Could a social media hashtag – tapping into the energy and anger of the global #BlackLivesMatter phenomenon – help achieve in Zimbabwe what years of street protests, strikes and political campaigns have so clearly failed to do?
Over the last few days, in response to a particularly brutal, public, widespread, and on-going clampdown by security forces, the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter has gone viral, globally.
Celebrities like rappers Ice Cube, AKA and Lecrae and actresses Thandie Newton and Pearl Thusi have expressed support for – or at least interest in – what appears to be an exploding grassroots campaign against the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man who took over from former leader Robert Mugabe.
“It captured the imagination of the population. Citizens coming together. I think this is what the whole world felt,” said the novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga of the hashtag and the non-political movement behind it.
She was arrested by troops last Friday, and later charged and released, after taking part in a planned street protest which the government described as an attempted “insurrection” by “terrorists”.
I am just grateful the world has taken the message seriously. Things seem to be coming to such a head now that it is impossible to look away”
“I was in the holding cells with two men who had been tortured. One has severe kidney damage,” said Ms Dangarembga, who was recently longlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize.
“I am just grateful the world has taken the [#ZimbabweanLivesMatter] message seriously. Things seem to be coming to such a head now that it is impossible to look away.”
In hiding: ‘I’m in my bunker’
Zimbabwe has gone through years of profound economic hardship, hyperinflation, a coup, disputed elections, mysterious abductions, growing hunger, the recent arrival of Covid-19, and repeated, violent security crackdowns.
Much of the growing global social media focus has, it seems certain, been fuelled – as elsewhere – by the spread of mobile phone technology which has enabled activists and citizens to film and broadcast footage of assaults, injuries and other abuses almost in real time.
“The ferocity and broad appeal of the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign has unnerved the regime,” said the prominent journalist Mduduzi Mathathu, during a phone interview from his hiding place in Zimbabwe. “I’m in my bunker,” he commented dryly.
Mathatu’s investigative reports have exposed alleged corruption by senior government officials.
Last Thursday he fled from his home, fearing for his life, after being alerted about an imminent police raid.
Mathathu’s nephew was later abducted – allegedly by security agents – and then dumped, badly injured, on the roadside three days later.
A doctor’s report, seen by the BBC, confirmed the 22-year-old “had extensive bruising, huge subcutaneous tissue damage… acute kidney injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder”.
Hashtags come and go, but Zanu-PF endures beyond the ‘trending'”
“Instead of listening to the legitimate concerns raised by so many Zimbabweans, President Mnangagwa has… discarded the last veneer of a reformist,” Mathathu said.
“His shock troops have their marching orders and we should brace for a brutal campaign against those demanding change,” he warned.
Indeed, in a televised address on Tuesday, President Mnangagwa made it clear that his security forces would continue to crush dissent.
Portraying the anti-corruption movement as the work of “a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors”, he vowed to “defend the motherland from any form of attack”, and warned of “dark forces” and “machinations by destructive terrorist opposition groupings”.
More on Zimbabwe’s crisis:
A senior figure in the ruling Zanu-PF party also took to Twitter to push back against the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter hashtag.
“Hashtags come and go, but Zanu-PF endures beyond the ‘trending’,” wrote the former cabinet minister Obert Mpofu.
He has a point.
“It’s hard to know what will come of this,” conceded Doug Coltart, a human rights lawyer who is representing two men allegedly tortured by police over the weekend.
“The fact that it is doctors, lawyers, students, journalists who are being persecuted and attacked by this regime in some ways makes it an easier cause to get behind, perhaps, than when it’s political activists.
“But we need to see grassroots organising on a more sophisticated level for a real mass movement to emerge,” Mr Coltart said, citing the relatively short-lived 2016 #ThisFlag campaign.
Significantly, perhaps, the new hashtag has attracted vigorous support from opposition parties in neighbouring South Africa, with the Democratic Alliance’s Msumi Maimane and Economic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema tweeting their backing:
This is in sharp contrast with the governing African National Congress (ANC) which – like many former liberation movements on the continent – has remained reluctant to criticise Zanu-PF.
So where now for Zimbabwe?
“We’re on a precipice, a tipping point. We are [in] the place we were a couple of days before Mugabe left. The people are angry. Leadership is needed,” warned Trevor Ncube, a prominent publisher who sits on the President’s Advisory Council set up last year.
‘Hashtags do come and go’
The military, who led the coup that ousted Mugabe in November 2017, seem likely to play an ever more prominent role in government – as indicated by Tuesday’s appointment of a former army chief to the post of health minister.
