HARARE – The case of two activist clergymen, Evan Mawarire and Patrick Phillip Mugadza — who are both languishing in prison for expressing dissenting views against President Robertv Mugabe and his warring Zanu PF — has heightened fears that the government will batter its critics savagely in the run-up to next year’s eagerly-anticipated national elections.
Mawarire, the founder and campaign leader of the #ThisFlag movement, was denied bail by Harare magistrate Elisha Singano on Friday, following his arrest on Wednesday, after he made a surprise return to the country from the United States where he had been living for six months in self-imposed exile.
He will spend the next two weeks in prison unless the High Court gives him relief tomorrow. FROM P1
He has been charged with subverting a constitutionally-elected government and if convicted, he could be jailed for up to 20 years.
On his part, Mugadza was arrested last month after he controversially “prophesied” Mugabe’s death which he claimed would happen before the end of this year. He is also languishing in prison after failing to get bail thus far.
The well-known “Mugabe-must-go” churchman first hit the headlines in December 2015 when he mounted a one-man protest against the nonagenarian in Victoria Falls, during Zanu-PF’s national conference at the resort, where he held a placard that read: “Mr President, the people are suffering. Proverbs 21:13”.
Political analysts and civil society leaders who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday said the sad tale of the two pastors clearly showed that the Zanu PF government did not mean well ahead of next year’s elections.
Nevertheless, civic leader Gladys Hlatywayo said the arrest of the two clerics was consistent with Zanu PF’s undemocratic disposition.
“It is a continuation of the sick narrative that has been promoted by Zanu PF over the years that ‘politics is for politicians’ and that the church must restrict itself to simply praying for leaders no matter how evil they are.
“As we draw closer to 2018, the regime is also keen to retain power by any means necessary, even if it means jailing innocent citizens.
“Zimbabweans must stand together and reject such persecution from the government. We need to adopt an ‘you injure one you injure all’ mentality and fight this authoritarianism with one voice,” Hlatywayo told the Daily News On Sunday.
“Zimbabweans from all walks of life must realise that they face the same fate and therefore solidarity is the only way forward towards creating a Zimbabwe that is democratic and where citizens can be happy.
“The church comprises citizens who equally suffer because of this man-made crisis in our land. They have every right to voice concerns when evil men and women masquerade as our national leaders.
“The Bible is awash with prophets who stood with the people and opposed powerful rulers and elites who had strayed from the will of the Lord,” Hlatywayo added.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC said the arrests were callous and meant to instil fear into the populace ahead of next year’s elections.
“Zanu PF knows that they can never win a free and fair election in Zimbabwe and as such, they harass, torment, arrest, imprison and abduct all determined political and civil society activists fighting for the establishment of a peaceful, democratic and progressive nation,” MDC spokesman Obert Gutu said.
“The build-up to a violent and repressive election campaign for 2018 has already begun if the recent arrest and detention of pastors Mugadza and Mawarire is anything to go by.
“The MDC once again calls for the involvement of Sadc, the African Union and even the United Nations both in the build-up and the actual running of the make-or-break 2018 elections.
“Be that as it may, the MDC, working together with other progressive opposition parties, the church, civil society, business, student movements and organised labour is confident of forming the next government in 2018,” Gutu added.
Former Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition executive director, McDonald Lewanika, said the message that was being sent to citizens by Mugabe was that he was not going to tolerate dissent as the country hurtles towards 2018.
“The arrest of pastors Mugadza and Mawarire send the same message that the Mugabe regime has been sending to opponents since the 1980s, that it brooks no opposition and will persecute opponents.
“This is not a new story, it’s just the cast that changes, with many targets being consistently hounded by the regime for as long as they remain in opposition.
“The only way that this harassment can be stopped or mitigated is through raising the costs at home and abroad of such actions.
“At home, the resistance needs to be amplified in order to show the regime that this persecution is not a deterrent, but rather fuels further discontent and protest,” Lewanika said.
Mugadza who leads the Remnant Church is being charged with “criminal insult”, as well as undermining the authority of the president over his controversial prophecy which has caused palpable anger within sections of Zanu PF, which is riven by its seemingly unstoppable tribal, factional and succession wars.
The outspoken Mugadza faces six months imprisonment or a fine of $200 if he is convicted under Section 33 of the Criminal Law.
In his staggering “prophecy” last month, Mugadza claimed that he had received a revelation that Mugabe would die in October this year.
However, he had also said that the nonagenarian could escape death by praying, fasting and publicly announcing that he did not wish to die.
Civic society and pro-democracy groups leapt to Mugadza’s defence at the time, arguing that Mugabe and Zanu PF were only comfortable with pastors who praised them.