BAPTIST Pastor Evan Mawarire will go down in Zimbabwean history as one among a handful clerics who chose the least travelled and daunting route by eloquently shooting holes in government’s excesses and further, urging nonviolent protests against the same before fleeing the country last year.
The default tendency of the current crop of pastors, apostles, prophets and priests has been to diffidently mumble things they don’t even believe themselves in support of the leadership of the day most probably to cover their notsogodly deeds.
Mawarire, however, proved to be a prodigy, igniting interest in citizen participation in national governance and the prospects of bringing about a better Zimbabwe by urging that the government places people first and put an end to profligate lifestyles Unlike the typical apologetic prophet or pastor in the country who would tremble at the mention of the national leadership, Mawarire spoke boldly and remains true to his convictions.
Mawarire, whose memory was slightly fading in people’s minds in the struggle to democratize Zimbabwe, brew a shocker when he, quite unexpectedly, landed at the Harare International Airport on Wednesday sending the State into panic.
The plucky act of returning to a country he had left exactly six months ago after fronting a wave of protests that caught the government napping, stunned many who had rationally concluded that it was going to be sometime before the enigmatic pastor entered the country.
The State was hit by paranoia immediately dispatching nine men to arrest and interrogate him.
That Mawarire had previously left the country hours after being acquitted of State charges that failed to stick cemented the belief that the man was a coward who had betrayed his cause and the multitudes that had rallied behind him.
Very few took into cognizance the real prospect of fresh and more serious charges being pressed against him by a vindictive State as has currently happened.
His departure was therefore a subject of controversy and may have been a contributing factor in the significantly diminished numbers of people seen at the courts last Friday.
There is even a pervading belief that by leaving at a material time when many thought he would help transform or at the very least force government to account, he lost a significant number of backers.
Some sections, to date, have Mawarire’s show of bravado by speaking against the State’s failures may have landed him into serious trouble, with the charge he faces now of attempting to subvert a constitutional government carrying a maximum of twenty years if convicted but here was a man who punctuated all his utterances with the call for nonviolence to his credit.
He had the courage to stand up. It will be decided someday in the future whether his departure or return was right or wrong but his standing up to speak for the common good deserves adulation coming from a man of the cloth.
The criminal charge placed against him, stemming from (sec 22) (2) (a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23, underlines the use of coercion by physical force or violence in the subversion of a constitutionally elected government which things the cleric did not advocate.
Mawarire has, consequently, been remanded in custody to the 17th of February and that translates to a strong two weeks in remand unless a reprieve in the form of bail is granted at the High Court. It is alleged that the pastor incited Zimbabweans from “all walks of life either locally or internationally” to revolt and overthrow a constitutionally elected government through circulated videos on social media platforms.
He is also further held responsible for the resultant violent demonstrations that rocked the country from August 2016 to January 2017 where property was destroyed.
Further, police officers allege that on 15 September 2016,Pastor Mawarire incited some Zimbabweans living in the USA and “all over the world “through social media to converge in New York on 22 September 2016 to “confront “President Mugabe at the United Nations General Assembly and order him to “immediately” resign from his position accusing him of destroying the country.
However, in stark contrast, video evidence of the calls he made chiefly placed weight on the citizenry staying at home and shunning violence which makes the charge somewhat out of place but that will be for the courts to decide.
Even more, it is given in the law that citizens wield the right to demonstrate, something that should be trite to every legal mind.
Mawarire, in all truthfulness, exercised his constitutional right of freedom of political opinion and expression. Honest legal minds can see this at a glance.
This is clearly provided for in the constitution under section 61.
Week in week out various people in different opinion pieces write and speak about the very things Mawarire is being arrested for.
In fact, section 61 of the constitution underscores states the right of every citizen to participate in peaceful activities to influence or challenge the policies of government.
This is precisely what the clergyman has done and is being charged for.
In other jurisdictions where democracy is active, citizens have actually demonstrated right at the residencies of heads of states in exercising this universal right.
The question which actually comes to the fore is whether or not the government of Zimbabwe respects its own constitution as not to apply the law selectively.
Just like a philosopher once said, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
It is the prayer of all peace loving Zimbabweans that justice shall be served in Mawarire’s case.