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Africa

Zimbabwe youths stage #16DaysOccupation protest

Camping out in central Harare, protesters of the 'Occupy Africa Unity Square' group are raising their voices against Zimbabwe’s government under President Robert Mugabe.

During Zimbabwe's cold winter nights there are only a handful of people occupying the small park in central Harare. During the day their numbers grow and the protesters speak to the passers-by. The sit-in of the group that calls itself 'Occupy Africa Unity Square' on Facebook and uses the hashtag #16DaysOccupation, started on June 1, 2016 and is expected to go on for 16 days.

The protesters feel that the ruling party, which has governed Zimbabwe for 36 years, has failed and that new political solutions to save the country's struggling economy are needed.

"We decided to come out and show our displeasure to the government of Zimbabwe that enough is enough," Linda Tsungirirai Masarira told DW. The 34-year-old protester is an assistant train driver who lost her job last year. She says that her economic difficulties are what motivated her to join the struggle. "You have oppressed us enough," she said addressing the government. "The life that we are living is not sustainable. We have got no future."

28-year-old Acie Lumumba (pictured above) is a former member of Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, but he thinks that the government has lost touch with the everyday problems that ordinary Zimbabweans face. Acie believes the youth could form a political movement that could play a role in the 2018 elections. "We have been sharing our frustrations in different ways - some on social media, some on the ground, some in youth groups and now we need a culmination, a formation of those frustrations into a youth political movement," he said. According to the protesters, many Zimbabweans have also lost hope in the opposition, which has to date not managed to gain a leverage against the regime. "In two years young people will change this country. We are going to go to an election and turn the page," Lumumba added.

Activists of the 'Occupy Africa Unity Square' wrapped in national flags at night in Harare

The activists keep warm in Zimbabwe's national flag, which has become a symbol of protest.

The group has been braving the cold Zimbabwean winter nights, during which temperatures plummet to below 10 degrees Celsius, for six days now. On the fourth night of the occupation, the protesters were assaulted and some of them had to be hospitalized, by what the protesters said were rowdy government supporters. There have also been attempts by the police to disperse the group. This has however not dampened their resolve. "If I am going to die because you are beating me, it is better because I am speaking out," one protester said. Another man added: "The beatings are what actually propels me and motivates me to continue doing this, because the more I am beaten, the more I realize that Zimbabwe deserves better." Two of the protesters were arrested on Tuesday evening and are due to appear in court on Friday (10.06.2016).

Watch video 01:45

@dwnews: Zimbabweans protest with #ThisFlag

While the occupy protest is still small, many Zimbabweans have voiced their criticism of the government's actions and policies on social media. The hashtag #ThisFlag has been trending amongst Zimbabwean Twitter users since mid-May, when a Zimbabwean pastor posted a spoken-word poem on Youtube, asking Zimbabweans to reclaim their national flag.

Some government ministers responded to the debates on social media, but it is yet to be seen if government will act on the issues being raised. Yet political analyst, Takura Zhangazha, believes that the demands of the young people have caught the government's attention. "They take it seriously in terms of their responses. You can tell that if a minister responds in anger or in frustration it means they take it seriously. Perhaps they will try to act in trying to counter these grievances," he said. He however doesn't think that the government will do much to change its policies.

In the last elections held in 2013, President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party promised to improve the lives of young Zimbabweans by creating two million jobs, but this has not materialized. Instead, critics say, more time has been spent on dealing with internal party fissures over who might succeed the 92-year-old leader. Despite the growing discontent by amongst some, thousands of youths from Mugabe's party gathered in Harare last month to show support for their leader.

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