BY Everson Mushava
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa was yesterday left red-faced after only 7 000 people turned up for his much-hyped anti-sanctions march.
Zimbabweans, battling skyrocketing prices, rising inflation and low pay, snubbed the march against the West to remove sanctions imposed in 2001.
The giant National Sports Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 60 000, was sparsely occupied as even some of the people bussed from outside Harare opted to fight over freebies, which included T-shirts and food, which were being dished outside the venue.
In the run up to the march, Zanu PF party and government officials demanded that schoolchildren be released to take part in the march, while Mnangagwa declared a national holiday to facilitate attendance.
Mnangagwa is struggling to deal with Zimbabwe’s worst economic crisis in a decade, with the country enduring rolling power cuts of up to 18 hours daily and shortages of foreign exchange, fuel and medicines.
The European Union (EU) and United States imposed financial and travel bans on top Zanu PF and top figures for alleged human rights abuses and electoral fraud in 2001. The EU has since removed the embargo.
In the days leading to the march, most government workers were being threatened to attend and that registers would be marked at the protest.
Some buses deployed to pick up participants from various areas across the country came back empty after people snubbed them, with one 75-seater bus coming with seven passengers from Mvurwi in Mashonaland Central.
“We were 32 passengers on the bus from Mvurwi, but the second bus only had seven people on board,” said one participant who requested anonymity.
“We were being threatened with being denied inputs for this year’s agricultural season if we failed to come to Harare for the anti-sanctions march.”
Addressing the participants, who marched from Robert Mugabe Square to the stadium, Mnangagwa thanked people “from all walks of life who came in such large numbers to mark this important day.”
He said the sanctions had caused untold suffering to the ordinary people and were perpetuating the cycle of poverty in the country.
“Thank you Sadc by standing by us and for speaking with one voice at the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly. We also say thank you to the African Union and progressive world, for supporting us during these difficult years in the history of our economy,” Mnangagwa said.
He claimed that the sanctions were a reaction to the land reform programme.
“Ours was a fight to reunite the people with their land and the land with its people, which promise we fulfilled during the land reform exercise. However, this had dire consequences, and led to the imposition of the illegal and unjustified sanctions by the European Union and the United States of America.”
He said the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, passed in 2001, prohibits Zimbabwean entities from doing business with the US and denies the country access to international lines of credit from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank as well development finance.
“Zidera has blocked Zimbabwe’s access to international credit markets, leading to the drying up of traditional sources of external finance,” he said, adding that the negative perception created by the embargoes denied the country foreign inflows.
Mnangagwa claimed that his government had taken deliberate steps to make political and economic reforms.
“The far-reaching implications on Sadc’s ability to achieve its collective targets in the social, economic and financial spheres cannot be ignored. This is the reality of these sanctions. No amount of propaganda can spin or sugar-coat this gruesome truth.”
He said government programmes such as Command Agriculture, which is at the centre of a US$3 billion scandal, would be used to mitigate the impact of sanctions.
But the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has accused Mnangagwa’s regime of trying to hide its failures by hiding behind sanctions.
The committee’s chairman, Senator Jim Risch said Mnangagwa’s government should instead focus on improving its governance record.
“Responsibility for the current political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe falls solely on the ruling regime that has governed the country for decades. If Zimbabwe’s leaders put as much time, financial resources, and effort into delivering on their long-promised reforms as they have in distorting facts and organising ‘anti-sanctions’ campaigns, Zimbabweans would not continue to suffer under the dire economic and humanitarian conditions they face today. The US does not sanction people without just cause — sanctions are a response to malign activity,” said Risch in a Press release on Thursday night.
In Gweru, businesses and informal traders yesterday operated as usual while at Kudzanai long-distance bus terminus, traders completely ignored the march which was led by Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Larry Mavhima.
A crowd of people bussed from mainly Chiwundura, Lower Gweru, Mkoba and peri-urban areas surrounding the city constituted the majority of the marchers.
Riot police maintained heavy presence during the march.
Traffic police had a torrid time trying to stop motorists from moving into the central business district ahead of the march as the drivers insisted they wanted to carry out their daily business operations.
At the venue of the anti-sanctions march, affiliates of Zanu PF like war veterans gave solidarity messages and Mavhima later read Mnangagwa’s speech.
In Manicaland, very few people took to the streets for the march despite reports of some shops being forced to close by suspected Zanu PF activists to mobilise demonstrators.
The march started late after a vain wait for participants.
However, addressing journalists after the gathering, Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister Ellen Gwaradzimba defended the low turnout, saying people were still learning the importance of the day.
“It is not a bad start, it (demonstrations) started late. People are still in the process of learning the importance of the day. It was quite a sizeable crowd, but it started late. At the same time, I can’t really complain,” she said.
The march in Bulawayo was a non-event, with very few people bothering to turn up at White City Stadium despite the provision of cheap transport to the venue.
Bulawayo Metropolitan Affairs minister Judith Ncube read Mnangagwa’s speech, which was attended by Industry deputy minister Raj Modi, Zanu PF central committee member Angeline Masuku, Zanu PF politburo member Absalom Sikhosana and former Makokoba legislator Tshinga Dube, among others.
The regional Southern African Development Community rallied behind Zimbabwe’s call for an end to sanctions.
Attendance was much better at the South African side of the Beitbridge border post, where African National Congress secretary-general Ace Magashule.
He addressed about 1 000 members of the party from the Limpopo province who braved the heat for the march.
Magashule said sanctions against Zimbabwe were hurting the entire region and liberation movements ruling Sadc countries would rally behind the country to have them removed.
He said his country had started educating its nationals against xenophobia, which was a direct result of the sanctions.
The ANC stalwart also said Africans were one people and must unite against imperialism and US-led sanctions against Zimbabwe which despite being targeted hurt everyone.
— Additional reporting by Tapiwa Zivira, Rex Mphisa, Kenneth Nyangani, Praisemore Sithole, Brenna Matendere