Harare – With a ban on demonstrations spectacularly overturned, opponents of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe are already looking forward to another protest: the singing of Nkosi Sikelela Africa during a football match on Sunday.
Zimbabwe’s former finance minister Tendai Biti was jubilant after he took Mugabe’s government to court over an unpopular 14-day ban on demonstrations – and won.
In a ruling that seems to have been anticipated by at least one cabinet minister, High Court Judge Priscilla Chigumba on Wednesday afternoon overturned the ban, which had been issued by a senior police officer, for seven days, rights lawyers have confirmed.
Tweeted Biti: “Wow. Bravo to the courts. Bravo to the constitution. Bravo to judicial independence. Zikomo. Zikomo (Thank you. Thank you).”
‘Enough is enough’
Unrest is growing in crisis-riddled Zimbabwe against a background of cash shortages, widespread unemployment and attempts by the authorities to stifle protests and limit access to social media.
Online, activists are already offering free tickets to Sunday’s match between Highlanders and Dynamos, Zimbabwe’s best-known teams. Urged on by exiled #ThisFlag protest pastor Evan Mawarire, they plan to sing the Nkosi Sikilela Africa anthem during the 36th minute of the game in a nod to Mugabe’s 36 long years in power.
If it goes ahead, the protest will echo one staged last month in Bulawayo at a cricket match against New Zealand. Activists waved Zimbabwe’s flag and sang the national anthem during the 36th over of the game.
Pushing for Sunday’s protest, Mawarire said in a video posted to social media: “Enough is enough… They keep beating us, they keep arresting us and the country is falling to pieces.”
He and those now left to lead Zimbabwe’s protests on the ground have been keen to stress that all demonstrations should be peaceful, though Mugabe and his loyalists insist the protesters are violent.
Some shops and market stalls were burnt when police stopped a demonstration in Harare on August 26. It’s still not clear who did the damage.
But Mugabe’s former spin doctor Jonathan Moyo, who now serves as higher education minister, said in a tweet hours before Wednesday’s ruling that the organisers of protests ought to “deposit surety” in a suggestion greeted with howls of protest by Zimbabweans on Twitter. More than one user asked if he meant that only those with money could protest.
The 92-year old president complained during a politburo meeting on Wednesday that the opposition “wanted to force Zanu-PF into a government of national unity”, state ZBC television reported in the main evening news bulletin.
Predictably, Mugabe said that would not happen.