Zimbabwean Baptist Pastor Evan Mawarire, who has spearheaded one of the biggest protests in decades in Zimbabwe by encouraging peaceful campaigning against the government’s handling of the economy, has been arrested today and charged with inciting public violence and disturbing the peace.
The Pastor, who released the video (above) last year that went viral and started the widely followed #ThisFlag movement on social media, began speaking out after feeling desperate and frustrated, as he was struggling to find work, couldn’t pay his children’s school fees, was unable to withdraw any money from his bank, and was finding it difficult to keep his family safe. Loyal to his country, and seeing no sign of the conditions in Zimbabwe improving, Mawarire chose to continue to be a voice for the nation, despite the conditions there.
Due to his movement gaining momentum, the police summoned Mawarire for questioning and he reported to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) this morning, Tuesday, July 12th, and according to a post on his Twitter account, “Pastor Evan Mawarire is being charged with section 36 for inciting public violence and disturbing peace.”
Also posted to his Twitter account was a link to a video he made, which explains, “You are watching this video because I have either been arrested or have been abducted. It’s a video we had pre-recorded for a day like this one.” The video closes with Mawarire saying, “Hold this government to account. Never let them get away with anything,” before adding, “Remember this flag is our flag, no-one else loves Zimbabwe more than a Zimbabwean.”
According to Zimbabwe’s private Newsday newspaper the preacher arrived at the central police station in the capital with the Zimbabwe flag in one hand and a Bible in the other, and without his mobile phone, which is primarily what the CID wants to inspect. They are trying to find out who is responsible for sending out the messages that have caused a national shutdown, with schools, shops and businesses closing across the country and public transport and some government departments ceasing to function. The shutdown was the biggest strike action in the country since 2005.
It has been reported that police have obtained search warrants and have searched Mawarire’s house in Avondale, along with his offices and church and have located the mobile phone. Newsday also reported that according to reliable sources, the CID law and order head, Assistant Commissioner Chrispen Makedenge, is working to secure a warrant from a magistrate to access Mawarire’s mobile phone.
Last week taxi drivers clashed with security forces in Harare after complaining about police extortion.
Activists had organized a “stay at home” protest against both Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF due to claims of corruption and called for Mugabe to stand down after holding the Presidency for three decades. The first protest, which took place last Wednesday and was accompanied by an Internet blackout which caused the streets to be deserted and the majority of the nation to be temporarily paralyzed. It was organized through social media and Whattsapp. Another two “stay at home” protests have been arranged and will take place tomorrow and Thursday, July 14th, if the demands of the #ThisFlag movement are not met. These include the sacking of corrupt ministers, payment of salaries and the removal of roadblocks that residents claim are in place so that the police can extract bribes.
Mawarire explained, “The [government] has stolen our money. It is out of touch with the problems we have. It must begin to listen to the people and stamp out the corruption, which has crippled our economy. The international community cannot help us if we do not help ourselves.”
Speaking about the government, Mawarire has also said, “They are stubborn and full of pride. Their instinct is to threaten, intimidate, arrest and detain. They have shown that again and again. But we are a non-violent movement. That’s very, very important. It’s a confrontation of truth.”
Following the recent protests, video clips and images of anti-riot police beating up citizens—including mothers and children—have gone viral on social media.
In the video Mawarire posted to his Twitter account today he makes a plea for the protests to continue despite his arrest.
The economic crisis in Zimbabwe is worsening recently which is leading to a chronic cash shortage and civil servants have been experiencing delays in payment, although they were paid as soon as the strikes were implemented. The workers are paid in foreign currency as Zimbabwe abandoned its currency in 2009 as an attempt to stem inflation.
There is heightened anger towards the government after they placed a ban on importing many goods to save scarce foreign currency, and cash shortages in Zimbabwe means that there is a daily withdrawal limit of $50 at most banks. Unemployment is currently at approximately 90 percent in Zimbabwe and many rely on cross-border trading in order to make a living.
Meanwhile a drought in Zimbabwe is currently affecting over four million people with famine.
Mawarire’s hope is that his Twitter #ThisFlag movement will give courage and inspiration to the people of South Africa and positive change will occur. He was very aware that speaking out about the government might lead to his detainment as they do not take lightly to people speaking dis-favorably about their President’s policies. However, he also believes that, “We are getting to a place where we are now expressing that we have had enough. What we are doing is about one action, one voice concerning our frustration. Enough is enough.”
Due to the movement being centered around the Zimbabwean flag, encouraging people to wear it as a symbol of their loyalty to their country and their determination to bring it back to the people, ironically the Zimbabwean government are now rejecting it and recently ejected two MPs from Parliament for wearing the flag around their neck, accusing them of trying to belittle Zimbabwe.
Mawarire’s intentions are that these protests that are unprecedented in the history of Zimbabwe are not a push for revolution or regime change, but they are to eradicate the fear that is commonplace in Zimbabwe and also so that the government is held accountable. He also believes it may encourage foreign governments to pay closer attention now that Zimbabwe is under spotlight and they may then help to put pressure on 92-year-old Mugabe, who has been in power since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, to “listen to it’s citizens” and stand down.
Protests have been arranged on streets all across the world this week with Zimbabwean flags being waved to peacefully unite and raise awareness, showing that even if one person is silenced, the world watches and carries on and and continues to speak out against corruption, injustice and poverty.
Protester Itai Dzamara, a critic of Mugabe’s regime, who inspired a generation when he spoke out about his opposition to the Zimbabwean government was abducted by suspected state security agents on March 9th last year and has not been seen since. His brother Patson Dzamara is also currently missing.
Author: Alex Myles
Image: YouTube Still
Editors: Travis May; Catherine Monkman