Arrested: Lovemore Matombo (pictured) and Wellington Chibebe, both of the ZCTU, have been arrested
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions had called for mass action today, but it has not materialised. People are going about their business as if nothing has happened at all. The protest was supposed to kick off in First Street, where most banks have their flagship branches. But when I passed through at 8:30 this morning, nothing was happening, the place, normally so busy with very long queues especially at CABS, the building society, was unnaturally quiet, virtually empty.
Wellington Chibebe, the extremely brave head of the Trade Union movement (he has been arrested and tortured several times), managed to present a petition to Gideon Gono, I gather, but was arrested soon after that! He is still in custody. The stubborn and feisty head of the Progressive Teachers Union, Raymond Majongwe, has also been arrested. But the protest itself never came off.
MDC youths did try to gather and start something, but they were dispersed by riot police and that was the end of the whole thing. They never regrouped and the whole thing fizzled out within matter of seconds.
Harare's city centre streets were full of people going about their business. Even money-changers were busy whistling "U-sar (Us Dollar), Rand, tirikuchinja (we're changing)."
I went round from one end of the city centre to another and there was not even a hint that a protest had been called for. It is a bit disturbing, considering the suffering people are going through. The question I have been asked most often today is: why have people not at least tried? The government did not even bother to bring out riot police convoys in any meaningful numbers to patrol the streets as they normally do when mass action is called for. Why did the people not come out, then?
The answer lies in the way the protest was been organised. The ZCTU have not handled the action well at all. First of all, they announced that the action would take the form of people going to the banks and demanding to withdraw ALL their money in one go, causing chaos and gridlock at financial institutions.
Then, when they saw the soldiers "rioting", the organisers changed tack a bit and hinted that this would be a widespread action. They issued a call for the soldiers who were disgruntled to join them on the day (today).
As a result, most people were not sure what exactly they were supposed to do. were they supposed to march? Were they supposed to go and ask for more than the 500 thousand currently allowed (the new limit is effective Thursday)? And if the bank said they did not have the money to give them, what then were they supposed to do?
There was no central focus to the protest, as it could be diffused , even if it had been implemented, by having people go to any nearest branch of their bank to ask for more than the daily limit. Hence, this protest was never going to gain the momentum that makes such action successful.
In addition to this, Gono had also tried to block this whole protest by his announcement that people could, from tomorrow (Thursday), withdraw a weekly allocation of $100 million in one day. Most people are waiting for tomorrow then, to go and get their money and start spending it before value is eroded, as it surely will.
The ZCTU should have postponed the action from today to tomorrow, when the NCA are planning theirs. You can rest assured that there will be thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people in bank queues, waiting to get that money and use it while it retains value. These people will not all get their money, that is certain, and if they had leadership in those queues, when they fail to get that money, they will be so angry, so very angry, in fact, that maybe, just maybe, they could be induced into doing something "spontaneously".
But then, we must also remember the character of Zimbabweans. Even if they did start something, unlike in other countries where, when protesters are dispersed by tear gas and water canons, they disperse temporarily, regroup and come back at the riot police, in Zimbabwe our people will run hell for leather, not looking back until they are inside their own home, with the doors locked behind them. They do not conduct running battles with riot police. This has never happened. Which is why the sustained action by the soldiers over four days (lasting no more than an hour or so each day), was too clever for its own contrived good.
The NCA may get some success tomorrow with the planned protest, but I doubt it. You will almost certainly see police out in full force because they also realise that the large crowds trying to access 100 million dollars at the bank tomorrow can get out of hand. Still, even the NCA has also not focused their protest. In a move that is contradictory, they are planning for this to be "spontaneous." People have no idea where the central focus of the protest will be, what form it should take and even what the conditions for it to be a success are. I fear it will go the same way as the ZCTU protest today. But we will see.
Oh, and Sydney Sekeramayi, Minister of Defence, was on TV at lunch time saying some nonsense about "rogue soldiers" and how they will be punished. Order, apparently, has been restored and "people should go about their business peacefully." He apologised for damage to "civilian property". The language is significant. Other than that, I do not think anyone paid much attention. The government's word lost credibility a long time, except where it concerns threats against the people. Then we take note.