“Mnangagwa cannot be safe. It would be insane for him to think he’s safe. There’s no doubt he has lost the confidence and support of the military,” said Jonathan Moyo, an exiled former minister in Mugabe’s government.
“This is now a clueless, corrupt, incompetent government. The economic meltdown is deepening. There’s no coherent approach. People are on their own,” he said.
“Mugabe had his own problems, but people never felt there was no government. With Mugabe gone, we now see in action the real forces behind his [Mr Mnangagwa’s] reign – the machinery of violence, the military,” said Mr Moyo, arguing Mugabe was a “restraining” force, and that the current government had quickly squandered all international goodwill.
In the midst of all this, the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter could yet prove to be a powerful rallying point, a force for change, harnessing popular frustrations.
Or it could be a minor distraction – a spasm of popular anger that is quickly supressed by a brutally authoritarian government seemingly preoccupied by looting public resources during the pandemic, and by its own vicious internal feuds.
“Hashtags do come and go. The clampdown still exists. But now it’s up to us to find ways forward… to sustain this momentum,” said Dangarembga.
“This is a launching pad, a platform from which to begin.”
Amal Clooney Has Resigned As UK Special Envoy Over Boris Johnson’s “Lamentable” Plans to Violate International Law
3 min read
Amal Clooney has resigned as a UK special envoy in protest at what she calls a “lamentable” plan to “violate an international treaty signed by the Prime Minister less than a year ago”.
The world-renowned human rights lawyer attacked the government over its Internal Market bill, which will unpick parts of the Brexit divorce deal signed with the EU.
She said she was “disappointed” to have to resign because she had “always been proud of the UK’s reputation as a champion of the international legal order, and of the culture of fair play for which it is known”.
But her role with the Foreign Office as special envoy on media freedom “has now become untenable” as she feels she can no longer “urge other states to respect and enforce international obligations while the UK declares that it does not intend to do so itself”.
Ms Clooney said the clauses in the Internal Market bill “threatens to embolden autocratic regimes that violate international law with devastating consequences all over the world”.
The government says the controversial legislation, which is currently making its passage through Parliament, will override sections of the Withdrawal Agreement to protect trade with Northern Ireland.
But it has been widely-criticised, including by senior figures in the Conservative Party, after minister Brandon Lewis confirmed it would breach international law “in a limited and specific way”.
In a letter to foreign secretary Dominic Raab, Ms Clooney wrote: “My role was intended to help promote action that governments could take to ensure that existing international obligations relating to media freedom are enforced in accordance with international law.
“I accepted the role because I believe in the importance of the cause, and appreciate the significant role that the UK has played and can continue to play in promoting the international legal order.
“In these circumstances I have been dismayed to learn that the Government intends to pass legislation – the Internal Market Bill – which would, by the Government’s own admission, ‘break international law’ if enacted.”
She added: “I was also concerned to note the position taken by the Government that although it is an ‘established principle of international law that a state is obliged to discharge its treaty obligations in good faith’, the UK’s ‘Parliament is sovereign as a matter of domestic law and can pass legislation which is in breach of the UK’s Treaty obligations’.
“Although the government has suggested that the violation of international law would be ‘specific and limited’, it is lamentable for the UK to be speaking of its intention to violate an international treaty signed by the Prime Minister less than a year ago.
“Out of respect for the professional working relationship I have developed with you and your senior colleagues working on human rights, I deferred writing this letter until I had had a chance to discuss this matter with you directly.
“But having now done so and received no assurance that any change of position is imminent, I have no alternative but to resign from my position.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: US Supreme Court judge dies of cancer, aged 87
US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an iconic champion of women’s rights, has died of cancer at the age of 87, the court has said.
Ginsburg died on Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington, DC, surrounded by her family, the statement said.
Earlier this year, Ginsburg said she was undergoing chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer.
She was a prominent feminist who became a figurehead for liberals in the US.
Ginsburg was the oldest justice and the second ever woman to sit on the Supreme Court, where she served for 27 years.
“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement on Friday. “We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her – a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”
As one of four liberal justices on the court, her health was watched closely. Ginsburg’s death raises the prospect of Republican US President Donald Trump trying to expand its slender conservative majority, even before this November’s election.
In the days before her death, Ginsburg expressed her strong disapproval of such a move. “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she wrote in a statement to her granddaughter, according to National Public Radio.
