Over the last few months, a wave of activism has gripped the nation, which has prominently been on display on social media platforms and also on the streets of Harare. Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 coupled with the RBZ governor’s decision to introduce “bond notes” sparked civil action. Most Zimbabweans who still have the fresh painful memory of the hyper-inflationary period of 2008 – 2009 shuddered at the thought of what could be the sneaky return of the Zimbabwean dollar. The decisions made by our leaders roused the masses. Evan Mawarire, #thisflag, #tajamuka, #myZimbabwe and many other movements emerged and soon the nation got the courage to speak out more fervently against corruption, unemployment and poor leadership.
One woman who has so far been quite outspoken is the “Zim Iron Lady”, Advocate Fadzayi Mahere. She is a leading Advocate of the High Court and Supreme Court of Zimbabwe and earlier this year, she particularly gained attention for using her area of expertise to explain why the RBZ’s plan to introduce “bond notes” was unconstitutional. From then she has garnered media attention, numerous features in publications and interviews on global platforms.
She took time from her busy schedule to join Her Zimbabwe writer, Mufaro Chamunorwa in discussing bond notes, the cyber-crime bill, social media activism, police brutality among other things.
Mufaro Chamunorwa (MC): Bond notes. In your opinion, has the government won, or the citizen is yet to have the final say? Is there anything that can still be done to protect the dissenting citizen’s constitutional right?
Fadzayi Mahere (FM): I think it’s too early to say who will win. Even if bond notes are to be introduced, they are likely to have an adverse effect on the economy with the result that any perceived ‘victory’ in enabling their introduction will be extremely short lived. It remains open to citizens to approach the court to assert a challenge to the legality of the proposed bond notes. I am aware that a businessman has already taken this route and the matter is before the High Court. It’s important to ensure that every possible challenge is raised against this fictitious construct because ultimately, the people who will lose are the ordinary people on the street. Those in authority are very likely to have alternative plans in place and no doubt access to real US dollars.
MC: Amid the gas canisters, water cannons and assorted artillery employed against the protesters during the August 3 #BondNotes protest, what were your feelings as you marched on with your fellow compatriots?
FM: For me, it’s important to add my voice to the choir of discontent because it is known that there is strength in numbers. Exercising one’s right to assembly creates the space both to speak and to be heard. A single voice is likely to be drowned out in our polity. A choir is far more likely to get its message across. Power in modern nation states invariably concentrates in and around large social formations. As a result, meaningful dialogue often requires the collective efforts of demonstrators, picketers and protesters. I am happy to be part of that notwithstanding the threats that exist. I am more fearful of Zimbabwe failing than I am of police brutality (touch wood). The thought of the possibility of things going irreparably pear shaped when I could have done or said something is what motivates my action.
The leaders responded to the protest and many like it with allegations of “Western Funded” protests, staged by “brainwashed hooligans”, and even threatening demonstrators. Since then, scores of civilians have been jailed and we saw the police acting out of orders that violated a High Court ruling at the NERA Demonstration.
MC: Judging from such responses from our leadership, do you think speaking out is or will be making a difference?
FM: Yes absolutely. It’s important for taboo topics to be openly raised to enable conversation. Conversation helps in articulating the problem. Only once the problem is clearly identified can solutions be found. Speaking out makes every bit of difference. It also makes people less fearful.
Online platforms have been quite critical in allowing citizens to freely express their opinions and have also enabled mass mobilisations with an ease greater than we have seen before. In response to this, the government has however called upon the army to deal with “the country’s detractors” and promoted the draft Computer and Cyber Crime Bill, a bill which you have termed “hellishly unconstitutional”.
MC: Is this Bill a clamp down on social media activism? If so, will it succeed?
FM: It is an attempt to clamp down on free speech. I pray the Bill is just an act of showmanship and that it will not ultimately succeed. Lots of civic education on the ill effects of the Bill is accordingly required.
MC: What encouragement do you have for women who belong to different social classes who would also like to air their views on different issues but they are just afraid to break the different barriers that block their way?
How can they use social media for responsible advocacy and speak out on what they think should be addressed?
FM: They must just articulate their thoughts without a care in the world about how society will perceive or receive them. Culturally and traditionally women do not speak out much – women have to be proactive about getting their voices heard. What we must never be is disengaged, apathetic or disinterested.
Main image Advocate Fadzayi Mahere. Image taken from www.makuhwa.co.zw