By Fadzayi Mahere
At the commemoration of Heroes’ Day on Monday, the President arrived at the National Heroes’ Acre to present his traditional address to the nation. Regal as always, he was clad in a bespoke charcoal suit, a starched white shirt and an azure tie.
A photographer captured an image of the President as he walked towards his seating place at the shrine. When this photograph was released, focus quickly turned to the President’s aged hand. It was ashen, wrinkled and a bit flakey but decorated with a gold watch.
Let’s just say it was a 92-year old hand. It would be gratuitous to invoke this image to speculate on the President’s state of health. What the image shows, however, is that Zimbabwe is at the turn of an age.
The President, being the only leader a Zimbabwean adult of my age has ever known, is an important symbol in Zimbabwe. He represents an era largely characterized by struggle – his generation’s struggle against injustice, our struggle against injustice and Zimbabwe’s struggle to morph into the ‘Great Zimbabwe’ that was imagined by all at independence.
As the age turns, it is important for all forward thinking Zimbabweans to pause and introspect because the new age Zimbabwe will, when the time comes, have the opportunity to chart a new course, with fresh ideas and renewed optimism.
It will be an opportunity to discard an old set of politics that has not served us well – a politics that cares little about integrity and is built around personalities.
It would be most unfortunate if we took the old culture of doing things – where a cult is built around an individual without any scrutiny of his or her actions, where integrity is ignored, where leaders are not held accountable for their actions and where the people are taken for granted – and carried it with us in the new era.
The events of the last few months, together with growing discontent across the cross-section of Zimbabwean society, demonstrates beyond any doubt that Zimbabweans are not only hungry for change but desperate for it. Yet in our desperation, it is also important that we do not lose our objectivity. Our desperation for the next new thing ought not to cloud our judgment.
This brings me to the somewhat polarizing question of Pastor Evan Mawarire. Admittedly, sorting out one’s thoughts on this issue is an intricate task. It is extremely difficult to be critical of someone who started something so beautiful, so novel, so fiery and so pure.
#ThisFlag, a citizen’s movement which was born out of a heartfelt video lamenting the state of the country by Pastor E, has awoken patriotism and love for Zimbabwe amongst many. It has destroyed apathy amongst the previously jaded younger generation. It has sown a seed of boldness in the population. For the first time in decades, the ordinary person on the street has found his or her voice.
One almost feels as though any criticism of Pastor E’s conduct translates to a criticism of what he started. It’s uncomfortable. This phenomenon and the associated feeling of discomfort explains why some find it hard to criticise the conduct of President Mugabe – they feel as though doing so amounts to criticism of his fight against racial oppression.
It also explains why some struggle to criticise Morgan Tsvangirai – they feel that doing so amounts to criticism of his contribution towards the fight for democracy at the turn of the millennium.
But surely, such an undue conflation of the issues is the easy way out? Do our circumstances not call for a more sophisticated thought process? Why should we run away from asking the hard questions?
Pastor E’s mantra from the get-go and for which he became famous was “hatichatya” – we are no longer afraid. In coining this mantra, he no doubt was aware of the dangers of being so vocal in opposing ‘the system’. He would have known that trumped up charges would be preferred against him as has happened to opposition leaders in the past.
He would have known that law enforcement agents would turn on him and that he would be victimised, possibly beaten and tortured. Knowing these mechanisms were firmly in place, he boldly declared “hatichatya”. He told us all not to fear – on radio, in his videos, on social media and in the street. There is no denying that many were emboldened by his mantra and his leadership.
Over the months that he ran his campaign, many regular citizens made themselves more vulnerable than they otherwise would have because the citizens had joined hands and discarded their fear in demanding a better Zimbabwe.
Many sacrificed a day or more of business, some their wages, when they hearkened Pastor E’s call for a shutdown of the country and a stay away from work. There is no denying that Pastor E was the leader of a citizens’ movement.
As expected from day one, by him and by all, he was then arrested by the police, spent a night in police cells and then hauled before a court. But many, including lawyers, students, the young and the old, black and white, stood by him because we were in this together; we were no longer afraid. We rejoiced when he was released.
It came as a confusing shock to many when he decided to leave the country barely a day after an overwhelming 5000 strong crowd came to the courthouse in Harare to stand with him and denounce fear. His explanation for leaving is that he fears what the state may do to him when he returns.
While accepting that this is his decision to make, one has to also accept, no matter the explanation or justification given, that this new position runs directly counter to the “I am not afraid” representation that he had previously openly and defiantly made, the no-fear mantra that whipped us all into a frenzy.
Was he lying when he said he wasn’t afraid? Is he now afraid? Is he ever coming back? Is he not taking our intelligence for granted by suggesting that he underestimated the threat given what happened to the likes of Itai Dzamara, Lovemore Madhuku and Morgan Tsvangirai whose stories he would have known about full well before he embarked on his campaign? Has he had a change of heart?
Surely, he has a moral obligation to let the public who followed him know about his change of heart – given that so many made themselves more vulnerable than they would have but for his “hatichatya” mantra?
Given the speculation that surrounds his hasty flight from the scene, surely he has to reassure all that he has not sought asylum in the United States as reports suggest? Or does he now have asylum? If he has, we have to accept do we not that this is a monumental betrayal of many Zimbabweans who stood beside him and made themselves equally vulnerable to attacks by the system?
Does he care whether the rest are ok or is this just about him and his family all of a sudden? The diaspora has a role to play and speeches can be given in Cape Town and Stellenbosch but has the publicity gotten to his head to a point where the comforts of his new found fame have made him forget how and where it all began? Is he now too good for the struggle on the ground?
Given that his #thisflag video, on his own account, came about because of his failure to raise school fees for his kids and make ends meet, who is now funding his stay abroad? Is there any reason why those funds can’t be used to beef up his security in Zimbabwe as opposed to fund a life outside the country? Is he going to continue to call citizens to act and protest from the comfort of his new abode so that ordinary people have to face off with riot police yet he is perfectly safe?
It would be irresponsible on our part and on his to pretend that these questions don’t matter and to accept his superficial explanation for what he has done – particularly in view of the nature of what he was calling upon us citizens to do – to reject fear and to shut down the country in protest.
One cannot instigate a nation to shut down then walk away and smugly retort that he never signed up for this. That’s not okay. Zimbabweans deserve the respect of their leaders – civic leaders, business leaders and political leaders.
This analysis obviously does not excuse us of our collective duty to act in the face of injustice, poverty and corruption. It does not remove our focus from the wider need for change in Zimbabwe – a country saddled with deep seated problems.
We all have a role to play. However, this cannot prevent us from taking stock and holding people (including those whom we like and respect) who call themselves leaders to account. That culture of demanding accountability and integrity must grow.
In our sober moments, we must be able to separate the contribution a person has made towards a noble cause from their (flawed) conduct. Surely our politics as a nation has to evolve to a place where any leader, no matter how big, important and celebrated, must be held accountable for his or her actions?
Surely maturity demands that while acknowledging the role one has played in a struggle, we have to insist that our leaders maintain their integrity? In our desperation for change, we have to get the fundamentals right. Integrity has to matter. It is the only foundation upon which sustainable change can be achieved.
Otherwise our supposed drive for change will be akin to strapping a gold watch onto a rotting hand, the proverbial lipstick on a frog.
Let’s make Zimbabwe great again. #thisflag #realtalk
Fadzayi Mahere is an Advocate of the High Court and Supreme Court of Zimbabwe
- Article appears on Nehanda Radio