Mawarire stirs revolutionary spirit
THROUGHOUT history, characters that somehow refuse to be ignored have come along.
Movers and shakers such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and — obviously on the opposite side of the scale — Adolf Hitler, come to mind.
In the tumultuous and chaotic period of the French Revolution, many such men emerged, but none were as large as the man to become Emperor of the French Empire, Napoleon Bonaparte.
The revolutionary fever that was spreading when Bonaparte was a teenager allowed a talented individual the opportunity to rise far beyond what could have been achieved only a few years previously.
His first real military opportunity came as an artillery captain at the siege of Toulon, where he expertly seized crucial forts and was able to bombard the British naval and land forces, eventually forcing them to sail away.
By the fall of 1799, Bonaparte had upstaged the repressive monarchical regime to set up a new order in France, earning himself immortality in the hearts and minds of future generations.
Michel de Nostredame (1503-1566), a French apothecary and reputed seer, who published collections of “prophecies” that have since become famous and is usually Latinised as Nostradamus, had over two centuries earlier predicted the rise of Bonaparte, saying:
“The Italian Gaul will see the birth, not far from its heart, of a supernatural being; this man will arrive very young from the sea and will come to take the language and customs of Celtic Gauls. He will open a path for himself through a thousand obstacles and will become their supreme chief…”
At this juncture that Zimbabwe finds itself today, one is tempted to entertain wild comparisons with the bygone eras, probably just to amuse oneself or maybe to wish for a real change to the status quo.
When cult heroes suddenly emerge from the woodwork and send shivers down the spines of once unflinching leaders, one is inclined to wonder whether it’s just a flash in the pan or something else.
Ever since charismatic former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai stormed the political scene nearly two decades ago, many others have subsequently tried to challenge the status quo to no avail.
And now clergyman, Evan Mawarire has emerged from the country’s wilderness of despair to command a large following overnight.
A man, who, at the beginning of this year, was an unknown quantity, has transformed himself, in the twinkling of an eye, into a household name and a new political phenomenon.
Starting with simple messages communicated via social media, eventually gracing the front pages of local newspapers and now beamed on international television, Mawarire is surely a man who is fast curving his name into the anals of Zimbabwean history.
Ever since Tsvangirai and his opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), were routed at the 2013 elections, many ordinary citizens had gotten relatively disaffected by politics.
But when Mawarire suddenly came to the fore, interest in politics has been rekindled once again.
The question on the lips of many Zimbabweans today is how far can he go?
For now, that question could be very difficult to answer.
What shall become of Mawarire and his #ThisFlag campaign will largely depend on many factors, not less how the State machinery would react.
What cannot be denied, though, is the fact that although Mawarire is not fronting any political party, for now, his project is turning out into a new political force in its own right.
The arrest of the pastor and his appearance in court last week shows that the ruling party is not taking any chances.
Home Affairs Minister and one of ZANU-PF’s top officials, Ignatius Chombo, last week said his party was unshaken by this new force.
But as he spoke the State machinery was out in full force seeking to crush “dissent”.
Events that played out during the appearance of Mawarire at the Harare Magistrates Court last Wednesday clearly indicated that it may not be that easy to silence the cleric.
On a day that Mawarire had called for a second stay-away in as many weeks, government scored a major own-goal that inadvertently helped propel Mawarire to promimence in and outside the country’s borders.
What government thought would be a routine trial of a crime suspect turned into a massive political rally for Mawarire’s sympathisers who spent long hours singing and praying outside the courthouse.
One thing which Mawarire has achieved in an instant is to not only appeal to the conscience of the ordinary citizen, but to also influence the aristocrats of Zimbabwean society.
The sea of cars that were parked at the courtyard was a clear testimony of how members of the upper class, including the white community, are now desperately keen to get involved in the country’s politics.
He has also managed to bring in the Christian community which until now had largely been a disinterested observer.
Events at the courts proved that Zimbabwe could be witnessing a new political phenomenon since Tsvangirai.
