This is the era of the information age and from this information revolution a new government could be born in Zimbabwe whose symbol will not be the iconic AK47 but web-based applications that connected people together through a blood-less revolution.
As Zimbabwe’s economic and political instability rapidly gathers momentum an unlikely cleric has emerged as Mugabe’s latest nemesis and national hero. Pastor Evan Mawarire took to social media in April and posted a video venting his frustrations over misrule in the former southern African powerhouse. What started off as a miniscule call to action has ballooned into a mass movement on the back of technology and platforms that ZANU PF cannot control. Mawarire’s demands that the government should take heed of popular dissent over corruption, gross incompetence and repression were largely and typically ignored by ZANU PF, but a national shut-down soon put paid to the establishment’s miscalculation.
He has been described as a sanguine man with a discernible sense of piety but Evans Mawarire has become the very embodiment of a belligerent national struggle against tyranny. He speaks the language of, and represents a generation that has known no other leader but Robert Mugabe. The #ThisFlag leader orchestrated the hugely successful “Shut-Down” of Zimbabwe on July 6 forcing the government to take notice; and notice it did. Mawarire was subsequently charged with an array of crimes, from disturbing the peace to attempting to overthrow a democratically elected government. Inexplicably he was also arrested for a missing police baton and helmet. A day after his arrest thousands of people gathered outside Harare’s Magistrates Court awaiting a judgment. The presiding magistrate determined that the state had acted in violation of the constitution by arresting and charging Mawarire and ordered his immediate release. Coincidentally Mawarire’s, arrest occurred a day before another planned instalment of a nation-wide shut down.
The clumsy attempts to silence Mawarire have inadvertently propelled him to international recognition on one hand and have massively discredited the regime on the other. His arrest and subsequent release was reported internationally by leading broadcasters including the BBC, ENCA, and SABC and on social media platforms YouTube, Twitter and FaceBook. The Zimbabwe regime has historically curtailed the freedom of the press, although this is enshrined in that country’s constitution, famously bombing the Harare based printing press of the independent The Daily News in 2001, in what was widely believed to be state-sponsored intimidation and retribution against critics. However Mugabe is no longer faced by traditional media as channels of mass communication, as Mawarire so aptly demonstrated by leading an internet based campaign, he cannot stop or control information sharing and there is no printing press to bomb. It may yet prove that Mawarire has dealt ZANU PF a mortal blow by exposing its vulnerability, excesses and misinformation to an audience which ignores government propaganda. The ZANU PF government’s response to the increasing dissention has been nothing short of depraved.
A day after Mawarire’s release Morgan Tsvangiria of the Movement for Democratic Change returned from South Africa where he is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Thousands of cheering supporters greeted the ailing leader under the usual heavy police presence. The scourge of Mugabe had returned. Tsvangirai, though loved and respected by many Zimbabweans is not seen as the man who can rebuild the broken nation; many say a “stronger” leader is required. The departure of many leading MDC personalities such as Tendai Biti, Welshman Ncube and David Coltart has served to undermine Tsvangirai’s future who may be faced with relinquishing the reigns if MDC is to regain political relevance. In the fast paced Zimbabwean political arena, Tsvangirai might be better served in uniting a fragmented party even if such efforts result in his exit, leadership is required not a prolonged unwelcome stay in office, reminiscent of Robert Mugabe. The MDC, stuck in a quandary, has been cautious in its attempts to support the #ThisFlag movement lest it is labelled a political vulture or hi-jacker, but it can ill afford to remain silent when a sweeping revolution is gathering traction in the country.
ZANU PF’s dismissal of Mawarire was echoed by South Africa’s ANC which was quoted to have said that the protests were linked to foreign elements sponsoring a regime change agenda. Interestingly the Confederation Of South African Trade Unions, COSATU however has a different view, as published by the International Business Times; “Cosatu urges the people of Zimbabwe to continue with the struggle and not to watch idly while the government tramples upon the rights of workers and ordinary citizens,” Bongani Masuku, Cosatu’s international relations secretary, said in a statement on 13 July. “Such coordinated mass action is the only language that unresponsive regimes understand.” These sentiments have reverberated across the region and further afield, Mawarire’s message has universal acceptance regardless of ZANU PF’s efforts to muzzle its source. Fear has gripped Mugabe’s ZANU PF government in light of popular civilian-driven protests which threaten to unseat one of Africa’s longest serving rulers. Zimbabweans are rallying around a clergyman not a politician, who preaches transformation by the people via non-violent means through his weapon of choice; social media. Mawarire is dispelling a long held belief by ZANU and its apologists that to be a patriot of Zimbabwe one has to be a supporter of ZANU PF.
In a country where the rule of law and freedom are subverted could Zimbabweans have found in Mawarire a common man’s leader who might prove instrumental in rebuilding the moribund nation? He has survived death threats, arbitrary imprisonment and scathing ridicule from Jonathan Moyo and others, but for how much longer? Mawarire has irreversibly reshaped the political theatre of Zimbabwe. Fear, which for so long was Mugabe’s favoured tool, is being blunted by the powerful hammers of social media. Covert social injustice, horrific police brutality, wanton and illegal detentions are increasingly becoming difficult to hide. This is the era of the information age and from this information revolution a new government could be born in Zimbabwe whose symbol will not be the iconic AK47 but web-based applications that connected people together through a blood-less revolution. “Only a government that subjects itself to the rule of law has any moral right to demand of its citizens’ obedience to the rule of law.” These are the unmistakeable words of Robert Mugabe delivered just after Zimbabwe had attained independence in 1980. The reconstruction of Zimbabwe is inevitable, ZANU PF and Mugabe in particular are prolonging its commencement but in Pasto Evan Mawarire, their latest tormentor in chief, Zimbabwe has found a voice.