A letter for a Zimbabwe where fear cannot rule

Harare's empty First Street as people stayed away in protest on 6 July 2016

Shortly after yesterday’s arrest of Pastor Evan Mawarire, the leader of the #ThisFlag citizen protest movement, I walked back uptown from Harare’s downtown charge office. On First Street, a bustling shopping area in the heart of the capital, was a man, drunk and high on cough syrup, walking in and out of stores telling people to close their shops on Wednesday and Thursday as #ThisFlag have peacefully called for. But he warned if anyone dare open, their premises would be ransacked. He seemed a funny sight. But a man barely able to stand up straight and talk without slurring was able to invoke so much fear into the staff in the few outlets I went into. They promised, as I overheard, they weren’t opening.

True or false, who would say otherwise when confronted?

Between the stern warnings of the state and the frightful viral messages on social media, it’s clear fear has a lot to do with why one would stay at home or go against the double stay-away.

In a costly first, the Minister of Home Affairs, the man overseeing Zimbabwe’s hated road blocks and police security operations, announced there would be “additional transport” to take people to work to compensate for possible shortages during the two-day protest.  I’m unsure to what extent these buses will be rolled out and how it’ll be financed, but I wouldn’t put it past the state to start coercing people into going to work if stay-aways are sustained. If people can be forced into attending President Mugabe’s rallies and birthday parties, they can be made to go to work if the state wishes it to be so – such is the Maoist nature of this regime.

But for all its efforts to thwart citizen protest, the government remains in a bind. There is no money. Even after last week’s strike, it turns out some civil servants’ June salaries are still unpaid and pensioners’ grants dating as far back as May are long overdue.  To make matters worse, very soon, July’s salaries will be due. So for all the “enemies” and regime change saboteurs the government conjures up and slanders in its newspapers or lock up in its prison cells, it doesn’t change the fact that Zimbabwe is in crisis and the people need a solution.

Like Mawarire said in the last recorded video before his detention, arresting him doesn’t erase the country’s problems or ensure the people will be silenced.

As I’ve said before, more will rise. And so, rather than arresting activists, Zimbabwe should be transforming itself from being a place of fear, where being found in possession of security kit such as a police helmet or baton stick, like Mawarire, simply isn’t a crime. Or saying “President Robert Mugabe, fuck you” as Acie Lumumba, a former Zanu PF youth leader did, because one is so peeved at the state of things, isn’t a punishable offence.

Maybe then the regime will realise that for as long as fear is used as an instrument of power, there will always be tension between the rulers and the ruled.

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