Analysts say Mugabe is worried about the developments in Tunisia where protesting youths brought down a regime which had been in power for over 23 years. Similar angry protests have since spread to Egypt and Yemen, where impoverished citizens want their leaders to step down. Just like Mugabe, both Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen have been in power for more than 30 years.
Mugabe’s regime has traditionally relied on violence, mainly using party militia, state security agents, soldiers and police to harass, intimidate, beat up, torture and kill opposition activists. After losing the March 2008 harmonized parliamentary and presidential election, ZANU PF deployed the army in Operation Mavhotera Papi (Where Did You Vote?), killing over 500 people in the process and torturing tens of thousands.
Signs of a similar campaign have already emerged. MDC activists in their urban strongholds of Harare and Chitungwiza are being attacked by hordes of ZANU PF youths, bused in from rural areas. The impoverished youths are usually offered free alcohol and money to beat up opposition supporters. Whenever the MDC activists fight back the police and army come in to assist the ZANU PF youths.
On Saturday two MDC activists were hospitalized in the intensive care unit of a private clinic following a savage attack by a mob of ZANU PF youths and soldiers in the Budiriro suburb of Harare. One of them, William Makuwari, was shot in the left leg by the assailants. He identified Godfrey Gomwe, a ZANU PF chairperson in the area, as one of the shooters. But, as usual, the police refused to make any arrests.
Highlighting the intensity of the violence are reports that nearly 200 MDC supporters sought refuge at the party’s Harvest House headquarters, after being chased from their homes by marauding ZANU PF mobs. This month even Finance Minister Tendai Biti has warned; “The tell-tale signs are already there that you could have another bloodbath,” if elections are held and there is no outside help.
There is a school of thought that in addition to laying the groundwork of terror in preparation for a chaotic election, Mugabe’s regime has one eye on discouraging people from contemplating the sort of protests seen in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. Using social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter activists in those countries have shown that cyber-activism can be translated effectively into protests on the streets.
Demonstrators are being urged to ‘meet in large numbers in their own neighbourhoods, away from police and soldiers, before moving towards key locations.’ Leaflets are also being produced offering advice on how to deal with police brutality, like using dustbins to protect against baton sticks and rubber bullets, and wearing scarves to protect against tear gas.
The effectiveness of sites like Facebook and Twitter has been demonstrated by the the fact that the Egyptian government has shut them down.
With more than 5 million Zimbabweans having access to mobile phones and the growing use of mobile internet, activists see the potential for some sort of similar organization, in cyberspace, for Zimbabweans. – SW Radio