When Mohammed Bouazizi set himself alight he unwittingly ignited a wave of popular uprisings and rebellions that have spread like wildfire across North Africa and the Middle East, the heat of which can be felt as far afield as Zimbabwe where, on Saturday 19th February, 46 pro-democracy activists including students, workers and trade unionists were arrested in Harare. According to police documents they were arrested for plotting an Egypt-style revolt to overthrow Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, at a meeting to discuss the fall of Hosni Mubarak and events in North Africa and the Middle East. The arrested, who represent the Zimbabwean Federation of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZNSU) and the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), had just watched documentary news footage on the uprising in Egypt and, according to state prosecutors, were there to “organise, strategise and implement the removal of the constitutional government of Zimbabwe … the Egyptian way”.
At least eight of the people arrested, who the state considers to be ringleaders, are reported to have been beaten and tortured in custody. Amongst those arrested were HIV-positive women, who were denied treatment. One of the women arrested also had major brain surgery last year, and was beaten in police custody as one of the alleged leaders. Another broke her leg trying to escape when they were being arrested.
After spending four nights in Harare Central Prison the 46 appeared in court on Wednesday 23 February where, in addition to being charged with plotting to overthrow the government through unconstitutional means, which can carry a penalty of up to twenty years in prison, they were also charged with treason – the penalty for which could be the death sentence.
According to sources in Zimbabwe the regime’s propaganda machine has been working in overdrive to vilify the comrades arrested and to intimidate the public. With the spread of popular uprisings and revolts against authoritarian and undemocratic regimes engulfing North Africa and the Middle East there is reason to believe that Bob the Butcher and his cronies are concerned that the inspiration and example – of spontaneous uprisings of the exploited and oppressed against undemocratic regimes – could spread south, igniting an uprising to topple Mugabe himself.
Looking at what is happening to dictatorships and authoritarian regimes further north, it appears that Mugabe and his henchmen might be getting nervous, and intend to make an example of those arrested in order to weaken existing movements and struggles, but also to send a message to the people that resistance will not be tolerated. That Mugabe will not be toppled as easily as Mubarak. The new charge of treason testifies to this.
The Harare 46 were arrested because, in the magnificent events unfolding in North Africa and Middle East – for all the weaknesses and contradictions that they may have – they see a glimmer of hope. Hope in the fact that ordinary people, workers, students, the unemployed and dispossessed have the power to build pyramids for pharaohs… but that we also have the power to tear them down. To topple tyrants. They were arrested because, in their hope, Mugabe, his henchmen and tyrants everywhere see the haunting reflections of their own despotic regimes being razed to the ground.
We too have hope. We hope that, as the flames of indignation and rebellion spread, their impact grows deeper, and more profound each day. As doors are thrown open on new ideas and possibilities, we hope that people will work to consolidate the freedoms and gains won thus far through struggle, and advance through struggle without allowing their movements to be co-opted by parties, politicians or authoritarian and opportunistic leaders. We hope too that, as these emerging movements grow more confident through struggle, they develop broader, more far-reaching horizons of social transformation.
In extending our hands in solidarity with the 46 activists arrested in Zimbabwe we call on all anarchist and socialist revolutionaries, activists and seekers of real freedom everywhere to extend solidarity to all those arrested, beaten and tortured – in Zimbabwe, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere – for daring to seek a brighter future; a future of dignity, freedom and hope.
Immediate and unconditional freedom for the Harare 46! Drop all charges now!
Immediate and unconditional freedom for everyone arrested during the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere!