It was the first week of my internship at NewsDay-papers in Harare, Zimbabwe, as I stood on the doorstep of the office and heard gunshots and teargas being fired. Just two days before protests had broken out, triggered by the increase of fuel-prices – subsequently making them the highest in the world. Riding to work previous days I had seen the fuel-queues, hearing stories of people being in line for 3 straight days – waiting for fuel that would not come because of corruption (owners of fuel stations would keep a large part of the fuel themselves or selling it on the black market. In addtion, people where bribing fuel station staff members to skip the line) and economic faults (the government and fuel companies do simply not have enough money to import the fuel). Add the problems of the USD/bondnotes, the difficulties of finding work, the 37-year legacy of mis governance by Robert Mugabe and the realization that his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa is no different – the outburst of violence on the 14th of January 2019 becomes understandable.
That violence was mostly directed at the police. Police buildings were set on fire and police cars overturned. The police and army reacted swift and harsh. 12 protesters where reportedly shot dead and more than 50 injured.
Zimbabweans citizens and newspapers alike where using social media to spread news of the protests. Under the name of ‘fake news being spread and containing the situation’, the Zimbabwean government shut of all social media. This had little effect, as people immediately started using VPN’s and Telegram – both methods of gaining access to social media despite of the ban. It was very interesting to see that the government closely monitored these movements, quickly realizing the ban was not effective. They then decided to shut down the internet completely – only to turn it back on again after things had died down on the 18th. Social Media was switched on even later, on Monday the 21st, when the high courts ruled the ban ‘unlawful’.
The protests formed a really interesting case study, as the subject of my thesis is on the relation between social media and political participation in Zimbabwe. Being at the offices of NewsDay the day the protests first broke out, I was tasked to keep a liveblog. My team, usually in charge of the online-aspects of the newspaper, went into the field. They made a WhatsApp-group with me in it and reported the events they saw happening via this platform. I had to typ that information up and quickly put it on the site. The day was hectic, but very informative.
Link to the liveblog of NewsDay: https://www.newsday.co.zw/2019/01/updates-on-the-zimbabwe-protests/