President Trump is expected to nominate a conservative replacement for Ginsburg as soon as possible, White House sources told BBC partner CBS News.
Mr Trump reacted to Ginsburg’s death after an election rally in Minnesota, saying: “I didn’t know that. She led an amazing life, what else can you say?”
Later on, Mr Trump said Ginsburg was a “titan of the law” and a “brilliant mind” in a tweeted statement.
Ginsburg had suffered from five bouts of cancer, with the most recent recurrence in early 2020. She had received hospital treatment a number of times in recent years, but returned swiftly to work on each occasion.
In a statement in July, the judge said her treatment for cancer had yielded “positive results”, insisting she would not retire from her role.
“I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam,” she said. “I remain fully able to do that.”
Why was Ginsburg important?
US Supreme Court justices serve for life or until they choose to retire, and supporters had expressed concern that a more conservative justice could succeed Ginsburg.
The highest court in the US is often the final word on highly contentious laws, disputes between states and the federal government, and final appeals to stay executions.
In recent years, the court has expanded gay marriage to all 50 states, allowed for President Trump’s travel ban to be put in place and delayed a US plan to cut carbon emissions while appeals went forward.
Ginsburg’s death will spark a political battle over who will succeed her, spurring debate about the future of the Supreme Court ahead of November’s presidential election.
President Trump has appointed two judges since taking office, and the current court is seen to have a 5-4 conservative majority in most cases.
The US Senate has to approve a new judge nominated by the president, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday evening that if a nominee was put forward before the election, there would be a vote on Mr Trump’s choice.
But the Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden said: “There is no doubt – let me be clear – that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.”
A high-stakes political fight looms
Ginsburg’s death injects a level of unpredictability into a presidential race that had been remarkably stable for months. Now, not only will the White House be at stake in November, but the ideological balance of the Supreme Court could be, as well.
It all depends on what President Trump and the Republicans choose to do next. They could try to fill the seat before the end of the year regardless of who wins the presidency in November, replacing a liberal icon with what in all likelihood will be a reliable conservative vote. Or they could wait and hold the seat vacant, a prize to encourage conservative voters – particularly evangelicals who see an opportunity to roll back abortion rights – to flock to the polls for the president.
Filling the seat would outrage Democrats, who will note that Republicans denied former President Barack Obama the chance to fill the vacant seat in 2016 for months. Waiting, on the other hand, would risk letting Biden name Ginsburg’s replacement in 2021.
All signs point to Republicans trying the former. Concerns of hypocrisy will melt away when a lifetime appointment to the court is in play.
Either way, it sets up a brutal, high-stakes political fight that comes at a time when the nation is already rife with partisan discord and psychological distress.
What is Ginsburg’s legacy?
Over an illustrious legal career spanning six decades, Ginsburg attained unparalleled celebrity status for a jurist in the US, revered by liberals and conservatives alike.
Liberal Americans in particular idolised her for her progressive votes on the most divisive social issues that were referred to the Supreme Court, from abortion rights to same-sex marriages.
Born to Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1933, Ginsburg studied at Harvard Law School, where she was one of only nine women in a class of about 500 men.
Ginsburg did not receive a single job offer after graduation, despite finishing top of her class. But Ginsburg persisted, working in various jobs in the legal profession throughout the 1960s and far beyond.
In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). That same year, Ginsburg became the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School.
In 1980, Ginsburg was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia as part of former President Jimmy Carter’s efforts to diversify federal courts. Though Ginsburg was often portrayed as a liberal firebrand, her days on the appeals court were marked by moderation.
Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, becoming only the second of four female justices to be confirmed to the court.
Toward the end of her life, Ginsburg became a national icon. Due in part to her withering dissents, Ginsburg was dubbed the Notorious RBG by her army of fans online – a nod to the late rapper The Notorious BIG.
That comparison introduced Ginsburg to a new generation of young feminists, turning her into a cult figure.
What reaction has there been?
Former presidents, veteran politicians and senior jurists were among those to mourn the loss of Ginsburg on Friday. They commended her accolades and hailed her commitment to women’s rights.
Former President Jimmy Carter called her a “truly great woman”, writing in a statement: “A powerful legal mind and a staunch advocate for gender equality, she has been a beacon of justice during her long and remarkable career. I was proud to have appointed her to the US Court of Appeals in 1980.”
Praising her “pursuit of justice and equality”, former President George W Bush said Ginsburg “inspired more than one generation of women and girls”.
Hillary Clinton, a Democrat who ran against President Trump in the 2016 presidential election, said she drew inspiration from Ginsburg.
