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In Zimbabwe, government and protesters get more defiant

07 September 2016, 18:56

Harare — For many in Zimbabwe, enough is enough.

The words are spelled out in anti-government graffiti in the capital, Harare, one of several new declarations of defiance that authorities have trouble scrubbing away.

Over the weekend, President Robert Mugabe also declared "enough is enough" of the growing protests that reflect nationwide anger over a plummeting economy and alleged state corruption. Protesters have clashed with police wielding tear gas, water cannons and batons. Hundreds have been arrested.

Both sides of the political divide are increasingly fed up, an ominous sign in this country whose 92-year-old leader is showing signs of advanced age but makes no move of wanting to quit. Mugabe has been in power since independence from white minority rule in 1980, meaning any political transition will be a leap into the unknown for most people in a nation with a record of disputed and sometimes violent elections.

Many in Zimbabwe are waiting to see whether the fragmented opposition that recently joined forces can find enough momentum to force real change. The opposition has faltered in the past because of government crackdowns, internal divisions and other problems.

"Forming a coalition would present the opposition with the best chance to unseat Mugabe," said Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst at the University of Zimbabwe. But he said the opposition likely would struggle with "state-sponsored election violence, intimidation and the involvement of the military in elections."

Opposition leaders, including former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and a former vice president, Joice Mujuru, have mentioned the possibility of contesting the next elections in 2018 as a single front.

Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state, has vowed to run for office again.

But the shrewd operator, who joked away the latest rumors of his death last weekend after an overseas absence, has struggled to curb divisions within his own party. He continues to say the growing unrest is manipulated by adversaries in the West like the United States.

"We cannot sit idly while our country is being torn apart by unruly foreign-sponsored agents," Ignatius Chombo, the home affairs minister, said last month.

Many demonstrations are now organized through social media, prompting the government to announce plans for a law that would tighten social media controls and target what it calls "cyberterrorists."

Mugabe has criticized the courts for overruling an earlier police ban on demonstrations, saying the decision had endangered stability. Human Rights Watch has accused the president of interfering in the judiciary's independence.

A two-week protest ban is currently in effect, but opposition groups plan another demonstration on Sept. 16 after it expires.

Amid the uncertainty, many people in this country of 13 million people focus on daily survival, selling medicine, car parts or basic food staples on the street. They stand in long lines at banks because of shortages of the U.S. dollar, which replaced the local currency years ago because of hyperinflation.

The government has failed to pay its more than 500,000 employees, including the military, on time since June.

Some Zimbabweans are joining Pentecostal churches that have been mushrooming across the country in hopes of a miracle. The churches are often led by couples calling themselves "prophet and prophetess" who sell things like rubber bracelets and "anointed" water to followers, promising miraculous riches.

"I want the 'prophet' to bless my business. Everything else has failed to work," Mateo Sithole said while packing potatoes at his market stall in the eastern city of Mutare. "People have no money. They are not buying,"

In Harare, the anti-government graffiti on downtown buildings takes aim at the man in charge.

"You are now a ghost," one says. Another says: "Old Mugabe must go now."

- AP


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