ON the morning of June 16, 1976 more than 20 000 students from Soweto township took to the streets protesting the introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in all South African schools.
The protest, known as the Soweto Uprising triggered three days of spirited protests that were met with fierce brutality by apartheid South African security forces who killed at least 176 unarmed students. Some put the figure at 700 and more than 4 000 injured. Up to this very day the day is commemorated in South Africa as National Youth Day.
Those spontaneous protests were triggered by the fact that the students were not happy with what the apartheid regime’s new law, and powerful as it was, it relented on introduction of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in all South African schools.
Back home on Monday, May 9, Zimbabwean students and their teachers have called for a national shutdown in protest against the skyrocketing cost of living in the country.
Although the government tells us that everything is well and the country is on course to becoming a middle-income economy by 2030, the situation on the ground is saying otherwise. While President Emmerson Mnangagwa has vowed to “leave no one and no place behind” the situation on the ground is so dire that he needs to stop the train and allow the nation at large to get on board.
His train took off from the station in 2018 at such blistering speed that the majority of the population never had the chance to get on board and as it sped over the past four years it jettisoned many who failed to hold onto the speeding train.
It is, therefore, important for Mnangagwa and his government to heed the many stop, stop, stop cries from the nation which is stranded at the station.
Zimbabwe National Students Union national spokesperson Lenon Mazuru said: “As the student fraternity we are facing many challenges, we are saying the wages our parents are getting are not enough to cater for our fees. Policies which are in place are causing so much havoc, so much damage to the education sector. We need a lot of things which we are unable to afford.”
It is also hoped that Mnangagwa and his government do not see this as a challenge to their power and unleash gun-totting security forces on the peaceful unarmed students, their teachers and parents. The students, their teachers and parents are only protesting over bread and butter issues. They just want affordable basics of life which include food, education and healthcare.
The shutdown, which has been called for speaks to the dire challenges facing the majority of ordinary Zimbabweans who desire a better life. The protest should not be met with police and army brutality. There is no need for anyone to be armed to the teeth because the protesters will not be armed. The shutdown is simply peaceful way of alerting the authorities that things are not okay out there.
So, please no guns and killing each other.
Silencing people who have grievances will only result in the government’s name being further tarnished over human rights abuses at a time its image is already blemished following its past response to peaceful protests.