THE arrest of #ThisFlag campaign leader Pastor Evan Mawarire onTuesday over trumped up charges of inciting public violence shows that President Robert Mugabe’s government believes the violation of individual rights, harassment, intimidation and repression is the best way of responding to growing protests caused by its failure to address the country’s ever-deepening economic problems.
Candid Comment Owen Gagare
Instead of dealing with the root causes of the multi-faceted, but self-inflicted economic problems which have resulted in company closures, job loses, a tight liquidity crunch and cash shortages, among other things, the government instead unleashed its forces of repression on the pastor. The reaction was in line with the resolution made by the Zanu PF politburo last week, urging security cluster ministers to ensure protestors are ruthlessly dealt with.
Mawarire has been mobilising Zimbabweans to participate in peaceful stay-aways to press government to fix the economy, reverse the importation ban of basic commodities, take action on corrupt officials and reduce the number of extortionist roadblocks on the country’s roads and address cash shortages, among other demands.
But from the onset, it was clear the state was struggling to build a solid case after being outwitted by the charismatic pastor whose strategy is civil disobedience.
It was, therefore, not a surprise that the state bungled the case in court and made itself a global laughing stock while entrenching the widely held view that Zimbabwe is an authoritarian country. As a starting point, the police were granted a search warrant after misleading the courts that they were looking for “a stolen police helmet, ‘button’(sic) stick”, when in fact they wanted to search high and low through his mobile phone.
In a rather desperate, but foolish attempt to extend Mawarire’s unjustified and unjust detention, the investigating officer claimed he had forgotten court papers at home, forcing magistrate Vakai Chikwekwe to adjourn proceedings.
When he appeared in court on Wednesday morning, he was facing charges of inciting public violence, but the charges were changed in the afternoon to subverting a constitutional government, a further indication that the state was at sea on what charges to press against him.
The state failed to produce Mawarire’s warned and cautioned statement. He was also denied an opportunity to go through the new charges before appearing in court, violating his constitutional rights.
It was, thus, not a surprise that Chikwekwe ruled the state had violated the constitution before freeing Mawarire.
However, the large number of Zimbabweans who attended court in solidarity with Mawarire as well as the wild celebrations that followed his release should be a warning to government that the Dzamara strategy of intimidation and enforced disappearances cannot work forever. In fact, the government actually shot itself in the foot by arresting Mawarire as it only resulted in a massive outpouring of support and sympathy for him, strengthening his #ThisFlag movement, while leaving the authorities with egg on the face and unrest growing.