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Zimbabwe: #ThisFlag

AfricaFocus Bulletin
July 15, 2016 (160715)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"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.

For short powerful statements by Pastor Mawarire, from April and earlier this week, just before his arrest see and

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, not sent out by email but available on the web at, 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.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Zimbabwe, go to

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Zimbabwe: Power to the pastor, power to the people as Mawarire walks

Simon Allison

Daily Maverick, July 14, 2016

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.

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 o'clock.

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 Zimbabwe.

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 attire.

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 bravery.

"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 uncomfortable indeed.

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 supporters.

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 again.

Citizens' movement and the resurgence of the repressive state in Zimbabwe

Alex T. Magaisa

July 8, 2016 - Direct URL:

[Excerpts only. Full text available at links above]

[Alex Magaisa lectures at Kent Law School, University of Kent and can be contacted at 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 the breakdown.

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.

Historic moment

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 leadership. ...

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. ...

Social media

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 spaces.

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 state. ...

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 past?


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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