Unemployed graduates protest lack of opportunity in Zimbabwe

    Students in their graduation gowns are playing street soccer with balls made from garbage to protest the failing economy in Zimbabwe.
    As a part of the #ThisGown protests, students dressed in their graduation gowns played soccer with a ball made of garbage on First Street in the capital of Harare on July 29. (Facebook/ZCUG)
    As a part of the #ThisGown protests, students in Zimbabwe dressed in their graduation gowns played soccer with a ball made of garbage on First Street in the capital of Harare on July 29. (Facebook/ZCUG)

    Dozens of university graduates in Zimbabwe are taking to the streets in their full graduation regalia under a protest named #ThisGown, to play street soccer with balls made from garbage, and sell sweets and cigarettes. They are protesting Mugabe’s failure in running the country, and the false promise peddled by his ZANU-PF party in the 2013 election campaign to create 2.2 million jobs.

    The protests are being organized by a coalition of university graduates called Zimbabwe Coalition for Unemployed Graduates, or ZCUG. The group’s membership has ballooned to over 30,000 unemployed graduates since it was formed in June 2016.

    “Our key objective is to ensure that the government of the day is held accountable for our unemployment rate which surpasses all levels in Africa and across the globe,” said Rodwell Manyika, the leader of ZCUG. He added that protests will be held weekly until government gives in to their demands, which include firing corrupt ministers and a change in governance.

    Zimbabweans began a wave of nationwide nonviolent protests a month ago. The protests were born out of a citizens movement called #ThisFlag that was kick-started by a clergyman, Evan Mawarire, who posted a video on Facebook in which he spoke of his economic challenges and urged others to do the same.

    The Zimbabwean government tried to block social media apps in an attempt to stop citizens from sharing the videos, but VPN software was used by many to circumvent government censorship.

    Thousands of videos exposing the stark reality of brutal poverty that most Zimbabweans face were posted online. The #ThisFlag movement then led a peaceful stay-away, which cost the government and businesses millions of dollars.

    Manyika is confident that ZCUG has the necessary technical expertise to help the current government turn around the economic quagmire in the country. “We are more than equipped to lecture our government on how the affairs of our country should be run, as the movement is full of technocrats from all disciplines,” he said.

    Zimbabwe’s problems took a sharp turn for the worse in 1999 when calls for Mugabe to step down grew and he went on a rampage, killing white Zimbabwean farmers and illegally grabbing their land. This put Zimbabwe on a slippery slope of political violence and human rights abuses. In order to try and curb Mugabe’s dictatorship, the European Union and the United States responded by imposing catastrophic economic sanctions on the landlocked country in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

    Mugabe did not back down, but tightened his grip on the country and presided over serious human rights violations, political violence and the plundering of government resources, sending the economy plummeting to dismal levels. This has led to universities graduating students who cannot find employment.

    “Every year around 18,000 graduates are churned out from our state universities, and they are not being absorbed by the local job market,” Manyika said. “How much worse would that number be if polytechnic colleges, vocational training centers, and ordinary level and advanced level graduates were included?”

    For more than 16 years, Mugabe has successfully used the army and the police to quash any protest against his dictatorship. However, Mawarire caught Mugabe by surprise by urging Zimbabweans to post evidence of his failures on social media, in the full view of the world and out of reach of the security forces.

    Since it began, the #ThisFlag movement has evolved quickly and other groups of Zimbabweans have begun their own protests, such as those organized by the ZCUG.

    “We shall continue to reorient our government,” Manyika said. “It is no longer crucial for it to look East, South or North, but strictly forward.”

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