Another update from the Zimbabwe Revolutionary Youth (ZRY) protest.
BeitBridge Border Post
Saturday 23 February, 2008
More than 30 police worked to control an estimated crowd of 1200 demonstrators as trucks and cars backed up for two kilometres, waiting to cross the Beit Bridge border post between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The protest, just metres from a customs office that marks the start start of bridge zone, was organised by a number of Zimbabwe exile groups based in Johannesburg, Pretoria and the border town of Musina.
"It is hard to tell how many people were there," Mr. Simon "Dreadman" Mudekwa of Zimbabwe Revolutionary Youth (ZRY) said after the meeting,"but we came with 1000 T-shirts and they are all finished. I think there must be at least two or three hundred who did not get shirts so that makes it a very large crowd," he said.
The ZRY had brought its supporters in six buses from Johannesburg and other regions.
"Many from Zimbabwe walked over the bridge to come and join us because we had put out the word that there would be a rally here to counter Mugabe's celebrations that side."
President Robert Mugabe, who turned 84 on Thursday, held his own party on the Zimbabwe side of the bridge. Food supplies have run short across the country and insiders from Mr. Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) say that the border town was chosen so that food and other goods could be ferried to the party from the South African town of Musina, 10 kilometres south of the bridge.
While the protestors danced and sang, a helium-filled blimp was raised 100 metres above the bridge with a banner that cast doubt on the integrity of elections due for March 29. "Free and fair or just hot air," ran the slogan on one side of the balloon while the other called on President Mugabe to, "Have your cake... and beat it!"
A giant cardboard cake was hauled into place and four men dressed a skeletons jumped out danced to hoots and cheers from the audience. At first, it seemed that the point was to show how Zimbabweans are starving in a country where United Nations agencies estimate that seven out of 10 people are malnourished.
However, one by one the bone-men raised signs with the names of former Mugabe colleagues who have died under mysterious circumstances after clashing with the president, including the late ZANU-PF youth commander, Border Gezi and Mugabe's military advisor, Josiah Tongogara who was killed in a car crash shortly before independence in 1980,
Tongogara had been popular with the working class and with veterans on both sides of the civil war that raged from 1972 to 1980.
The protestors, clearly enjoying the joke, surged towards the cake and held two of the skeletons on their shoulders while shounting chants in support of opposition leader, Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai who leads the Movement for Democratic Change or MDC.
Mr Tsvangirai's treasurer, former MP Mr. Roy Bennett who now lives in exile in South Africa, addressed the gathering in the Shona language, calling on people to go home and vote in next month's election.
The MDC lost to ZANU PF in 2005, in a poll that many analysts claimed was marred by rigging and intimidation. Western countries including the USA, Britain, Australia, Canada and the EU have not recognised the result.
Shortly before the crowd dispersed, ZRY's Simon Mudekwa again took the microphone and summed up the remarks made by Mr. Bennett.
"We have suffered long and many of our people have died or been tortured by the regime," Mr. Mudekwa said. "The future will be ours, but only if we fight for it with our votes. That battle starts now, and next time we meet, we will do so on the other side of this bridge, home at last in a free Zimbabwe."
[tags]Zimbabwe, protest, Robert Mugabe, Beitbridge, South Africa, Musina, human rights, elections[/tags]