July 15, 2016 (160715)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The Zimbabwean regime did not expect Pastor Evan Mawarire to be set
free on Wednesday night. But unprecedented public pressure forced
the magistrate's hand, with a little help from blundering police.
Look away now, Comrade Bob, because Zimbabwe will never be the same
again." - Daily Maverick, July 14, 2016
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a short news report on the
release of Pastor Evan Mawarire, who sparked the #ThisFlag citizens'
protest movement in Zimbabwe, and excerpts from a longer analytical
article by Zimbabwean political analyst Alex Magaisa.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, not sent out by email
but available on the web at http://www.africafocus.org/docs16/zim1607b.php, includes a press
release and excerpts on a report released today in Harare: "Working
without Pay: Wage Theft in Zimbabwe." This study, by the Labour and Economic
Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) and the Solidarity Center, documents the failure of both government and the
private sector in Zimbabwe to pay wages to ordinary workers, despite
lavish pay and benefits for top executives.
The Zimbabwean regime did not expect Pastor Evan Mawarire to be set
free on Wednesday night. But unprecedented public pressure forced
the magistrate's hand, with a little help from blundering police.
Look away now, Comrade Bob, because Zimbabwe will never be the same
Harare Magistrate's Court may once have been an impressive building,
but no longer. The walls are cracked. The paint is peeling. The
windows of Court Six, where Pastor Evan Mawarire's remand hearing
was held on Wednesday, are caked with dirt. Only half the ceiling
lights work, and the wall clock is stuck at a little after seven
As a symbol for everything that's wrong with Zimbabwe, it's a
writer's dream, as is the court's location on the inauspiciously
named Rotten Row.
Except that something unexpected happened. The usual show trial
script called for Mawarire's charges to be upheld, and bail denied,
to make sure that the state keeps him where they like to keep the
troublemakers: behind bars.
But no one followed the script. On Wednesday, rising above the
symbolism of these shabby surroundings, something went right in
The first to break ranks were the lawyers, nearly 200 of them, who
volunteered to represent Mawarire en masse. Not all of them could
fit into the jam-packed courtroom - strictly standing room only -
but those who did were conspicuous in their sharp suits and business
They became even more conspicuous when Magistrate Vakayi Chikwekwe
asked who was representing the accused. As one, the lawyers in the
room raised their Law Society cards, an extraordinary image of
solidarity that gave goose bumps to everyone else watching - except,
perhaps, the none-too-undercover intelligence operatives, who
appeared to be carefully noting down faces and names. That the
lawyers present were undeterred by this danger underscores their
"There are times when we have to shed our status as lawyers and push
for justice as citizens. It does not require a lawyer to see that
there is injustice going on here," said Belvin Bopato, an attorney.
The hundreds, and at times thousands, of people gathered outside
were doing something equally unprecedented. They were protesting. In
Mugabe's Zimbabwe, protesting is a dangerous, even fatal, activity.
Which is why it doesn't happen very often, and never in these
numbers. But here they were on Wednesday, draped in the national
flag which has become such a subversive symbol of resistance,
chanting and singing and praying all through the day and early
evening as they waited for the magistrate to deliver his verdict.
"It's been a while since Zimbabwe last had a voice, but now it has
found a voice. I'm here to stand in solidarity with Pastor Evan,"
said activist Mlambo Garikai.
The most unexpected plot twist, however, was delivered courtesy of
Magistrate Chikwekwe himself. It was possible to feel some sympathy
for the magistrate, who found himself in a classic Catch-22: flout
the law but keep his political bosses happy; or follow the law but
anger his superiors, who have the power to make him very
It was obviously a difficult decision. Even after starting
proceedings six hours late, Chikwekwe called several long
adjournments, and only delivered his verdict full 90 minutes after
it was due.
As they waited, the audience inside the courtroom sang and danced,
while the large crowd outside began to get impatient. Had Mawarire
not been released, a confrontation between riot police and
protesters would probably have been unavoidable.
But the law won. After lecturing the police and prosecutors about
their mistakes - most notably in substituting the original charges
with a much more serious treason charge just minutes before the
hearing began - Chikwekwe told Mawarire he was free to go.
