November 20, 2003:
Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, Bulawayo saw police arrest a large number of human rights activists and union members during protests on November 18. At least 2000 people participated in the protests. Police reportedly attacked the crowd with batons and used dogs as well. The harsh crackdown follows the November 13 statement by the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement that it is committed to removing dictator Robert Mugabe “by force” if necessary. One reason for the demonstrations is the recent extraordinary rise in the cost of living in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean governments own figures for October (released November 18) said inflation went up 70 percent during the month. The inflation rate for the past years is almost 530 percent.
November 19, 2003: President Mugabe and his cronies must be scared, since the police have been ordered to embark on a nationwide firearms audit starting on the 21st. They want the public to take their firearms and firearm certificates to their nearest police station, so the number of guns and types can be verified. A police spokesperson noted that the process wouldn't take much time out of the public's day, which is scheduled to end on December 31 this year.
The authorities are using the excuse of rising crime for this exercise, since a total of 323 armed robberies were committed in Harare between January and October 2003 (compared to 276 during the same period in 2002). Police have so far confiscated at least 200 small arms (including Uzis, CZ pistols, .303 rifles, AK-47s and automatic rifles). Zimbabwe's civilians are not allowed to own AK-47s, Uzis and other automatic rifles. Coincidentally, the ZFM had posted a photo of one of their arms caches with a selection of FN style rifles, AK47s and Uzis. Most of the prohibited firearms are suspected to have been smuggled into Zimbabwe from South Africa and Mozambique, although there was plenty of opportunity for the Zimbabwean defense forces to bring home 'souvenirs'.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's main labor body called for a two day nationwide strike beginning on the 20th, to protest the recent arrest of dozens of its members during anti-government demonstrations. - Adam Geibel
November 15, 2003: General Vitalis Zvinavashe is set to retire at the end of December, after nine years at the helm of the defense forces. Zvinavashe had overseen Zimbabwe's troops during the Congo Civil War, where up to 12,000 of his troops had been fighting alongside the Congo's government forces. He also assisted the United Nations in deploying peacekeepers to Somalia, as well as military observers to Rwanda, Uganda and Angola. Zvinavashe started his military career in 1967, when he joined the ZANLA rebels and received guerilla warfare training at in Tanzania. Interestingly enough, he was later appointed the camp's political commissar.
So what happens after this loyal friend of President Mugabe retires? After the Zvinavashe announcement at the beginning of November, the military's leadership was reportedly anxious after reports that Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) commander Lieutenant General Constantine Chiwenga was picked to become the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) commander ahead of Air Marshall Perence Shiri. Air Force and Army commanders are supposed to be rotated in that leadership position, to avoid charges of favoritism.
However, sidelining Shiri was calculated to defuse any political undertones that might emerge as a result of his association with the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade (which led a violent anti-dissident insurgency operation in Matabeleland where hundreds of Ndebeles were massacred in the early 1980s). If Mugabe chose Shiri, he'd alienate members of his own political party. This begs the question, what can or will Shiri do?
Buying the loyalty of the military and playing politics with senior officers is par for the course in Zimbabwe. Back in January 2002, Michael Quintana, editor of the Africa Defense Journal had warned that Mugabe would be unwise to rely too heavily on the army to keep him in power if Zimbabwe's voters wanted him to go. This remains true, since Zimbabwe's worsening economy makes regime change more attractive.
Mugabe has precedent to fear a revolt to unseat him and his friends. Immediately after the Rhodesian government capitulated in 1980, 5,000 ZIPRA rebels took up arms against then-new President Mugabe's ZANLA. Only the efforts of a few hundred black and white former Rhodesian soldiers (together with the air force) managed to defeat the rebellion and prevent Zimbabwe from descending into open civil war. - Adam Geibel
November 13, 2003: A group calling itself Zimbabwe Freedom Movement (ZFM) released a statement in London saying that "since we have not achieved democracy by peaceful means, despite the best efforts of the only viable opposition party in Zimbabwe, it is necessary to place the illegitimate president and government of Zimbabwe on notice that they are about to be removed by the judicious use of appropriate force".
British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell claimed that the ZFM had a network of cells throughout the country and could muster thousands (mostly soldiers, police and security services personnel disillusioned with President Mugabe and his cronies). They had access to arms dumps and were serving notice that Mugabe should resign or face removal by "judicious use of appropriate force".
Zimbabwe, which is in its fourth year of recession, does not have enough hard currency to import essential commodities such as fuel, food and medicines. The Zimbabwean economy is in a shambles. Police arrested 269 illegal foreign currency dealers in the country's two main cities. Last week, the government also deployed riot police in both the capital Harare and in Bulawayo in a bid to stop illegal foreign currency dealing.