Earlier this week top Zimbabwe author Tsitsi Dangarembga was in the news for making the coveted Booker Prize longlist. On Friday she was in the news again: live-tweeting her arrest, with a friend, as she staged a flash protest against corruption in Harare.
“Arrested! At Borrowdale. ‘Ope it will be OK,” Dangarembga, the author of “This Mournable Body” wrote.
We have to keep protesting. https://t.co/Yo2SXYV4XX
– Tsitsi Dangarembga (@efie41209591) July 31, 2020
Shortly afterwards another high-profile Zimbabwean woman — main opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere — was also arrested with six friends for holding up placards. She too recorded the arrest in a Facebook live, just as journalist Hopewell Chin’ono recorded his arrest last week.
“We’re going live. They’re coming. Riot police are coming at us and they’re armed,” said Mahere, a lawyer who stood as an independent candidate in the 2018 elections before joining the party of fellow-lawyer Nelson Chamisa.
There was, perhaps surprisingly, little other in the way of reported arrests or roundups. Friday’s protests had been preceded by tough language and threats from the police and the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, which had branded the protests illegal in a time of coronavirus.
While the ruling elite — and the president — attended the burial in the winter sun at the national shrine of the late agricultural minister and former much-feared army general Perrance Shiri, the streets of the central business district on the capital Harare were reported eerily calm and deserted for much of the day.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project, a rights group, reported a heavy presence of the police in suburbs like Mbare and Highfield, with at least one report of officers assaulting residents at a shopping centre in Highfield.
In this very sad video, a soldier and a police officer brutalises a woman at Gazaland in Highfields. ZPP has managed to interview the woman,and she said was walking out of the supermarket and ordered to lie down before being beaten up. A truckload of cops is at Gazaland right now pic.twitter.com/UMn3jQAhb4
– The Zimbabwe Peace Project (@zppinfo) July 31, 2020
But these were not the scenes of mass uprising Zimbabwe watchers were perhaps waiting for. Tendai Biti, the former finance minister and MDC Alliance vice president, implied that opponents of the government had won a sort of victory in shutting down the country.
“The illegitimate regime has been stretched with thousands of security agents deployed all over. The people are speaking peacefully and autocracy panics,” he wrote on Twitter. British ambassador to Harare Melanie Robinson tweeted her concerns over the “arrests and threats targeting those exercising constitutional rights.”
As Covid-19 starts to rapidly spread in Zimbabwe — there have now been 53 deaths — Mnangagwa is coming under increasing criticism. Inflation of more than 758 percent has rendered health workers’ salaries paltry and nurses and doctors have gone on strike.
Anger was stoked this week when photos were shared of stillborn babies wrapped in hospital linen from the main Harare Central Hospital — their deaths in part attributable to the failing state of the health sector. The UN’s World Food Programme says 8.6 million Zimbabweans, or 60 percent of the population will be food insecure by December.