The courtroom erupted into cheers and ululations, as did the
thousands of people waiting outside, who by now were holding
candles. "I feel ecstatic. We have shown that if we can come
together we can push the system to work normally. What happened here
today gives us hope," said Elton Kapfunde, one of the pastor's many
Ngonidzashe Marera, a friend of Mawarire's, said that the verdict
showed the strength of the pastor's faith. "I'm over the moon. God
is there for us. Good has prevailed. Man's arms are too short to box
with God, clearly."
If Robert Mugabe's regime falls - and that day is considerably
closer today than it was yesterday - then historians will look back
and pinpoint this as the moment when the tide began to turn. There's
no doubt that the sheer scale of the solidarity movement frightened
the ruling party's decision-makers, who never intended to let
Mawarire walk, and may even have forced Magistrate Chikwekwe's hand.
On Wednesday, Zimbabweans in their thousands took on the regime, and
won. And now that they've done it once, they can and will do it
Citizens' movement and the resurgence of the repressive state in
[Excerpts only. Full text available at links above]
[Alex Magaisa lectures at Kent Law School, University of Kent and
can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @wamagaisa]
In one incident, a young man is dragged out of his room, his pair of
trousers half down and without shoes. He tries desperately to raise
his trousers and pleads with them. But they don't listen and they
don't care. They pummel him with baton sticks as if they are beating
an unwelcome intruder. He falls to the ground, perhaps the selfpreservation
instinct to make himself small, but they respond by
beating him up with even greater intensity. He yelps in pain and
tries to cover his head to minimise further damage but this does not
deter them. They yank him up and continue to beat him as if they
were beating a drum.
It's not fiction. ... These are the images of Zimbabwe which the
world has been seeing this week - a reminder of the dark days when
the Zimbabwean state has typically turned upon its citizens with
intense brutality. The beating happened after commuter omnibus
drivers went on strike, protesting against too many roadblocks by
police, at which members of the police force extort bribes from them
on a daily basis.
Then on Wednesday [July 6], Zimbabwe witnessed the #ZimShutDown2016,
following a call for a mass stay-away from work. Harare and most
cities were deserted. People had heeded the call. There was a heavy
police and army presence in towns around the country as well as
rural centres like Jerera, where pictures showed scores of police
roaming the centre. Social media was down for a while, with people
unable to access WhatsApp and most suspected the state had a hand in
Efforts by government spin-doctors to downplay the mass stay-away
failed. Schools were closed and unpaid for the month of June, civil
servants in the health and education sectors led the way and stayed
away from work. Government had to deploy the military in public
health institutions to provide cover. Apart from the violent
clampdown, the state issued several warnings to the public. The
instruments of repression were being mobilised. This typical of the
Zimbabwean state, reacting like a bully who suddenly panics at the
sight of a challenge from an unexpected and unfamiliar source and
whose first instinct is to flex muscles and bare teeth in order to
frighten with a generous amount of threats.
When the story of this week's events is told to future generations,
its place and significance in the trajectory of Zimbabwean political
history will not be lost on historians and keen observers of
Zimbabwean politics. ... I believe the events of last week,
beginning with the protests in Beitbridge are a seminal moment in
the sense that they demonstrate for the first time in a long period,
a re-awakening of the citizens and a demonstration of their capacity
to assert themselves in their capacity as citizens, not as followers
of political parties or organised civil society. ...
The #ZimShutDown of this week was, in some ways, unique in its
galvanising and mobilising effect without the aid or leadership of
traditional actors on the political and civil society landscape. For
the first time in a long time, the traditional political actors,
both in the ruling establishment and the opposition were by-standers
in an historic moment championed largely by ordinary citizens. I am
careful to say for the first time in a long time principally because
it is not the first time this has happened in our polity. The events
of 1998 spring to older minds, when Zimbabweans came together in a
huge flood of dissent against deteriorating economic conditions.
