While government officials have dismissed the planned July 31 protests as a damp squib, because people generally stayed indoors, some political commentators believe the events of the day brought negative attention to Zimbabwe.
United Kingdom-based constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa contends that by staying way, the masses made an important expression of discontent towards President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.
July 31, 2020, effectively became a national shutdown imposed by the government as security forces were deployed heavily in major cities and townships, with shops and businesses closed particularly in Harare and Bulawayo.
In his latest Big Saturday Read, Magaisa argues that it is clear that people are fed up and the regime is scared of the people. Writes Magaisa:
… even without the mass demonstrations that people would have wanted, July 31 has been an important expression of discontent towards the Mnangagwa regime. It turned into one large stay-away enforced by the regime.
The purpose of any demonstration is to send a message and in that regard, July 31 has been an important expression by the people and by the government to its people. The people are fed up and the regime is scared of the people.
This is a regime that no longer enjoys public consent. Instead, it relies ever more on coercion. It has, as it has done twice before, had to resort to the boys in military fatigues to forcefully enforce its power. This is because it can no longer rely on people’s consent.
A government based on consent relies on obedience and compliance by the people. It does not make military force the default instrument to enforce its authority. Mnangagwa cannot even trust the regular police service. Instead, he has to depend on the soldiers.
… The essential question on 31 July was who between the government and the organisers would blink first. The government panicked and blinked first, and in the process, it betrayed its fears and insecurities.
The government cannot permanently rely on coercion. It is expensive and tiring. There will come a point when fatigue catches up with the agents of coercion.