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Civil society must re-strategize

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Life under a dictatorship in Zimbabwe has seen all systems collapse, including the work of civil society organizations and human rights defenders. If its not the so-called war veterans stifling progress, it is the invisible government dictating obstructive policies like the recent food ban that saw a majority of needy Zimbabweans starve. The same government is slowly but systematically taking the country to hell by committing crimes against its own people, the most recent being the unexplained disappearance of the Global Fund money to fight TB and AIDS and the state indifference to the endemic cholera outbreak.

As to be expected some members of society and civil society have made efforts to protest. A risky occupation in the face of a brutal and unrelenting police force that is always ready to descend on peaceful protesters with baton sticks and tear gas. Marching, as we have seen in the last few years, has been rendered basically useless. So have picketing and other peaceful forms of civil disobedience. A number of civil society groups – notably WOZA, the ZCTU and ZINASU among others have been outstanding in staging protests in Zimbabwe. But none of their endeavors have achieved much. It is high time they all sat down and re-strategized to effect the mother of all protests in Zimbabwe.

The one obvious weakness that has been inherent in the previous protests staged by Zimbabwean civil society has been ‘individualism,’. How often do we hear that today WOZA is staging a demonstration, tomorrow it is the NCA, then ZINASU, and then ZADHR? Each time their separate protests hardly last 30 minutes or achieve the desired goals before the leadership is nabbed and the groups disperse. It is always the same pattern: go out in the street – police appear promptly – protest leaders are nabbed – the rest of the group disperses.

Instead of these individual groups staging their protests separately, it would be more strategic for them to come together as one unit driven by a single passion. The struggle for justice is not about populism or fame, it is about sacrifices and the sooner Zimbabwean civil society organizations realize this the better for everyone. Civil society should be willing to work with other member organizations because they are fighting the same cause – a rogue regime that is trampling its people.

Civil society needs to go beyond their differences and form a highly organized unit that will mobilize in such a way that will ‘confuse’ the police who are used to nabbing the one leader, rendering the protest over. A unified civil society must find tactics that will work. They must abandon ineffective mobilizations. The current type of demonstrations may make participants feel they have done something huge, or garner donor appreciation, but they will not end the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Organizing protests is also about logistics: where people meet; how and where they march to for instance. WOZA has been proficient in timely convergence with the help of synchronized watches and marching in silence for a distance while the crowd gathers. The same tactic  – if adopted by a unified movement of civil society groups has the potential to see the largest march since the 90s. The law of large numbers has historically proved to be the best crowd puller. The more people who march, the more infectious the spirit of solidarity and the higher the possibility of ordinary citizens joining in the protest – which is the desired effect, surely?

And, no matter how many they are, the police do not outnumber the ordinary citizens. The law of large numbers is critical in keeping the rogue police force at bay. Outside the CFX bank in Bulawayo, irritated customers retaliated and pounced on a policeman who was overpowered by the angry mob. Civil society needs must take advantage of the situation – the angry crowds and the fact that the police hardly have the fuel or the water to mobilize their water cannons!

One comment to “Civil society must re-strategize”

  1. Comment by Kubatana.net speaks out from Zimbabwe » Blog Archive » Role of civil society critical in change processes:

    [...] response to my blog Civil society needs to re-strategize one of our subscribers sent in the following comment: I do agree on peaceful demonstrations but [...]