2 March 2017

Zimbabwe: Defiant Evan Mawarire Sends Tongues Wagging

THE intrigue surrounding clergyman, Evan Mawarire, never ceases to grab anyone's attention.

Days before Mawarire disappeared into South Africa following months of heightened political temperatures over his highly-charged social media protests against the ZANU-PF government's rule, the maverick cleric's popularity had soared after being arrested and released on a technicality.

The State failed to charge him for inciting public violence under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) of 2002 following his involvement in calling for a nationwide work boycott which successfully shutdown the whole country on July 11 and 12 last year.

During the trial, the State tried to alter the charges to that of subverting a constitutionally elected government, but that too failed leading to his release from custody.

The social media following Mawarire had amassed back then had been so phenomenal that his sudden disappearance left many followers dejected.

But six months later, Mawarire has resurfaced from the United States after his disillusioned followers had packed their bags and moved on.

Returning from a self-imposed exile recently Mawarire fell straight into the waiting hands of State security agents at the Harare International Airport.

He has appeared before the courts to face charges of subverting a constitutionally elected government and has been released on a US$300 bail after spending a few days in remand.

And his sudden return from the US has set tongues wagging both at home and abroad as many a Zimbabwean questioned the wisdom of his return.

His revelation last week that he would not mind running for the country's top job has excited those of his followers who still believe in him.

"If the need arises or if it becomes necessary for me to participate in the elections I really want to be available for that," he told reporters outside court last week.

"I believe it is my duty as a citizen to serve my nation in that way... I haven't made that decision as yet but certainly I don't want that door to be closed."

That slightest hint that he may want to throw his hat into the ring may embolden those behind his persecution. It may also pollute the atmosphere in the opposition camp, where every leader would want to lead the country one day.

Instead of standing with Mawarire at this critical juncture in his life as an activist, opposition leaders might distance themselves from him, seeing he has become a competitor.

Be that as it may, his supporters are happy to have him around.

Perhaps it could explain why he took the bold decision to come back home knowing full well that the thought police would be waiting for him.

About his return, Mawarire denies a rumour doing the rounds that his visa had expired. He also denied that he went to the US on a green card, an immigration process of becoming a permanent US resident.

The green card serves as proof that its holder, a lawful permanent resident, has been officially granted immigration benefits, which include permission to reside and take employment in the US.

"I have a personal visa which is still valid. I can travel to the US tomorrow on that visa if I got my passport back," said the clergyman, whose bail conditions include passport forfeiture.

He said his family would return home when it is safe for them to do so.

"One of the reasons why we left the country was that they were harassing my family. Mobs of people would come to my place and harass them. Even when I was arrested at the airport, the people who arrested me asked me to disclose the whereabouts of my wife and children, but they are not part of what I am doing. I decided that it was wiser that they stay where they are safe until such a time when it would be safe for them to come back home and be with us," he said.

He also added that he never applied for asylum as some have previously suggested, stating that he was always determined to come back home. He hoped that his return would inspire scores of Zimbabweans living outside the country to return and try to solve the country's problems along with the others.

"To say I sought asylum is an absolute lie. I never applied for it. If you followed my communications from the time I left, you would realise that I have always wanted to come back home. I was not fooled or pushed by anyone to return. I am a Zimbabwean by birth. I needed to use my return to inspire all Zimbabweans who have fled the country because of economic hardships or any other cause to come back home so that we work together to improve the situation. This is the season when we need each other more than ever," he explained.

But for any student of history, answers to topical present-day issues are never far away because history almost always repeats itself.

Mawarire's arrest mirrors the arrests of the nationalists during their fight against colonial rule.

Without any weapons of war, decades ago President Robert Mugabe, the late vice president Joshua Nkomo and many other nationalist were detained for years by the late Ian Smith regime for merely demanding equal rights between the black majority and racist minority white people.

That the same script is repeating itself in the same country and in the same interesting milieu has been described by analysts as sad to say the least.

Political observers, however, expressed optimism that Mawarire could have his Lazarus moment if he keeps the faith of his convictions.

The Lazarus moment phrase is borrowed from the biblical narrative of a character called Lazarus who was dead for four days, but was brought back to life by Jesus Christ.

But given how things have changed over the past months to lopsidedly skew against all voices of dissent it is difficult to even imagine Mawarire's defence team of Harrison Nkomo and Fadzai Mahere achieving much.

And even if they did manage to win him his freedom, the many followers that once followed him seem to have made other plans in the past six months that he was in self-imposed exile.

Political analyst, Otto Saki, recons that the problem lies with a cowed Zimbabwean citizenry and not with Mawarire.

"Many of us are used to cowing in our cocoons, be overly critical of the few that have taken great personal risks to raise the political cost of the predatory and poor governance. In fact, we place the burden of making Zimbabwe better on their shoulders, not ours and after that, we condemn them. We have a theory for every move they make. We fail to identify with their cause because we think it is money-driven or counter-intelligence plots, never that they desire for a better Zimbabwe," Saki lamented.

"The campaign is once again on the global radar because of the punitive arrest," he added.

Political commentator, Rashweat Mukundu, believes Mawarire could still salvage something from his waning political movement, although he is likely to face a rutted road.

"The change of fortunes which we have witnessed on his return suggests that he is entering into an entirely new game which demands more from him in terms of organisation and mobilisation. Mawarire will end the year 2018 (when there are general elections) either as somebody or a nonentity," Mukundu opined.

The great teacher, history, too is not short on examples of promising political phenomena that fatally miscalculated situations and ended up in sheer embarrassment.

Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn leader, Simba Makoni and youthful former British Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, are examples of political stars whose brightness only shone brightly and went out.

Indeed, even as observed by satirical American writer, Chuck Palahniuk in his 1999 book, Survivor, modern day events are nothing more than new patterns underlain by old patterns.

The satirical book has a paragraph which poetically goes like this: "There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns; patterns hidden by patterns; patterns within patterns. If you watch close, history does nothing, but repeat itself.

"What we call chaos is just patterns we haven't recognised. What we call random is just patterns we can't decipher. What we can't understand we call nonsense. What we can't read we call gibberish. There is no free will. There are no variables."

In the same vein, while what both Mawarire and the State are up to might be difficult to decipher or understand, they and their actions are part of the Zimbabwean narrative: A history that does not benefit present, but future generations; the generations whose futures, maybe Mawarire and a few others are genuinely fighting for.

Or maybe not!

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