Organizers of a general strike against Africa’s oldest leader, the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe pledged on Thursday to continue action until he falls, as a spontaneous social media movement has coalesced into the biggest uprising against his rule in nearly a decade.
Zimbabweans have been using the Internet in recent weeks to mobilize for street protests against Mugabe’s government, bypassing traditional opposition parties as anger grows over his administration’s handling of a failing economy.
His critics say he has presided over the destruction of a once-promising country with policies such as the seizures of white-owned farms; his government blames foreign powers for sabotaging the economy and stirring unrest.
On Wednesday, much of the country was shut down by a “stay away” general strike, organized by a social media movement that complains of poor public services, 85% unemployment, widespread corruption and delays in getting state salaries.
The unlikely protest leader is a pastor, Evan Mawarire, who launched the movement – #ThisFlag – to get Zimbabweans to rally round the national flag and speak out against Mugabe policies.
Evans told Reuters the movement had found its voice and was planning more action in the wake of the success of Wednesday’s strike, which shut down much of the capital Harare.
“We are getting to a place where we are now expressing that we have had enough. What we are doing is about one action, one voice concerning our frustration. Enough is enough,” he said.
Mawarire’s #ThisFlag movement says it will hold another strike next week lasting two days if demands are not met, including the sacking of corrupt ministers, the payment of delayed salaries and the lifting of roadblocks that residents say are used by police to extract bribes.
Other social media movements have also appeared, such as Tajamuka – ‘We refuse’ in Zimbabwe’s Shona language – which launched spontaneous demonstrations in the last month.
Citizens have taken to Twitter and Facebook to vent their anger against a ruling party they see as detached from their daily struggles, while it is consumed by internal fights over who will eventually take-over from the ageing Mugabe.
Mawarire, the #ThisFlag leader, demanded an end to the lavish lives of party aparatchiks.
“We are saying no to government expenditure which is senseless. They are broke because they have mishandled the economy,” he said.