Unity of Purpose (in Protest-Signs)


November 20, 2017

Photo: Protesters demanding President Robert Mugabe stands down march towards State House in Harare. The fact that Mugabe has to go seems to represent most Zimbabweans. But what will happen after the 93-year old is put aside? Photograph: AP (via Independent.co.uk)

Published on 20/11/2017

This weekend, Zimbabweans all over the country took to the streets. On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters came out to demand an end to Mugabe’s rule, but seemingly also to simply celebrate that change was finally coming. And change is coming, that is for sure. An official source with direct knowledge of the ongoing negotiations told CNN that Zimbabwe’s long-time president has agreed to the terms of his resignation and a letter has been drafted. According to the source, the aim of Sunday’s televised speech, in which Mugabe amazed and infuriated the country by apparently resisting calls to step aside, was to ensure the veteran leader openly declared the military’s actions to be constitutional. Despite the disappointing speech, the end of the Mugabe era is only a matter of time.  

Saturday’s protests were described to represent an unprecedented diversity within Zimbabwean society. From war-veterans to displaced white farmers, from ZANU-PF supporters to social-movement leaders, protesters seem to agree on this one point: Mugabe has to go! However, when Mugabe goes, several different scenarios could develop. In very simple terms, the spectrum goes from continued ZANU-PF autocracy under a different leader on the one side, to a transitional coalition authority leading the country into free and fair elections on the other (most positive) side. Considering this spectrum of possibilities, it should be doubted if every Zimbabwean who found him- or herself in the streets on Saturday would still be so united as to the future of Zimbabwe.  


Unity of Purpose 

If we look at the role nonviolent strategy could play in the country, the success of the future struggle for a more democratic and free Zimbabwe will be strongly influenced by three general principles: Unity, Planning, and Nonviolent Discipline. Let us look at the first principle of unity, for now. Besides unity of people, and unity within the organizations which will have to oppose the authoritarian and repressive forces in Zimbabwe, there has to be unity of purpose. As page 87 of the Canvas Core Curriculum tells us, “a movement or campaign must have internal consensus about its goals, and these goals must resonate with significant parts of the larger population.” ‘Mugabe must Go’ might be the mantra which unites the purpose of the broadest base of the protesters on Saturday. However, after Mugabe goes, what must happen? Is there a unity of purpose among Zimbabwean on that part? Or is celebration enough for now? 



As an in-depth research on the purpose of protesters in Zimbabwe might prove hard on such a short notice, let us use a different source: protest signs. As Zimbabweans are becoming a more and more connected people, pictures and videos of Zimbo’s protesting went all over the world on the weekend. What can their protest signs tell us about the unity of purpose among Zimbabweans?  

First, we can see many signs thanking the Zimbabwean Defense Forces, for the role they played in the inevitable toppling of Robert Mugabe. Especially army General Constantino Chiwenga seems to have earned the respect of many protesters. However, would these same people vouch for a continued control of the army over Zimbabwe? Or a new intervention by the General when the developments, let’s say in three months’ time, are not to his liking? It would not be acceptable to say this opinion would resonate with significant parts of the larger population in Zimbabwe, especially not those favoring a more constitutional roadmap towards the future.  

Furthermore, Emmerson Mnangagwa was a strongly represented person in the protest signs over the weekend. The former Vice-President, who is now put forward as the next leader of ruling party ZANU-PF, could, however, not be said to represent the larger population either. As Steven Feldstein puts it, “Mnangagwa is massively invested in ensuring his continued and unfettered access to power, which has proven highly lucrative for him. The vice president is ‘reputed’ to be one of Zimbabwe’s richest people. All of this suggests he might become yet another dictator.” Although the favored option for some, it does not seem likely Mnangagwa as Zimbabwe’s next leader is in the best interest of the Zimbabwean citizen either. Many protest signs also made reference to the fact that, more than wanting Mnangagwa as their next leader, Zimbabweans would at least not accept Grace Mugabe as the next in line of the Mugabe-dynasty, adding to the division in purpose.  

What might worry some, finally, is that those signs referring to bread and butter issues, or a better life for the average Zimbabwean, are very hard to find. A democratic, constitutional process, in which Zimbabwean opposition is represented besides ruling party ZANU-PF seems like the best and most realistic option moving forward for Zimbabwe. But signs referring to the unwanted interference of the African Union or Southern African Development Community, is as far as Zimbabwean protesters get. A free Zimbabwe, for future generations is as scarcely represented. But wouldn’t that be at least part of the goals that should resonate with significant parts of the larger population?  

Luckily, protest signs will not define the future of Zimbabwe by themselves. 

 To end on a lighter note, humor is a Zimbabwean characteristic that cannot be denied. Despite a military coup, the end of a 37-year rule, and not to forget an ongoing socio-economic crisis, some protesters have other things on their mind