Sekai Holland, a long-time leader of Zimbabwe's liberation struggle and a champion of women's rights, was detained by police on March 11 in the latest violent crackdown by President Robert Mugabe's increasingly unpopular regime. Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai was also arrested and later taken to the intensive care unit of a Harare hospital with severe injuries resulting from police beatings.
One young activist, Gift Tandari, was killed by police when they fired on a rally involving a broad range of groups organised by the Save Zimbabwe Coalition. Dozens of others were arrested; police have been accused of torturing detainees. Police fired water cannons and tear gas in an attempt to prevent people from joining the gathering — which was supposed to be a prayer rally for Zimbabwe's future according to organisers.
The previous week the government imposed a ban on public gatherings in an attempt to curb the groundswell of protests against massive inflation, unemployment and food shortages as the country's economic and social crisis escalates.
Demonstrations immediately followed the arrests, demanding the release of the detainees. Police have been harassing student and other democratic organisations in an attempt to prevent solidarity with the pro-democracy figures.
On March 13, government security forces raided the headquarters of the Zimbabwe Trade Union Congress, assaulting staff and ransacking the offices. Police confiscated campaign material publicising industrial action planned for April.
Describing the current crisis, one activist said, "Over the past weeks we have witnessed massive increases in water bills, electricity, council rates, school fees and drug costs including the most-wanted anti-retrovirals". Wages are abysmally low, "not even enough for transport alone for a month, resulting in workers resorting to walking unbelievably long distances to work".
"But not every Zimbabwean is suffering. Government chiefs, bosses and capitalists and some NGO leaders are living luxuriously in mansions, shopping from very expensive shopping malls and even importing the most posh vehicles rarely driven in even some economically better African countries. Capitalists are taking advantage of this uncontrollable, ever-spiralling inflation to make unprecedented levels of profits without necessarily giving a damn about the suffering workers and ordinary people. Corruption is rampant with senior government officials being on the lead."
He explained that the "fighting spirit" of the late 1990s has returned: "This time again we see a growing wave of resistance from social movements, workers, students, HIV and AIDS activists, those in the informal cross-border trading, constitutional reform activists and the rank-and-file militants in the political parties. Indeed as a result of this growing resistance Mugabe has imposed a de facto state of emergency in Harare. There is a heavy police presence in every corner of Harare harassing people and vendors trying to make a living out of selling their wares."