The government of Zimbabwe on Tuesday designated October 25 as “Anti-Sanctions Day,” a new “holiday” intended to protest ongoing U.S. sanctions against a number of Zimbabwean officials, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Acting Information Minister Amon Murwira said the purpose of the ersatz “holiday” is to “further amplify the importance of this day to the economic emancipation and well-being of Zimbabwe.”
Voice of America News wryly noted that “tens of thousands of people are expected to be bused to the capital” for demonstrations on Anti-Sanctions Day.
“Participants in Harare will assemble at the Robert Mugabe Square by 06:00 on 25 October 2019, then proceed to the National Sports Stadium at 08:00 for the activities of the day,” Murwira instructed. “Robert Mugabe Square” is an unintentionally hilarious location to organize a state-managed “protest” against sanctions imposed on the corrupt rulers of Zimbabwe.
Those “activities of the day” will reportedly include “solidarity messages, entertainment, presentations of research findings on the background and impact of sanctions, a soccer match between Dynamos and Highlanders Football Clubs, and the anti-sanctions gala to start from 18:00 until morning.”
All of this merriment is expected to cost about $4 million, not a penny of which has been properly budgeted by the Mnangagwa administration. That is a great deal of money to blow on theatrics for a country that is still in economic freefall, suffering from a killer drought so severe that elephants are starving to death, providing health care so poor that it has been compared to genocide, grappling with unemployment so high the government refuses to measure it accurately, and facing perpetual strikes from the lucky few who do have regular jobs.
The Zimbabwean man on the street appears to be aware of these absurd realities but inclined to shrug them off and embrace the opportunity for a little government-funded entertainment, as South Africa’s Independent Online (IOL) reported Tuesday:
Some in the capital struggled to comprehend the rationale behind such events by a government that is failing to pay doctors and buy medicines, but they said they wouldn’t mind the holiday.
“We march, watch soccer, eat, drink and dance the night away … then what next?” asked Chengetedzo Mbundure, an office worker in Harare. “It is unnecessary but it is welcome. Who doesn’t love a holiday?”
Another South African news site, TimesLIVE, sighed that “Mnangagwa’s establishment has not departed from the Mubage era modus operandi,” a reference to the famously corrupt and brutal dictator Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe across decades of decline before his old henchman Mnangagwa was finally able to depose him in a coup.
TimesLIVE suggested Mnangagwa’s insistence on “drumming up a sideshow” to protest sanctions instead of addressing the “harassment of opposition” and “suppression of human rights” that inspired them will convince Western powers to keep those sanctions firmly in place.
The Zimbabwean government said it would organize demonstrations in cities other than the capital of Harare as well, and was counting on other members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to commemorate Anti-Sanctions Day by “calling for the removal of the illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by Western countries.”
The SADC has been on board with “Anti-Sanctions Day” since it was first proposed over the summer. After a summit meeting in August, the SADC lobbied the African Union to embrace the protest as well, claiming the sanctions against Zimbabwean officials are damaging the economy of the entire region.
“We are happy that again it was emphatic that there was no cause or need for sanctions to continue; after all, the basis for the sanctions are not there anymore, and they were illegal at the time when they were imposed by a few Western countries, America and the EU [European Union],” Zimbabwean President Mnangagwa said at the SADC summit.
Both the U.S. and European Union deny their sanctions, all targeted at specific individuals, have any great effect on either Zimbabwe’s economy or the region surrounding it. The Trump administration extended sanctions on 141 Zimbabwean entities and individuals in May despite calls from African leaders to lift them, saying the pressure would remain in place until Mnangagwa changes laws that suppress political opposition and restrict media freedom.
“Our pressure on Zimbabwe remains in place. We are trying to use this pressure to leverage political and economic reforms, human rights observations. We want to see fundamental changes in Zimbabwe and only then will we resume normal relations with them,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Manisha Singh explained in September 2018.
Many of the U.S. and EU sanctions designate specific individuals for gross human rights violations. For example, in August the U.S. added a travel ban on Anselem Nhamo Sanyatwe, a former military officer and currently Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Tanzania, because he participated in “violent crackdown against unarmed Zimbabweans during post-election protests on August 1, 2018 that resulted in six civilian deaths.”
One particular sanction that would arguably have broad economic effects was added just recently: at the beginning of October, the United States banned the trading of diamonds from Zimbabwe due to allegations of massive corruption in the industry and the use of forced labor at diamond mines.