News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Mugabe regime feels pressure
by Scott McLemee, an organizer of the solidarity campaign for the
socialists and activists arrested by the Zimbabwean regime, reports on
an international day of action.
March 28, 2011
IN LATE February, when Zimbabwean security forces arrested dozens of
socialists and labor militants who had gathered to discuss recent events
in Egypt and Tunisia, it seemed like another case of Robert Mugabe's
dictatorship doing what it does best: attacking its own citizens.
But it was more than that. By throwing 46 people in prison, the state
expressed the desperate ambition of political thugs and aging dictators
everywhere. They want to halt the spread of solidarity with the North
African uprisings before the new revolutionary spirit spreads to the
rest of the world.
In this, they've failed. On March 21, people around the world mobilized
to demand that all charges against the Zimbabwean activists be dropped.
Most of those arrested on February 19 were released after two weeks in
custody, but the state is prosecuting six "ringleaders" (including much
of the leadership of the International Socialist Organization of
Zimbabwe) for treason, for which they could be given the death penalty.
A number of demonstrations occurred in various countries following the
arrests. But when March 21 was set as a court date for the six
defendants, their supporters around the world decided to make it an
international day of action. Protests were hurriedly organized in South
Africa, Britain, Australia, Sweden and the U.S. An appeal for solidarity
circulated in French and Spanish. And Egyptian revolutionaries joined
the effort with a statement published in Arabic and translated into
English just before the March 21 events.
Demonstrations took place at embassies and other official buildings in
major cities such as London and New York on March 21. But the cause also
drew support in far-flung locations.
Two dozen pamphlets containing articles on Zimbabwe from Socialist
Worker articles were distributed in the college town of Denton, Texas,
where students also gathered 30 signatures on a petition denouncing the
arrests. In Portland, Ore., activists held up signs reading "Organizing
for Democracy is Not a Crime" and "Shame on Mugabe" at a busy
intersection. And a handful of people at a literature table in San
Francisco found it easy to raise interest in the case. Forty people
signed a petition in support of the Zimbabweans.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
UNDOUBTEDLY, THE most impressive of the March 21 demonstrations took
place in Johannesburg, where 350 people marched through the neighborhood
of Hillbrow in Johannesburg. Among them were students and faculty from
the University of Johannesburg, including members of the socialist
organization Keep Left. The protest also drew support from the metal
workers' and municipal workers' unions--as well as workers involved in a
At the end of their march, the South African demonstrators reached a
meeting hall where they were greeted by a drum band. "This was great for
the mood of the event," reports a participant. "The same group put on a
play on xenophobia which was well received by the audience."
An estimated 3 million people have fled political repression and the
collapsing economy in Zimbabwe for South Africa over the past decade.
The influx of refugees has created tension--at least 60 immigrants were
killed in a wave of violence in May 2008.
In London, a protest at the Zimbawean embassy in London was organized by
Action for Southern Africa, the successor organization of the
Anti-Apartheid Movement, and the Socialist Workers Party. Starting out
with 20 people, its ranks swelled by another 30 or 40 when it was joined
by supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change, which is the
largest opposition party in Zimbabwe.
Following a national election in 2008, MDC formed a so-called
"Government of National Unity" with Mugabe's ZANU-PF, but its harassment
by the police has intensified in recent weeks.
London supporters also gathered close to $2,000 in donations for the
defendants' defense fund. In Melbourne, Australia, where 15 people
demonstrated outside Zimbabwe Airlines, members of Socialist Alternative
contributed $2,150 to the Zimbabwean cause. There was also a small
protest in Stockholm.
In the U.S., demonstrators at Zimbabwe's Permanent Mission to the United
Nations in New York City and the country's embassy in Washington, D.C.,
both received surprising evidence that the March 21 actions had made an
impression on the diplomatic staff. In each case, someone came out to
confront the protesters and argue with them.
