Zim: the rise of celebrity activists

By Tichaona Zindoga

A fortnight ago, an authoritative pollster and thinktank, Afrobarometer, released findings which, among key things, said that almost two-thirds of adult Zimbabweans, at 64 percent, trust President Mugabe while 36 percent trust opposition parties.

Afrobarometer, partnering the Mass Public Opinion Institute, has come up with similar polls indicating opposition losses and poor prospects, including during the elections held in 2013.

It is a story that caused a lot of introspection in the mainstream opposition in the country.

A paper by academic and former director-general of the opposition MDC-T led by Morgan Tsvangirai, Dr Toendepi Shonhe, added its voice to opposition’s dwindling prospects.

The consensus is that the opposition is weak, with the MDC-T, once a formidable outfit, having reached its ceiling and incapable of upstaging President Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF party – even at the latter’s assumed weakest point due to factionalism.

A coalition of opposition parties is being increasingly being considered a bright prospect but this appears to be floundering with mooted alliances between MDC-T and others such as National People’s Party led by former Vice President Joice Mujuru and Professor Welshman Ncube’s MDC  appearing to be suffering a stillbirth due to a multiplicity of reasons around power configurations and ideology.

It is that bleak for Zimbabwe’s opposition.

As such, away from the formal deliberations in the opposition boardrooms and manouevrings including attempting mass protests, a phenomena of opposition is taking root.

It is the growth of a crop of young anti-establishment activists, some of whom do not consider themselves political in the strictest party sense, who are seeking to leave their mark on the scene.

And they have one other big motivation – fame and celebrity.

The world is now familiar with Evan Mawarire, a young baptist pastor who rose to prominence last year leading what has been known as #ThisFlag movement.

He is the star of the show.

His making of home-made and sometimes spontaneous protest videos against President Mugabe’s administration earned him admiration and at one time he appeared all too ready to lead a social movement.

He was credited, quite generously, for organising a “national shutdown” mid last year and he became a toast here in South Africa all the way to the US where he ended up before attempting a shutdown of the UN General Assembly meeting in September by which he wanted to bring protesters to embarrass Mugabe.

It was a spectacular flop as he ended up being hounded out of the streets by a bunch of black American supporters of the veteran leader.

It humbled him and he made a less than triumphal return in January. But, of late, he has been stirring and giving signals that he may seek another round in the limelight.

It has been indicated that he may be the face of independent social movement candidates to stand for elections next year.

Winter is setting in, perhaps with discontent, and it is just his best season.

There are other actors in this emerging crop.

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Fadzayi Mahere: She is the daughter of a long serving government bureaucrat, Stephen, and she has tried ever so hard that she is different from her father. An advocate at law, she has been representing anti-establishment activists, together with some young lawyers from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and has been vocal in opposition of Mugabe and supporting dissenters. She has even staged theatrics mocking Mugabe’s health and age. She not only shares Mawarire’s love for the limelight, they are quite a doting pair – at least in the circumstances of their war against the ruling party.

You should see a particular glint in her eyes when she appears in videos with the man of cloth.

***

Patson Dzamara: He is the brother of a journalist-cum-activist Itai, who was allegedly abducted by State agents two years ago and has never been seen again. The State says it has no role in his disappearance and claims to have left no stone unturned in search for him, including offering a reward of US$10 000.

Patson is an ally and friend of both the Pastor and Mahere and shares their mutual love for the limelight. He likes posting lots of pictures on social media whether during street protests, at police stations, courts or in hospital. This week he created a storm when he took pictures of himself in the intensive care unit of a private hospital in Harare where he had been detained for treatment after allegedly suffering infection during a brief incarceration in remand prison following an arrest for failing to appear in court.

The incident has been viewed with cynicism in some quarters while he has enjoyed sympathy and prayers from his supporters. Patson is an amateur writer who also poses as a God fearing man and has posted pictures with prayerful vice president of the MDC-T, the charismatic Nelson Chamisa. He does not miss such opportunity to gain celebrity.

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Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa: She is the daughter of another government bureaucrat, Health Minister David Parirenyatwa and she has used her profession as a journalist to try rather too hard to show that she is not to be tied to her father’s “sins”. But not many believe her, for all her best efforts. The beautiful Ruvheneko once had a radio show in which she grilled politicians and showed a lot of sympathy to young activists – with an eye for her own fame. She left a radio station controlled by one government minister and started her online shows, including Facebook Live. She commands a strong following.

***

Others: These range from William Mutumanje, better known as Acie Lumumba, a former Zanu-PF youth leader and now president of Viva Zimbabwe party, to Promise Mkwananzi of the so called Tajamuka movement. Mutumanje is notorious for telling Mugabe the “F” word for which he is facing sanctions at the courts. All around youths are trying to create a name for themselves on social media and now and then certain characters crop up and bring the internet down.

A debate is ongoing whether this could translate into a formidable force to help defeat President Mugabe.

It seems a rather dim possibility, though, as these latter children of Narcissi, whether holding the Bible, as in the case of Mawarire, or exhibiting celebrity macho mentality and physical attractiveness in the case of Lumumba, do not command any real constituencies beyond social media.

  

May 2017
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