Social movements : Challenges and lessons going forward


By Pride Mukono

Social movements have played an important historical role in the democratic struggles of post independence Zimbabwe. Since 2009, after consummation of the Government of National Unity, however the social movements appear to have ‘retreated’ from the forefront of the struggle. 2016 has marked a remobilisation of the social moments anchored around the global phenomena of social media mobilisation.

This paper will examine the resurgence of the social movements, explore the challenges and proffer a way forward for the social movements.

Resurgence of social movements

From the onset of 2016 it was set to be a tough year for the generality of the citizens. The economy continued on a free fall, public sector corruption continued to hog the headlines of all news outlets and basic services such as health, education and water became luxuries for ordinary people.

Over 4.5 million people faced starvation in the wake of a devastating drought coupled with poor agricultural policies from the government.

In the face of such a deady crisis, the government appeared to be clueless and carefree as they were indeferent. The ruling party was in fact embroiled in power tussles to replace their aged leader.

The reality of this situation triggered citizens into action. It was the civil servants under the leadership of the militant Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ) and the medical workers under the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) and the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZiNA).

These unions mobilised their membership around bonuses and late payment of their December 2015 salaries. Thus the first of what would be a year of protests was a demonstration on 4 January 2016.

From then on the tempo had been set and the citizen was awakening and demanding answers from their leaders.

Zimbabwe Activists Alliance

At the start of the year, activists came together to form an online WhatsApp community to discuss the issues facing the nation and to mobilise actions around these.
One of the flagship protest was the ‘show Zimbabwe love’ on valentines day on 14 February 2016. The police responded with cold brutality to this protest of love for the nation.

ZAA still remains as a platform for mobilisation and has led many protests under the leadership of Muzvare Mudehwe. Itself a critical show of women getting at the forefront of social movement activities.

National vendors union

National vendors union of Zimbabwe (NAVUZ) was also another critical platform for mobilising popular resistance to the rot in the country. Many of the unemployed are making a living selling a wide range of products on the streets.

The response of authorities has been a ruthless clampdown on these, looting their wares and assaulting them on a daily basis. The vendors organised dozens of protests in town demanding a respect of their right to a decent life. The Navuz leader, Stan Zvorwadza became famous for protesting against vice president Phelekezela Mphoko’s expensive, senseless and extravagant hotel stay.


By May, the national mood was tense as citizens were standing up for their rights everywhere. Occupy Africa Unity Square working with other activist organisations called for a day and night occupation of Africa Unity Square protesting against continued economic rot and deteriorating human rights situation. The activists were also calling for a closure to the case of missing human rights activist, Itai Dzamara who was abducted on 9 March 2015.


The citizens’ voices calling for the government to prioritise their situation ahead of petty politicking.
A pastor, Evan Mawarire, started the #ThisFlag campaign which made use of social media platforms to share video recordings of Mawarire passionately calling on the authorities to be responsive to the suffering of ordinary citizens. He also mobilised citizens to speak out using #Hatichada #Hatichatya.

Within weeks the #ThisFlag campaign was trending on social media sites and was instrumental in mobilising for the successful national shutdown on 6 July 2016.


On 1 June 2016, youths from civic society and political parties came together and launched a radical campaign calling on president Mugabe to step down. They were mobilised under the banner of #Tajamuka/Sesijikile.
The campaign was very active on the ground mobilising young people, mainly the unemployed and those from ghettos.


The resurgence of the social movement made many achievements such as putting pressure on the leadership of President Mugabe, awakening of citizens’ consciousness and putting the Zimbabwean situation back on the national agenda.
However there have been challenges which threatened to cripple the social movements.

1. State brutality

The state security departments have been brazenly brutal in dealing with activists arrested during protests. Court applications by human rights lawyers in all the cases read like an x-rate horror script. Limbs have been broken, body organs cut off and bizarre staff injected into activists.
Abductions and assault are the order of the day and hundreds have been denied bail and locked up in prisons. Such an environment makes it difficult to operate and to build strong movements.

2. Internal weaknesses

The social movements themselves have internal weaknesses which threaten their tenacity and endurance. Most of the emerging movements are built around ‘lone ranger’ activists or a few dozen ones. The challenge has been that once the leaders of these movement are under attack activities automatically stop.

Moreover it makes them victims of the system as they can be easily isolated.
Further the issues of focus have also not been sustainable amd there has not been much collaboration across the different movements. There is also lack of a collective strategy to guide the many protests which are occurring across the country.

Rural mobilisation has been weak as most of the issues of the social movements has been hinged on urban political economy.

The issues of focus have also not been sustainable beyond the emotional reaction they invoke. There is lack of a collective charter of demands and a shared strategy on resistance actions that being done on the ground.

Funding is also a challenge for the activities of the social movements especially the one going to deliberate political education for the masses. Structures are also loose which make it difficult for the movements to be sustainable.

Way forward

The social movements are a vital cog of Zimbabwe’s democratisation and economic equality struggles.

1. Development of a joint strategy
2. Developing a comprehensive political education programme which focuses on nonviolent strategies for social change.
3. Producing a collective list of demands
4. Putting up transparent mechanisms of managing funds and solidarity support for social movements.
5. Increased collaboration with traditional civic society organisations.


The resurgence of the social movements is an important development in the struggle for a new Zimbabwe. Thus the traditional organised civic society must continue to play the role of coordinating and broadening dialogue and providing thought leadership im this process.

Pride Mkono is a social justice activist and works with #Tajamuka. He is also the National Coordinator for FES alumni and tweets @pridemkono

Previous articleBond notes debate held in St. Mary’s.
Next article