Marking the apparent revival of several civilian-led protest movements that mushroomed in Zimbabwe in 2016, leaders of grass-roots movements have come together to try and gather strength ahead of elections next year.
President Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party have been in power since the country gained independence from the UK in 1980 after Zimbabwe's 15-year War of Liberation. Amid a worsening economic crisis, the country with a population of more than 16 million will hold critical elections in 2018.
What are the 15 social movements that have gathered?
BUYA (Bulawayo Youth Arise)
#Zimbabwe Yadzoka/Mayibuye iZimbabwe
ZINASU (Zimbabwe National Students Union)
ZWIPA (Zimbabwe Women In Politics Alliance)
Behind Smile Africa
The Zimbabwe We Want Youth Movement
NAVUZ (National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe)
The return to Zimbabwe of outspoken Pastor Evan Mawarire, the leading figure of #ThisFlag movement who returned home from a brief stint in exile in February, has played a large role in rejuvenating the social movements.
"It's fair to say that hopefully, this (gathering) marks the beginning of a revival of these movements. There is a new kind of resolve among many social movement leaders for things to start to heat up again, from now until 2018," lawyer Doug Coltart, the son of the founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), exclusively told IBTimes UK.
The movements appeared to be wanting to make it clear that activists making a statement together were not seeking to take up space in the partisan political arena.
"That space is already very saturated by more parties than we really need. So, it's not a question of being another political party, but of creating a different political space for citizens to have an impact on the political environment, independent of the political parties," Coltart explained.
"It is also essential to make clear we should not be joining any coalition of opposition parties either, as those parties also need to be held accountable by citizens," Coltart said in reference to several existing coalitions including National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), the Coalition of Democrats – dubbed Code or the group formed by opposition leaders Joice Mujuru of Zimbabwe People First (Zim-PF) and Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T party).
Coltart added: "While most citizens do desire some form of an opposition coalition so that they can be a strong front to face the regime come the elections, it is important that the citizens' movements remain independent of whatever political processes are ongoing."
Representatives insisted they were not forming a coalition of social movements. Instead, they highlighted the importance of working well together and speaking with one voice, independently. Coltart said: "We will start to see more action from social movements. Over the past few months, many of these movements lost a lot of traction, and it has been a time of reflection on some of the mistakes being made and the need for restrategizing and working together."
Coltart explained mistakes made included faults in communication, actions organised, and a lack of support and collaboration between the different movements.
"The actions at times were more spontaneous than planned. While there is value in spontaneity, there needs to be thorough planning for actions to have an impact." Tactically too, Cotart acknowledged, the social movements "became a bit repetitive and uncreative".
He added: "They were mostly calling for street demonstrations that are really just one of a huge plethora of types of non-violent action that movements can engage in."
In a number of incidents, issues emerged surrounding finances for protests being misused and not being proper;y accounted for. "The movements are trying to think of better ways of ensuring accountability."
It is understood that some joint actions may be carried out by these groups during May.
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