VOA Zimbabwe reported on 11 August that rural teachers in Zimbabwe were planning a 200km ten-day march to protest “political violence, poor salaries, and government failure to improve Education facilities in the countryside of Zimbabwe. At the time Studio 7 reported that the Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ) secretary-general Robson Chere indicated that rural teachers in Zimbabwe were suffering from threats by the ruling party Zanu (Pf) supporters, even though their aim was to highlight falling educational standards of the poor as a result of a failing economy.

The march began on 15 August and was scheduled to run until the 25th of the month.

It was well supported across the Twitter Hashtags such as the #ThisFlag citizens for change movement.

Harried moments and arrests for marchers

However, disruption from Police and those opposed to their march gave the organizers some harried moments. The march had barely started before six members of the RTUZ were arrested by Police and charged with “criminal nuisance.” Along the way, the teachers were set to hand in petitions at District offices. However, when they arrived at the rural settlement of Murehwa on 22 August, the office of the District Education refused to sign acceptance of the petition as the incumbent felt she “needed clearance from the President’s Office.”

In a statement by RTUZ issued on the 22nd August, they reported that the District Education Officer called in the State Security Police of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).

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It was alleged that the Security Police then called in three ruling party supporters who threatened them with assault. The statement suggested that the actions of the education officer were clearly “unconstitutional and illegal.” Efforts to share the provisions for peaceful protest via a copy of the constitution were waved aside and declared to be just “another piece of paper.”

Retreat and strategy

A few days before the incident, following a meeting about harassment and detentions, the RTUZ said that they strongly condemned the levels of brutality and harassment exhibited by the Zimbabwe Republic Police. On the evening of 23 August, despite resolving to continue their march, it was announced by the RTUZ President, that reluctantly they had to disband. His statement which was posted on Twitter explained that the decision to stop their march two days early was motivated by security and safety concerns for their members. He went on to explain that they felt the lives of their leaders were in danger.

Describing themselves as revolutionaries for change, he elaborated that there are times to “retreat...and re-strategize.”

As some members still had to make it to safety, he was not able to elaborate on the safety and security concerns but vowed that they would continue to find peaceful and non-violent ways to demonstrate for change.

Multiple protests and electoral reform

Across Zimbabwe, there are calls for shutdowns, peaceful protest and for Political Party opposition members and ordinary citizens to have their say as the country reels under a failing economy. A huge protest is planned for 31 August when opposition parties intend to march as a unified front. The parties have called for differences to be set aside and for all concerned citizens to join them in the march.

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) leader Morgan Tsvangirai has said that the main agenda for co-operation between opposition parties is to push for electoral reform ahead of the 2018 elections in the country. In the meantime, there have been more calls for a mass stay away to take place on 30 August and in the USA #ThisFlag founder Pastor Evan Mawarire has announced a large protest rally at the forthcoming UN General Assembly in New York next month.

This comes as the government announced that they are committed to addressing rural poverty.