Police and soldiers have killed at least a dozen people, wounded scores and arrested hundreds since mass strikes and demonstrations began on 14 January against the government of Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa, a longtime sidekick of the former liberation fighter turned despot Robert Mugabe, eased the 94 year-old Mugabe out of office in November 2017, but has continued a regime very like Mugabe’s corrupt and autocratic crony capitalism.
The protests started with a shutdown called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and have escalated into a rolling wave of strikes and other action.
As we go to press, civil service unions, who are planning a nationwide strike from 22 January demanding to be paid in US dollars. Mnangagwa has promised (22 January) to “investigate” abuses by his security forces, a promise which indicates that he feels under pressure.
The wave of revolt started after Mnangagwa announced, on 12 January, that the price of petrol would be increased to $3.31 per litre from $1.32 from midnight, but there would be no increase for foreign embassies
and tourists paying in cash U.S. dollars.
There were already fuel shortages, and the price rise meant that even those who struggled to the head of the queues could scarcely afford what they had queued for.
Officially, since 2016, Zimbabwe’s economy runs on US dollars. But “dollars” held in Zimbabwean bank accounts, so-called “zollars”, exchange for actual dollars at the rate of US $1 = Z $4.
There is a strict limit on withdrawals from bank accounts. There are shortages of basic supplies. To shop in a supermarket you must first wait in a long queue. Many households depend on supplies sent in by relatives who have fled to work in South Africa or other nearby countries.
Zimbabwe has a genuine, though harassed, trade union movement, organised through the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which was central to the opposition to Mugabe.
Politically, the opposition is dominated by the Movement for Democratic Change. Morgan Tsvangirai, the main MDC leader until his death in February 2018, founded the MDC in 1999 after eleven years as secretary of the ZCTU and previous years as a miner and a miners’ union official.
The MDC reports that five of its MPs are currently being detained and denied the chance to apply for bail, and a sixth MP has been arrested, detained, and then released without charge.
The MDC has drifted into largely neoliberal politics. Socialist groups exist in Zimbabwe, but are weak. In the current wave of protests, Zimbabwe’s government has shut down much of the internet in the country, making it difficult to get news out.