Conservative politicians also paid their respects to Ginsburg.
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Justice Ginsburg,” Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said on Twitter. “Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer who possessed tremendous passion for her causes. She served with honour and distinction as a member of the Supreme Court.”
Eric Trump, the son of President Trump, said Ginsburg was “a remarkable woman with an astonishing work ethic”. “She was a warrior with true conviction and she has my absolute respect! #RIP,” he wrote on Twitter.
Within hours of the news emerging, hundreds of people had gathered outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC to pay their respects.
The BBC’s Alexandra Ostasiewicz at the scene said the mood was sombre but the crowd occasionally broke into chants of “RBG!” and “Vote him out!”.
Poisoned Navalny plots his return, but Russia’s opposition activists wonder who might be next
It’s not just Navalny who has been under attack.
Just one day after he emerged from his medically-induced coma, at least three volunteers linked to his team were targeted at their office in Novosibirsk, Siberia.
Two masked men were recorded by security cameras, bursting in to the office of “Coalition Novosibirsk 2020,” which is also headquarters of Navalny’s local team.
One of them threw a bottle containing an unknown yellow liquid — described to CNN as a “pungent chemical”, “unbearable” by witnesses — at volunteers who were there for a lecture about the upcoming local elections, before running off.
The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with the attacks, but analysts are skeptical.
“Russia has a track record of sudden deaths among the Kremlin’s critics: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, to name but a few,” says longtime Russia analyst Valeriy Akimenko from the Conflict Studies Research Centre, an independent research group. “If this wasn’t a murder plot or assassination attempt, it was an act of intimidation.”
Which raises an important question: How much immediate danger is Navalny in, if and when he does return to Russia?
“I don’t think the words safety or security apply to anyone who is opposition in Russia,” says Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, who has been poisoned twice in the past five years.
“I can have as much protection as I like, but I have to touch doorknobs and breathe air,” he says. “The only real precautionary measure I’ve been able to take is to get my family out of the country.”
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in either of the attacks on Kara-Murza, though his wife has directly accused the Russian government of bearing responsibility.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has also denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning, but Akimenko points out that the language coming from the Kremlin in the weeks since has hardly been reassuring, given the near-death of a prominent politician.
“Just look at what’s been coming out of Russia,” he says. “Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying no need for Putin to meet Navalny; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying no legal grounds for a criminal inquiry; Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin talking instead about an investigation into possible foreign provocation; and on state TV, ceaseless attempts to muddy the waters by blaming anyone but the Russian state.”
As if being an outspoken opponent of the government wasn’t enough of a risk for Navalny, other Putin critics believe that what is being seen as a failed assassination attempt, in order to scare opponents, might have backfired.
“Now that Alexey Navalny has survived, this may prove to be a spectacular miscalculation that only empowers the opposition and Navalny,” says Bill Browder, a prominent financier who became a thorn in the side of Putin after leading the push for a US sanctions act named after Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison.
Kara-Murza points out that in the very area of Siberia where the campaign office attack took place, Navalny’s allies made gains against Putin’s ruling United Russia in elections this past weekend.
“When Russians have a real choice, they are very happy to demonstrate how sick they are of Putin’s one-man rule,” he told CNN.
Whenever he does return to Russia, the risk both to him and his supporters is likely to remain very high; has this affected the opposition’s morale?
“Putin rules by symbolism,” says Browder. “To take the most popular opposition politician and poison him with a deadly nerve agent is intended to scare the less popular ones into submission.”
So, will it work?
Kara-Murza says the Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated near the Kremlin in February 2015, just days before he was due to take part in an anti-government protest in Moscow, used to tell his allies: “We must do what we must and come what may. Of course, we understand the dangers, but we are determined, not scared.”
And while Akimenko says: “If Russia’s opposition leaders aren’t worried, they should be,” he adds that: “They have been fearless in the face of both personal physical attacks against Navalny and persecution disguised as prosecution.”
The Navalny episode revealed the dangers of political opposition in Russia to the world.
But for those actively involved in that fight, it has merely underscored the threat they already knew existed, says Kara-Murza
“I was poisoned twice,” he said. “Both times I was in [a] coma. Both times doctors told my wife I had 5% chance of living. Boris Nemtsov had 0% when he was shot in the back. But it’s not about safety; it’s about doing the right thing for our country. It would be too much of a gift to the Kremlin if those of us who stand in opposition gave up and ran.”
CNN’s Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report from Moscow
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