"An annoyed official at the mission told us that our protests would have
no impact on the case because Zimbabwe's judiciaries are independent,"
reports an organizer of the New York demonstration, which drew 20 people
on a cold, rainy day. "That seems doubtful since there isn't a justice
system in the world that's immune to pressure, be it from the public or
"But that's not the main issue anyway...It's the executive, not the
judiciary, that imprisoned the six activists for almost a month,
tortured them and denied them medical care."
By a most remarkable coincidence, the impeccably dressed Zimbabwean
bureaucrat who came to the embassy gate in Washington made the very same
argument about the sanctity of Zimbabwe's judicial system. A Secret
Service agent and a security guard stood by as the dozen protesters
engaged him in a spirited debate.
"Having been to many a similar protest," one D.C. activist later noted,
"I didn't expect anyone from the embassy to acknowledge us, let alone
feel compelled to speak with us. The fact that someone did shows that
Mugabe's government is feeling the pressure of the movement globally."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"THE INTERNATIONAL solidarity and support has been amazing," wrote
Shantha Bloemen in an e-mail note to coordinators of the March 21
activities. Her husband, Munyaradzi Gwisai, is one of the six defendants
facing treason charges. With the help of comrades abroad, they have been
released on bail and are now receiving the medical treatment they were
denied while in custody.
Perhaps the most egregiously abused was Tafadzwa Choto, who was
brutalized by police despite having recently undergone a surgical
operation and suffering from severe asthma. "Though we were beaten and
tortured," she said upon release, "our revolutionary spirits are still
high. The experience showed us why we should continue fighting for
The struggle is far from over. The legal battle is still underway--and
so is Robert Mugabe's unrelenting campaign of intimidation against
political opponents. "Even though they are out," Bloemen continued, "we
have to keep the pressure on, not only to drop charges but also to
[force Robert Mugabe's government to] stop using the legal system
against ordinary people."
The fight to get the charges dropped can be won. Forcing the regime to
change its ways is another matter. On that point, the most realistic
assessment comes from an astute comment in a message of support from the
Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt:
The struggle against oppression and tyranny is one and it cannot be
divided. The masses in Tunisia and Egypt have proven that no matter how
long autocratic regimes last, the revolution's earthquake can break the
walls and dams. Be sure that the earthquake is coming and that Mugabe
will fall--if not today, tomorrow.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
What you can do
To learn more about the six prisoners and the struggle for their
release, see the Free Them Now!  website, the Solidarity with
Zimbabwean Political Prisoners  website, and the Facebook group (open
to non-Facebook users) Calling for the Release of Zimbabwean Activists .
Sign and circulate a petition  calling for the release of all the
activists. Donate to the "Free the Zimbabwe 45" fund  to contribute
to the legal defense of the activists, as well as support for their
Send an urgent e-mail to Zimbabwean officials calling for the treason
charges to be dropped against Antonater Choto, Welcome Zimuto, Eddson
Chakuma, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Munyaradzi Gwisai and Hopewell Gumbo.
Include these e-mail addresses in the "To" line:
Forward your message separately to these supporters of democracy, so
they have a record of who has appealed to the regime:
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
1.  http://www.freethemnow.com
2.  http://solidaritywithzimbabwe.blogspot.com/
3.  http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_178601402184959
4.  http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/free_zims_now/
5.  http://freethezimbabwe45.chipin.com/free-the-zimbabwe-45-fund
6.  mailto:info33@...
7.  mailto:consular@...
8.  mailto:gapare@...
9.  mailto:mhute@...
10.  mailto:goora@...
11.  mailto:chinoingira@...
12.  mailto:masoso@...
13.  mailto:nyamapfeni@...
14.  mailto:mukupe@...
15.  mailto:socialismfrombelow@...
16.  ashley_fataar@...
17.  shanthabloemen@...
18.  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0
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News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
in charge on this island?
Professor: Why, no one.
Skipper: No one?
Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
-- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"