Taking the lead was the then vibrant labour movement, with the ZCTU
at the apex, led by Morgan Tsvangirai. Many young Zimbabweans have
only known him as an opposition politicians, but at the time, he was
a leader of the labour unions. Civil society movement was still then
in its nascent stages but those were the moments when organisations
such as the National Constitutional Assembly began to assume a
leading role in campaigning for political reform under the flagship
call for constitutional reforms. For the first time since
independence, the people of Zimbabwe heeded the call for a mass
stay-away. It was also unique in that many employers backed the
call, signalling an interesting milieu ideologies in one moment; a
strange mixture of capitalists and socialists.
Lessons from the past
This is not the place to narrate and analyse the historic events of
the late 1990s. ... I also make reference to 1998 so that the
present generation of leaders and activists in the citizens'
movement has a wider appreciation of the context within which
#ZimShutDown2016 and related activities are taking place. While
there are key aspects that distinguish the current citizens'
movement, such as the role and influence of social media, it is by
no means an invention of the current generation. It is important to
locate it neither as the beginning of history of activism nor the
end of it, but as part of an incremental process that has been in
motion for a long time and has manifested in various forms and has
been prosecuted by various actors at each stage. ... Zimbabwe's
post-independence struggle for democratic reform is against a wellestablished
and deeply-entrenched electoral authoritarian regime,
this citizens' movement must be seen in this context as the latest
of waves chipping away at a wall which is backed by the military.
While the older generation should be more receptive to the new wave
of activism and its leaders and not view them with suspicion, the
new generation of activists must also be mindful of and respect
history and those who have already been in the trenches.
There might be lessons to be learned from that era, which the
present generation can use to avoid old mistakes. This is because I
have noticed a tendency on social media, where people demand instant
results and sometimes end up utterly deflated and defeated when
things don't happen as quickly as anticipated. Yet if one
understands the bigger picture, knowing the origins of this
struggle, including its highs and lows, they might have a better
appreciation of the incremental nature of the process; indeed, a
better appreciation of the fact that the struggle is a slow-cooked
dish, not the pre-cooked instant microwave variety.
Catching traditional actors by surprise
An interesting feature of the current citizens' movement is that it
seems to have caught the ruling party, the opposition and
traditional civil society by surprise and consequently, none of them
have been quite sure of how to react to it. ...
The problem is that the leadership of traditional political parties
and organised civil society has not evolved over the same period,
while society has changed and its demands and expectations have also
changed. Like ZANU PF, opposition parties and organised civil
society have not confronted and dealt with succession issues and the
culture of entitlement of those in leadership positions. This has
resulted in a traffic jam in the leadership of parties and
organisations the civil and political spaces, with those in front
unwilling and unable to move or give way to new generations or
ideas. Traditional political parties and civil society organisations
are notoriously hierarchical and exclusionary in the selection of
The traditional opposition and organised civil society appear to
have struggled to come to terms with this new phenomenon. Do they
embrace it? Do they join it? Are they leading it? Are they
followers? How exactly do they accommodate this phenomenon which has
not emerged from their usual programmes at traditional work-shops.
... Both the opposition and civil society groups need to selfintrospect
thoroughly and reflect on the new phenomenon of the
citizens' movement and consider their role in the changing political
and civil landscape.
New challenge for ZANU PF
This unconventional citizens' movement has also caught ZANU PF by
surprise, presenting a new challenge on an unfamiliar front. The old
party is used to dealing with the traditional political opposition
or organised civil society, which they invariably bundle together as
Western-sponsored opposition or regime change agents. The state and
ZANU PF have developed a wide array of tools to deal with these
traditional opposition in civil and political spaces - through
infiltration of political organisations, banning political
gatherings and meetings, deploying laws meant for political
organisations, propaganda through state media, etc. However, they
have not had to deal with a citizens' movement of this kind, with a
large base in social media. ...
It is clear that the regime is currently unsure about the nature of
the latest challenge. The term they have settled on for now is that
the dissent and activism is being orchestrated by a "Third Force",
even though no-one has given substance to this term to clarify who
or what exactly constitutes this force. For the government, there is
a sinister force beyond the traditional opposition which they are
not equipped to handle. They can't quite define what it is. They
cannot believe that citizens can consolidate and find expression in
non-traditional political and civil spaces.
