By Peta Thornycroft
A Zimbabwean activist claims he will bring freedom to his country via his phone. He says he will tap, tap, tap away at his cellphone until President Robert Mugabe is gone.
Promise Mkwananzi, 35, has been arrested and beaten up many times and is on bail for three alleged offences which could send him to jail for years if he is found guilty in Zimbabwe’s sometimes unreliable courts.
He has now chosen to become the accuser, and his case, the first of its kind against Mugabe, goes to Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court next week.
He claims Mugabe has violated the constitution and has no moral basis to remain in power.
He is unfit to rule, Mkwananzi says in his affidavit to the Constitutional Court, and points out that public demonstrations are banned.
Mkwananzi has busy fingers and a busy mind as he plots a “legal” revolution which he says will be fuelled by resistance and “massive” voter registration.
Elections are due next year, and Mugabe, who will be 93 on February 22, says he will be the Zanu-PF candidate.
He has been Zimbabwe’s leader since independence in 1980 and inherited an industrialised country which is now unable to pay many of its bills and regularly depends on foreign aid, mostly from the US, to feed itself. And more than 90% of government revenue is spent on the public service.
“We will try to win in 2018, but it is the next elections in 2023 when we know for sure we can win. All the old leaders from all political parties will have gone by then,” Mkwananzi says.
The unsaid part of that sentence is that by then Mugabe may be dead. Mkwananzi is part of the next generation of political chiefs and says he is not blindly loyal to the Movement for Democratic Change, which has shrunk since it nearly won its first elections in 2000, six months after it emerged as a political party from the trade union movement.
The MDC has been cheated at the polls repeatedly since then, but this isn’t the only reason it lost: internal violence and corruption split the party and then split the anti-Zanu-PF vote.
“We have to try using social media as it is almost impossible to have a march or demonstration as we get beaten and teargassed. But even in rural areas, people have cellphones,” Mkwanazi says.
A former student leader, he was expelled in his final year from law school at the University of Zimbabwe for political activities and then won a scholarship and completed his education in the Netherlands.
He was the mover and shaker behind a burst of social media last year when he launched #Tajamuka, which means “we are outraged”.
“Social media is a tool for us, as the state runs all TV and radio, and so we must have ways to send out information and communicate with people. We put the government under pressure last year and we woke up the opposition.”
He suspects that if the social movement gathers strength in the run-up to elections next year, the government will either pull the plug on it via legislation or launch its own “massive” cellphone campaigns.
Most adult Zimbabweans have at least one phone. But the economy is shrinking fast. Tens of thousands of children did not get to school last month as their parents couldn’t afford to pay fees.
“Everything we inherited at independence is now worse. Schools, healthcare, roads, railways. Our cash situation is terrible. We achieved nothing,” Mkwanazi says.
He, like others, thinks there will be an election pact between the MDC and former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s ZimPF and several small political parties.
He believes there will be no electoral reform before the next election and that Zanu-PF will cheat as it has done for years – not on election day but via the voters roll.
“We got beaten in 2013 not only through cheating. Zanu-PF had a simple campaign message, saying it would provide 2million jobs. We were complacent, but learnt a lesson.” Financial Gazette