Harare – Protests by students and opposition supporters in Zimbabwe this month were “misguided” and should not be compared to South Africa’s #FeesMustFall demonstrations, state media said on Monday.
Arrests – and some claims of police assault – at an anti-government protest in Harare on Thursday and then at a student demonstration in the centre of the capital on Friday have put the spotlight on simmering discontent in Zimbabwe, a country faced with a deepening economic crisis and mounting unemployment.
In the first incident, 26 people were reportedly arrested with another 16 in the second. On November 8, 17 people, including a member of parliament, were also arrested when they gathered for an opposition rally police had cancelled in Harare South.
News of the arrests has brought back memories of police clampdowns on president Robert Mugabe’s critics during the worst years of Zimbabwe’s economic and political crises between 2000 and 2008.
The official Herald newspaper, generally seen as the voice of Mugabe’s ruling party, said in its leader column Zimbabwe’s youths “need reorientation”, arguing their protests had “nothing in common with last month’s student protests in South Africa”. The pro-ZANU-PF paper said South African students had taken on their “proper radical role” in their protests.
However, Zimbabwe’s young opposition supporters were “yearning for a golden era of Rhodesia not even their parents know of,” The Herald charged.
“Here is a youth which has been brainwashed to believe economic sanctions on Zimbabwe are an illusion by ZANU-PF,” the paper claimed.
That was a reference to Mugabe and his government’s long tradition of blaming targeted sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) and the US on the president, his allies and their linked firms for Zimbabwe’s economic mess.
Yet, critics say ZANU-PF policies, like the massive unbudgeted payout to war veterans in 1997, land redistribution and the recent demands for the indigenisation of companies, were largely to blame and had scared off desperately-needed foreign investment.
Watchdog @ZimMediaReview on Monday pointed out a possible inconsistency in The Herald’s argument tweeting: “
@HeraldZimbabwe praises SA students for #FeesMustFall. Would paper react the same to similar fees protests in Zim?”
The Zimbabwean National Students Union reportedly called for Friday’s demonstration partly to protest high fees at tertiary institutions.