Military Takeover Stokes Uncertainty For Zimbabwean Students

Terrens Muradzikwa ’18 couldn’t fall asleep early Saturday morning.

Instead of studying, Muradzikwa was up reading reports of the events unfolding in Zimbabwe, his home country.

Zimbabwe was plunged into political crisis last week when the military seized power from Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country for nearly 40 years. Military officers placed Mugabe, the country’s president, under house arrest and have occupied the capital, Harare, since Wednesday.

“My mom had to tell me to go to sleep,” Muradzikwa said. “I was awake until around 4 a.m. trying to keep up to date with the rally that was going on. And my mom was like, ‘no, you need to sleep.’”

Amidst the military takeover, which some observers are calling a coup, some Zimbabweans are hoping for a new political regime after decades of Mugabe’s rule. For Zimbabweans several time zones away at Harvard, this hope has kept them glued to news sites and social media at late hours of the night trying to follow the unfolding political change.

“My academic schedule and everything has been affected, because I spent the last week basically staying up all night. The only time I can dedicate to going through the news and catching up on everything that’s happened that day is during the night,” Rufaro Jarati ’20 said.

Mugabe, who has ruled the country since the end of white minority rule, is clinging to power amid pressure from the military and his political party to resign. Despite news reports that Mugabe had been ousted as leader of his political party, he appeared on television Sunday and refused to resign from power.

This uncertainty has left Zimbabweans across the world, and at Harvard, with a mix of hope and anxiety about the country’s future.

Jarati said he was thrilled when the military first took power last week.

“I was very happy. That’s the first thing, because when you have a 37-year-old problem, however you fix it, you kind of feel happy that it’s getting fixed,” Jarati said.

Sancharz R. Gore ’19 said she did not believe the headlines at first.

“I had already resigned myself to the fact that he was going to be president. In my mind, this man was just going to rule forever, and that’s what was going to happen,” she said.

But Jarati said many Zimbabweans now find themselves asking what will happen next.

“I get that there is a change that is long overdue. But we just don’t know where this is heading right now,” he said.

Concerns about economic stability and a distrust of the military have kept Zimbabweans’ optimism at bay.

“For me as an economics student, I am really concerned about the political instability that arises out of these events,” Muradzikwa said. “Because when most people look at this, they wouldn’t want to invest their money in a country that has political instability.”

Gore said that despite her excitement, she is trying to keep her expectations realistic.

“It’s going to take time, but what matters is that we are in the right direction,” she said. “It’s hard to restart and rebuild a viable economy from nothing. That’s just going to take time.”

On Saturday, roughly a dozen Zimbabwean expatriates rallied in Harvard Square, singing Zimbabwean liberation songs—this time calling on Mugabe to step aside to allow a for peaceful change of power.

Gore, who attended Saturday’s march, said the potential of a leadership change makes it more likely she will return home.

“I have always been thinking how I want to go back home after college. But the way things were, realistically, I could not go back home. So even the thought of going back home became more realistic. I was very ecstatic and jubilant,” Gore said.

Muradzikwa said he shares Gore’s hope.

“I think most students and most people in the diaspora are just hoping for a better Zimbabwe,” he said. “Because I think most people’s ultimate goal is to go back home and help improve the country.”

—Staff writer Graham W. Bishai can be reached at graham.bishai@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @grahambishai

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