In the last minutes before Mawarire was set free by regional magistrate, Vakayi Chikwekwe, a sombre atmosphere pervaded the bunged courtroom.
The majority of the people inside Court Six were lawyers who had come to defend a brave citizen who dared the State.
Small caucuses were being held in hushed tones as legal minds tried to pre-empt the magistrate’s ruling following spirited submissions by both the State and the defence team.
Patience started running out as the magistrate took his sweet time behind the barricaded mahogany door to the disconsolation of the courtroom, whose darkness was being helped by an insidious dusk.
Whistles and jeers would occassionaly erupt instantaneously.
It took Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe president, Shingi Munyeza, — coming in solidarity with fellow clergyman — who beckoned for silence and asked for prayers, to cool tempers.
A young woman perched on a desk and mustering an emotive tone, led the hymn singing.
“If you believe, and I believe, and we together pray, the Holy Spirit must come down and Zimbabwe must be saved!”
For a moment, one could be forgiven for mistaking the courtroom for a church hall.
Outside the court, a restive crowd kept swelling — screaming and shouting as it demanded the release of Mawarire.
Riot police, who had spent the day patroling the courts, called for reinforcements at around 1700 hours.
As if to indicate that this was no ordinary case, some police officers — about six or seven — walked into the courtroom armed with assault rifles and ordered silence.
Defence lawyers vehemently opposed their presence in the courtroom and they duly walked out after being ordered to do so by their superiors.
Meanwhile, an electric atmosphere was building up outside, with numbers swelling by the minute and the noise growing louder.
The crowd, numbering not less than 5 000, broke into song and dance.
The country’s first national anthem after independence in 1980: “Ishe Komborerai Africa,” a song that is famed for stirring the revolutionary spirit in Africa against colonialism in the early 1960s, was repeated over and over again.
The magistrate finally walked back into the courtroom at around 1915 hours and delivered his ruling which freed Mawarire.
Wild celebrations erupted in the courtroom following the ruling as the jubilant crowd predominated by lawyers broke into song and dance.
The news was also received with a thunderous fete outside the courtroom where thousands had spent the day waiting for the ruling.
Candles had been brought out to help light up the place as the restive crowd refused to disperse until a ruling on Mawarire was made.
After his release, the crowd still refused to disperse until Mawarire addressed them, and when he appeared amid wild screams and cheers, he simply said: “You have shown that Zimbabweans can be united. God bless you. Zimbabwe is yours and your children,” before he was whisked away in a waiting car.
The celebrations spilled onto the streets of Harare’s central business district.
Such events, however, cannot as yet conclusively indicate if Mawarire and his followers have the guts to run the full mile.
What is, however, not in doubt is that there are voices that are crying out to be heard by the government.
Sadly, the government seems not to be listening. Credit to him, Mawarire has managed to get the attention of ZANU-PF and the government, but will he last the distance?
The odds are in his favour.
The opposition family, at present, is in disarray, divided and unattractive.
ZANU-PF is also torn by factionalism and faces worsening economic pressures.
In the past, the party has used a combination of cheap propaganda and State apparatus at its disposal to outflank rivals, but with the advent of social media and innovative opposition personified by Mawarire, can ZANU-PF maintain its dominance?
One has to look into the crystal ball to get answers to this question.
Political analyst, Otto Saki, this week said Mawarire has overwhelming support from Zimbabweans but may lack the wherewithal to challenge President Mugabe.
“On pastor Mawarire challenging President Mugabe, I personally do not see him taking that route, and it is unfortunate that we suspect that there is a hand or a big woman and man behind this campaign. The bigger woman and man behind this in my view are Zimbabweans.”
Saki said Mawarire’s campaign had “grown beyond him as a person”.
“The only unfortunate aspect is that we all expect him to speak for us, but we are not willing to speak for ourselves. We still believe in messianic politicians and individuals, but this issue is beyond individuals,” said Saki.
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