In all this, of course, is a typically stubborn refusal by ZANU PF
to acknowledge that the people of Zimbabwe can think for themselves
and make their own decisions. For the ZANU PF regime, any resistance
to its policies and style of governance cannot be from and by the
people of Zimbabwe making independent decisions. Rather, it has to
be instigated and influenced by foreign elements, usually the West.
This is a very condescending mindset against fellow Zimbabweans. It
shows the character of the state, where citizens are like children
who need guardians to think and decide for them and if it's not the
government, it has to be another sinister third party doing it on
their behalf. Individuals within the state are not regarded as
rational beings capable of making their own decisions. The irony is
that a government which claims independence and sovereignty of the
nation does not believe that the people from whom that sovereignty
and authority to govern are derived can make independent decisions
to express grievances unless they are influenced by the West. ...
One key factor that distinguishes the current citizens' movement
from similar movements in the past is the availability and popular
use of social media. When #This Flag movement started through social
media messages by Pastor Evans Mawarire a couple of months ago, it
was initially dismissed as "a passing fad". It was dismissed as
nothing more than social media chatter, which would dissipate
quickly as people moved on to the next internet fad. There was
little appreciation of its capacity to galvanise sentiment and
passion among people both in cyber and physical spaces.
Soon however, representatives of #ThisFlag movement were engaging
directly with authority, one example being a public meeting held
with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor, Dr John Mangundya over
concerns around the issue of bond notes. That in itself was an
indication of a so-called social media-based movement transcending
cyberspace and finding recognition and accommodation in physical
After seemingly dismissing the social media as irrelevant within
Zimbabwean political spaces, the government has reacted with panic
to the real potential of social media. The Minister of Information,
Chris Mushowe, on 7 July 2016 issued a long statement in which he
warned what he called "misguided malcontents" who are allegedly
misleading people into protests against government. ...
However, by contrast one of the key things which social media has
done in the Zimbabwean struggle is to empower citizens to fight
against such government manipulation though information-sharing
networks which have reduced barriers in time and space between
citizens across the world. This way, a person in Tsholotsho is
communicating with his fellow citizens in Mutare, at Sadza, in
London, Sydney or New York and Cape Town, sharing valuable data,
information, tools and advice. The propaganda machinery has faced
serious challenges from social media because citizens are able to
instantly scrutinise, challenge, and dismiss the lies and
fabrications in the state media. Each morning, Zimbabweans scour the
papers, pick stories from all media and dissect them, showing
absurdities and exposing weaknesses and contradictions in propaganda
to a wider audience. Citizens no longer have to rely on what the
papers tell them. They also listen to what fellow citizens are
saying through social media. Citizens no longer have to wait for the
media to share information, as there has been an upsurge in citizen
journalism with social media users sharing videos and uploading them
by the second. By the time the traditional media shows its images
and videos, they would have long circulated among the people through
social media. It is truly amazing to see the way information is
passed and spread across wider field on via Twitter, Facebook and
WhatsApp messages. Oft-times I have been amazed as I have received
my own work which I would have shared: it will be coming from
multiple sources with the hour, itself a demonstration of the power
of social media, which the Zimbabwean state and opposition have
until now underestimated as they have focused on the traditional
spaces. Hence when the government misrepresents the law, lawyers
instantly challenge it and respond through social media, providing a
counter-view and in the process empowering other users.
The likelihood is that Zimbabwe will follow Russia's path and enact
laws which specifically target social media users. The template for
such laws already exists in Putin's Russia ...
It is fair to predict that the Zimbabwean government will be fasttracking
a law on social media usage based on the Russian template
and there will be a number of quick convictions and jail sentences
against users designed as examples to the rest of the population.
The government has also resorted to typical strategies of exclusion.
... It's the politics of exclusion where those deemed to be citizens
are protected, while the excluded are deserving of no protection -
they are dehumanised. This dehumanisation makes it easier for those
charged with the job of getting rid of them. ...
Within the Zimbabwean political context, the Homo Sacer [person
excluded] is a person who opposes or dissents from ZANU PF.
Zimbabwe's Homo Sacer is identified by the labels ascribed to them
and by far the most common label of exclusion is "sell-out". To be a
"sell-out" is to be defined as the worst form of being within the
Zimbabwean political space. You are banished to the margins and are
deemed worthy of the death sentence. ...
