National Strike and Government Crackdown

Zimbabwe: The People’s Loud and Clear Voice

Zimbabwean soldiers crack down on an opposition protest, June 2, 2003
Zimbabwean riot police forcibly cleared the streets of Harare June 2, 2003, the first day of an opposition-led national strike (Photo: AFP).

Not surprisingly, the besieged government yesterday kept its promise to get tough with mass protests called by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) by deploying thousands of army troops and police across the nation in a huge show of force.

It then rounded up leading figures of the MDC in a dawn “decapitation” swoop against would-be ringleaders of the protests.

But the stunning shutdown of the entire nation, with the capital Harare eerily deserted and resembling a ghost town, dramatically and graphically underlined who now calls the shots in Zimbabwe.

The overwhelming response of Zimbabweans to stay put at home after dire threats from the government that it would crush the protests showed that, while the administration had possibly won this phase of the battle, it had significantly lost the war.

The nationwide shutdown dramatized in no uncertain terms—even to the government’s praise-singers who have had to work overtime for their lunch—that the people will no longer be cowed and that people-power is now on the ascendancy.

This sort of people’s response anywhere else in the world would have automatically led to an immediate resignation of the government, which would have been aware of an embarrassing loss of popular support.

But in Zimbabwe, the government still believes that it can preside over an increasingly disenchanted population by the force of arms.

The question that many in the land are asking is simple: How long will the guns keep the uneasy peace?

The answer is equally simple: not for much longer, judging by the lessons of history.

But perhaps peace-loving—many would say docile—Zimbabweans needed to go through this painful phase of history to make them learn that freedom is so precious it must never again be subjected to the whims of one-person government.

That life without true freedom is but an empty shell and that the cost of regaining your freedom can be very high indeed.

As the booming sounds of military planes repeatedly broke Harare’s uneasy calm yesterday, it would not have been lost on many Zimbabweans who lived through the terror years of the white minority government that the country had come full circle in many ways.

The same strong-arm tactics used against black nationalist guerrillas in the 1970s were now being employed once more and the country itself was again under international sanctions for rebelling against all civilized norms and values.

The siege atmosphere of Rhodesia had come back once more, only that in Zimbabwe, many more of the black majority no longer had any means of survival, in addition to their daily tribulations of searching for hard-to-find fuel and foreign currency, jobs, and medicines, to name a few of the many essentials that have gone underground into the black market—the country’s only working market.

That any government in the brave and digital 21st century could attempt to run a country through a black market is really instructive of how things have fallen apart.

Despite all this and the dark clouds that menacingly hang over Zimbabwe, there is no denying the fact that the country is at the crossroads, frenetically searching for a formula that could restore the land and its people to their former glory and prosperity.

Wherever one goes in the land these days—from the gloomy slums of Mbare in Harare to Makokoba in Bulawayo, and from Sakubva township in Mutare to Chinotimba township in Victoria Falls—the sweet and unmistakable smell of true freedom is everywhere.

All signals point to one certainty: Freedom is coming tomorrow.