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BASW calls for an end to political violence in Zimbabwe

Context

After 36 years of rule by 92-year old President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe is again on the brink of collapse, and undergoing a severe economic crisis with the regime running out of funds, leaving it unable to pay civil servants, teachers or policemen. After the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar in 2009 following an inflation rate of 231 million per cent[i], the country has used the US dollar as its currency, but due to economic maladministration and corruption it has itself become scarce. One solution proposed by the regime is to print its own ‘bond dollars’ based on the US currency which the country now depends on, but Zimbabweans are very concerned that this will lead to a further collapse of the currency.

The economy has been devastated by the seizure of most of the former white-owned farms, and even though redistribution was required in the interests of equity, any hope of this was dashed through the allocation of these farms largely to ruling-party associates and senior members of the army, police and the governing elite. President Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, have entrenched their power and there is a climate of fear and despair in the country. With an estimated unemployment rate of 95 percent, Zimbabwe is the country with the highest unemployment rate in the world.[ii]

There is a widespread mood of frustration and people are beginning to run out of patience. Unless the International Monetary Fund or similar institution is willing to give Zimbabwe another bail-out, there is seemingly no way of avoiding the creeping paralysis and collapse of the economy. Banks have already started severe restrictions on the withdrawal of cash.

There have been outbreaks of violence during and before a general stay-away which was called recently, and earlier demonstrations precipitated the temporary closure of the South African border, protesting against new restrictions on imports. There is a continuing spate of conflicts between demonstrators and the police in the capital Harare and elsewhere, where tear gas is often deployed and police regularly use batons to beat people into submission.

Statement of support

Social workers in Zimbabwe are increasingly concerned at the spiraling political violence in the country and the current ban on all kinds of demonstrations within Harare and the rest of Zimbabwe as the country’s political situation remains tense. This follows anxieties over the deteriorating economy and mounting political instability. Police have been attacking demonstrating members of the public involved initially in peaceful workplace stay-aways, including a recent march organised by the National Agenda for Electoral Reform, even after the courts had issued an order sanctioning it, and this has sparked violent protests by opposition supporters. The opposition had intended to petition the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to speed up the implementation of the country’s electoral reforms as the country gears for the next elections in 2018. The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) has been used harshly against those either found organising or taking part in demonstrations, and sanctions include fines and imprisonment. The situation in the country remains highly volatile, with human rights groups and Western embassies urging the government to respect the constitution as well as international laws.

In the context of this trying background, social workers support the efforts of a 39-year-old pastor called Evan Mawarire, based in the capital, Harare, who through a social media campaign has called for Zimbabweans to re-own their flag, to stop wishing they lived in another country, and to force the politicians to answer questions on their lack of accountability and corrupt ways without fear. The hashtag #ThisFlag was born and this campaign commits supporters to refuse to bribe policemen, circulate tales of corruption, and to reject the ruling party's excuses which for years have blamed Western sanctions for dismal delivery of services and the ailing economy.

Social workers in Zimbabwe have to deal with these deteriorating services, including a variety of challenges concerning human rights, such as poverty, domestic violence, dysfunctional families, an increase in the number of orphans following the AIDS pandemic, and trying to help their clients deal with the harsh economic and political situation caused by years of mismanagement of the economy. Social work is a profession committed to human rights and this is embedded in the 2014 Global Definition of the Social Work Profession which states that:

‘Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work’.

These principles are being abrogated in Zimbabwe.

BASW supports the local social work association NASW(Z) in its efforts to assist Zimbabweans affected by these issues and to counter the negative impact of the worsening violence in the country.