Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe is facing a wave of public opposition that perhaps even he can’t put down. Hundreds took the streets yesterday (Aug. 3) to protest the introduction of new local bank notes—the government’s attempt to stem a cash shortage. In addition to using tear gas and water cannons, police charged on the demonstrators and beat them with batons until they dispersed.
Mugabe is known for his harsh silencing of critics. But he’s failed to quell protests over new policies that Zimbabweans worry will worsen the already struggling economy, among them a ban on imports, a delay in paying government salaries, and most recently the reintroduction of local bank notes. Ever since declaring its own currency defunct in 2009, Zimbabwe has relied on a basket of currencies that includes the US dollar, the South African rand, the British sterling, and most recently the Chinese yuan.
A temporary WhatsApp blackout did little to stop protestors from mobilizing under the online campaign #ZimShutdown last month. Demonstrators, including a group that described themselves as unemployed university graduates, wore graduation gowns and held posters that read, “Just quit and go, I’ll forgive you.” Others wrapped the national flag, now a symbol of the protest movement, around a cross.
Mugabe, 92 and now in his 36th year as president, plans to stand in the next election in 2018.