Zimbabwe's new liberation struggle

The surprise sidelining of a longtime dictator has many in Zimbabwe looking inward on their role in propping him up. Their mental liberation may influence the ongoing power struggle

AP Photo
Evan Mawarire, a pastor, poses last year with a Zimbabwean flag, a symbol he used to rally many in Zimbabwe to work and pray for honest and open government.

In Africa, a popular Twitter hashtag in recent days has been #Zimbabwe. And for good reason. It is rare for Africans to witness a dictator like Robert Mugabe being sidelined so easily by close associates, especially after 37 years in power. He was a fixture for a generation, a symbol of how rulers can cling to power. Yet it is not only the political transition in Harare that is the focus of interest. Just as compelling for Africans is the sudden lifting of mental chains among millions of Zimbabweans.

Many in the Southern African nation have taken to cyberspace to express a liberation of thought and a shedding of fear. They are scratching their heads over why they once believed what had seemed so real – that a corrupt ruling elite must be Zimbabwe’s future. The phenomenon is similar to the 2011 Arab Spring, or the surprise awakening to a new narrative and a rejection of servitude as the norm.

Typical of the new introspection is this internet posting by branding consultant Thembe Khumalo on the media site NewsDay:

“We saw the end of an error, or rather a collection of errors; errors we had been making and failing to correct for decades, and we also saw the end of an era. We saw the beginning of another.... We should have required more of ourselves and one another.”

Or this by writer Learnmore Zuze in Zimbabwe Daily: “The system was so impermeable that everyone felt powerless over the possibility of untangling it. But fast forward to November 2017, could this be the beginning of a rebirth of Zimbabwe arising from the current chaos?”

The ground for a national introspection was laid last year by a Baptist pastor, Evan Mawarire. He released a homemade video asking Zimbabweans to refuse to participate in a corrupt regime and stay at home for a day. The mass “soft insurgency” caught on, as did his calls for daily prayers and for peaceful, grass-roots action.

“Let not fear grip your hearts,” he said in a posting this week as the military and top politicians decide the next steps for Mr. Mugabe and the nation.

A nation’s liberation is often portrayed as a matter of raw power over others, of guns and intimidation. But as Morgan Tsvangirai, a major opposition figure in Zimbabwe said in a speech last April: “None but ourselves can free ourselves.”

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