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Friday Showdown: How To Survive A Violent Demonstration

Zimbabwe is headed for a showdown on Friday 16 August as the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) will hold its demonstration against the President Emmerson Mnangagwa led government over a critically ill socio-economic and political landscape.

The demo has attracted a lot of interest from the government which since the announcement by the opposition movement, has shown its sense of paranoia by passively threatening to unleash the police and worst-case scenario, the dreaded and feared army.

The army has a bitter-sweet relationship with the people of Zimbabwe.

In November 2017, it helped in ending a 37-year tyrant rule of former president Robert Mugabe but fast forward nine months later, the army was against the people as it shot dead six people during a post-election demonstration.

In January this year, the army and other armed forces, were at it again as they were at the forefront of a deadly three day stay away which turned violent and 17 people are reported to have lost their lives.

The setting is more likely to be relived this Friday as the government has,  on several occasions, said the army and police stand ready to “deal with malcontents” during the demonstration.

Deputy Minister of Defence and War Veterans Affairs, Victors Matemadanda has been unequivocal in his stance on the upcoming mass action. He has threatened to unleash “ana mukoma” (soldiers) should the demo turn violent.

He has also threatened to stop, at all costs, the demonstration, despite the police having been notified.

So it all goes down on Friday and there is a sense of paranoia amongst the citizens, with some very sceptical of their involvement.

Some might just find themselves caught up, against their will and they might be affected, should it turn violent.

Normally, a peaceful crowd that is protesting usually has some specific purpose, agenda, and/or demands. These people are just not rebels without causes or justifiable causes.

Protesters are there to protest against something, which they believe is not addressed adequately through other democratic means.

The component of being unheard and the feeling of lost connection is crucial here. Usually, the feeling of being unheard, of being disconnected with the ruling powers that be, leads to a sense of frustration to incremental senses of losing hope in the ruling powers if a situation is left to settle itself for long.

For long, the MDC has been touted as a violent party but in their defence, they say they are a peaceful and law-abiding movement.

Whether the government has continuously fed us with that propaganda or that the opposition party is actually a mafia-like party, is debate for another day as normally, innocent citizens feel the pain of any violence while both government and opposition officials follow events on social media or peep through their well ventilated and antique furnished offices.

So we have compiled a list of Dos and Dont’s during the Friday demonstration and you might need to take them seriously.

Plan ahead

For essential needs, care and supplies. Know what to expect. Know how to get assistance. Plan for how to re-contact your buddies if separated

Be calm and focused

When things get most intense, react to danger or warning signs sooner, not later

WHAT TO BRING

Water in a plastic bottle with a squirt top, to drink and to wash off your skin or eyes Energy snacks, Identification and/or emergency contact information.

Enough money for airtime, food, transportation Watch, paper, pen for accurate documentation of events, Inhaler, EpiPen, insulin and several days of prescription medication Menstrual pads.

Avoid using tampons – if you’re arrested you may not have a chance to change.

Bring Basic First Aid Kit, Wet Wipes and tissues.

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Too often, people want to get closer to danger and capture footage for social media. However, this is very dangerous as one can be caught up in danger. (Lovejoy Mutongwiza/263Chat)

What To Wear

Comfortable, protective shoes that you can run in, clothing covering all your skin to protect from sun and pepper spray exposure

Also try to wear shatter-resistant eye protection (i.e. Sunglasses, swim goggles, or gas mask)

Bandana to cover nose and mouth soaked in water, lemon juice or vinegar, it can aid in breathing during chemical exposure or teargas

You should bring fresh clothes in a plastic bag (in case yours get contaminated by chemical weapons)

A hat to protect you from the sun and from chemical weapons is also very handy.

Dealing With Teargas

The police have an uncanny behaviour of unnecessarily firing teargas and this is a very common feature during demonstrations in Zimbabwe.

To deal with this, avoid the use of oils and lotions because they can trap the chemicals and thereby prolong exposure.

Gas masks provide the best facial protection if properly fitted and sealed. Alternatively, goggles, respirators, or a wet bandana over the nose and mouth will help.

Also, remember to STAY CALM. Panicking increases irritation. Breathe slowly and remember it is only temporary

Also, blow your nose, rinse your mouth, cough and spit. Try not to swallow

Remember to remove the lenses or get someone to remove them for you, with CLEAN, What uncontaminated fingers.

What Not To Do

Don’t put Vaseline, mineral oil, oil-based sunscreen or moisturizers on the skin as they can trap chemicals.

Don’t wear contact lenses, which can trap irritating chemicals underneath

Don’t wear things which can easily be grabbed (i.e. jewellery, ties, loose hair)

Don’t go alone, if you can help it – go with an affinity group or some friends who know you well

Don’t forget to eat food and drink lots of water.

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Soldiers remove boulders from a street in Harare after protesters had barricaded the road during the deadly January 2019 demonstrations (Lovejoy Mutongwiza/263Chat)

Most Importantly, Know Your Rights

Freedom of Expression and Assembly:

Everyone has the right to carry their opinion on the streets. Law enforcement must facilitate and not restrict a peaceful public assembly.

You have the freedom from excessive use of force: In the policing of non-violent protests, police must avoid the use of force.

You also have a right to Medical Assistance: If you are injured you have a right to medical assistance without delay.

Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Detention: If you are arrested you have a right to be told of the reason for your arrest, you also have the right promptly after your arrest to have access to a lawyer and to your family.

Right to Complain: If your rights have been violated you have a right to file a complaint and to be provided information on how to do so

Do a gut check
Often, the people you see getting arrested at rallies are hard-core activists engaging in civil disobedience with the expectation that they’ll spend a night or two in jail.

Carefully consider whether marching is the best way for you to fight. The consequences of an arrest can be more acute if you have an outstanding warrant or you suffer a severe medical condition, especially one that requires medication.

People who are undocumented, homeless or under 18 are also at particular risk.

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