Collapse of citizen resistance shows Zimbabweans not learning their lesson

A group of activists who have been staging demonstrations against President Robert Mugabe’s government past few weeks have narrated their horrifying experience in the hands of anti-riot police on Monday evening.
A group of activists who have been staging demonstrations against President Robert Mugabe’s government past few weeks have narrated their horrifying experience in the hands of anti-riot police on Monday evening.

By Maynard Manyowa

A few weeks ago, Zimbabwe appeared on course for a revolution. Mugabe found himself cornered by a new challenge, one born online. At its peak, the social media movement pressured the authoritarian state into releasing one of its leaders, Evan Mawarire – thousands stormed the courts and over a 100 lawyers volunteered to represent the man.

But just as Mugabe had been made to fall, and his Ministers while attempting to restrict access to internet found themselves in sixes, sevens and even eights, trying to craft laws to repress the movement, the resistance imploded!

It is somewhat of a dejavu moment – For so many years, the Movement for Democratic Change appeared on course to floor Robert Mugabe. In 2002, it took Thabo Mbeki’s craftsmanship to subvert the will of the people and deny Tsvangirai victory by concealing the rigging.

By 2005 the MDC was on the verge of disintegrating. It did, and by 2013 it had half a dozen different factions and splinter groups.

That revolution has been choked to demise, slowly. As it is today, the MDC is incapable of mounting any form of meaningful resistance against Mugabe’s Zanu PF.

It is no secret that after 36 years of pain, Zimbabwe’s problems have a face, and a name. At 92 years of age, Robert Mugabe is both the face and the source of the problems. In fact, he has in some way become the problem itself.

But the Zimbabwean problems go back to the actual decision to anoint Robert Mugabe as the face of the liberation movement. A teacher who shied away from politics, Mugabe joined the liberation struggle very late.

An eloquent speaker, he travelled to Zimbabwe to introduce his Ghanian wife to his family. A succession of chances ended with him addressing a gathering. His charisma, and ability to eloquently express ideas won the hearts of many.

He was pushed into leadership, in his admission, something he had not even considered. During the election that made him the leader of Zanu PF, he even abstained from voting. But such was the obsession with the eloquent Mugabe that he would be anointed as the face of the struggle against the colonial government at the time.

The rest is history. Hundreds of thousands dead, directly or indirectly due to his misrule, and even then he remains a hero to some. A god who is beyond critique and who cannot sin. So much so, some have suggested he continue as President even after he dies.

After so long, and so much, you would have thought the Zimbabwean people have learnt their lessons? Wrong.

Pastor Evan Mawarire, the man who filmed a video about his plight and found himself stumbled into activism has now fled Zimbabwe – after the citizen movement pressured for his release. Admittedly there is some deflation, but that points to a bigger problem.

Some are saddened by his absence, some are angered by it and feel betrayed, some are mocking him and calling him a coward, some are defending him with the dedication of a hired gun, yet none are rising to continue the fight for freedom.

Those that are angry that the protest leader left, and those that believe he is some form of god are two sides of the same coin – a nation obsessed with personalities.

Its sad because, it seems we have not learnt since Mugabe was anointed the face of the freedom movement that a liberation should have the face of values and not a man.

The absence of the Pastor does not translate to the absence of the values that the movement he started represents. Ideas and values should never be tied to the face of a man. Values must be enough inspiration to fuel a genuine revolution.

The messenger must never be bigger than the message itself. A revolution cannot be embodied in one man. The MDC tried to make Morgan Tsvangirayi the face of opposition politics, and today they sit in limbo. Zanu PF did it, and earned us a dictatorship.

The debate on whether Evan Mawarire should, or should not have left Zimbabwe at such a crucial time is for another day. To me, the reaction of the citizens means that even if he had stayed and Mugabe was defeated, Zimbabwe would soon follow Uganda, Egypt, DRC, and others –  replacing one dictatorship with the other.

An uprising, and a revolution cannot live long without a dedication to values. When the face of a struggle becomes more important than a struggle itself we create another Yoweri Museveni, another Robert Mugabe, another leader who is beyond reproach and is elevated to a level where he is some form of god.

To those that are defending Evan Mawarire blindly, and those that are criticizing him heavily, I would like to remind you that this was never about Evan, it is not about Evan. The fact that you love or hate the man, and pay no attention to the values renders your efforts circular.

For Zimbabwe to have some kind of a future, or achieve some kind of freedom, the cult of personality needs to go. The MDC was an opportunity wasted, and the social media revolution is now another. We need to learn our lessons fast, or the next revolution will fall flat on its face, again.

Zimbabwe we are one, and together we shall overcome. It is homeland or death.

  • Maynard Manyowa is a political analyst and contributing editor of Khuluma Afrika – a nonpartisan center for analysis, commentary and investigative journalism.