In more recent years, a term that is close to "sell-out" is to be
labelled a "regime change agent". This term has been used liberally
against any person who opposes or is deemed to oppose ZANU PF. Like
a "sell-out" a "regime change agent" is regarded with contempt in
ZANU PF circles and deserves the worst treatment and punishment.
Another term of exclusion is "dissident". ...
These terms of exclusion are dangerous and reckless as they are
often a prelude to atrocities against perceived opponents, as the
Rwandan Genocide showed, where targeted communities were
continuously labelled "cockroaches" by the media, itself a label of
dehumanisation which fuelled the rampant killings. It is therefore
important to monitor how this language of exclusion and banishment
evolves in the coming weeks. These are labels of dehumanisation
intended to demonstrate that a life is not worthy of any protection
or recognition. It is the kind of hate speech which is prohibited by
the Constitution for good reason because it fuels atrocities. It is
therefore irresponsible for government, Ministers and state media to
employ these labels of exclusion and dehumanisation.
Apart from these labels, the most common form of banishment and
exclusion is through criminalisation of behaviour and sending people
to jail. ...
The rural frontier
One issue that remains critical in the Zimbabwean political and
civil society landscape is the rural frontier. For a long time, it
has been ZANU PF's stronghold. The 2012 census showed that 67% of
the population is rural, which means urban areas host only 33% of
the population. Since electoral politics is a numbers game, ZANU
PF's political strategies are centred on retaining control of the
rural constituency. Traditional opposition parties and organised
civil society have always done very well in urban areas, as shown by
the MDC's success in Harare, Bulawayo and other urban areas. The new
citizens' movement which has made waves in recent weeks has been
concentrated in the urban areas. In this regard therefore, it is not
very different from the traditional political opposition and
organised civil society. The civil and political spaces they are
occupying are well-trodden paths. The novelty is in the use of
social media and cross-party appeal arising from the issues around
which the citizens' movement is built. However, like the traditional
actors in politics and organised civil society, they are yet to
crack the rural constituency. There is a chance that social media
platforms like WhatsApp might make in-roads in the rural
constituency, but the response of the state machinery, through
criminalisation, warnings, threats and false claims that they can
see what social media users are doing are likely to affect the
impact of social media. ZANU PF only has to trigger its rural
machinery of intimidation and the ever-fearful and vulnerable
population will be cowed into submission.
Resurgence of the repressive state
It is clear that the current state is a mirror image of the colonial
state. The same methods and strategies are being deployed against
citizens. When Welshman Ncube analysed the continuities between the
colonial and post-independence state, he found that there had been
no effort whatsoever to dismantle the repressive state. Ncube wrote:
"the culture of the Rhodesian legal system was one of extreme
brutality in both content and methods of law enforcement". This was
echoed by Jonathan Moyo, who wrote at the time: "At independence,
the Zimbabwean nationalist leadership wittingly or unwittingly
failed to broaden democracy but embraced the oppressive institutions
and legal instruments such as the Rhodesian-imposed state of
emergency which took ten years to be lifted." This was in the late
1980s at a time when ZANU PF was trying to impose the one-party
state but the same arguments remain applicable today and if anything
the repressive state has become stronger and more ruthless. The
current reaction of the Zimbabwean government to the citizens'
protests has attracted the same reaction which is characterized by
intolerance, violence and repression.
During the first ten years of independence, the government
maintained a state of emergency, again inherited from the Rhodesian
Going forward, we are likely to see more arrests of activists in the
citizens' movement. Ordinary members of the public will also be
arrested and prosecuted as examples to others. There will also be
new laws to criminalise conduct on social media and other similar
spaces. There will be further statements and warnings from the
coercive elements of the state, all designed to deter and scare
people from using social media to challenge government. In this
regard, the citizens' movement will find that its struggle is really
not very different from the struggle which the traditional
opposition parties and organized civil society have faced in the
past. The question is whether this new citizens' movement has
devised new tools to overcome or get around these impediments. In
other words, are the citizens prepared to defend their leaders and
their rights in a manner that is different from how traditional
opposition parties and organised civil society have done in the
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