” I could not believe what I saw” says free Mawarire
After a long day at court, #ThisFlag leader Pastor Evan Mawarire was freed to a joyous crowd of 2,000 supporters shortly before 8pm last night.
Speaking via his usual platform, the ThisFlag – IfulegiLeyi – MurezaUyu Facebook page, Mawarire expressed joy at what transpired yesterday.
“When I came out of the court, I could not believe what I saw. This is what it means to be united in building our country. You did so well. There was no violence. No one was fighting, no one was throwing stones. Zimbabweans are very peaceful and we can do this. There is a hope inside you that this country needs, and if you don’t get involved you are robbing us of that hope.” He went on to emphasise that today’s stay-away is still on.
Mawarire’s freedom came after Harare magistrate Vakayi Chikwekwe dismissed an attempt by prosecuting lawyer Jonathan Murombedzi to bring fresh charges mid-hearing. Mawarire was arrested for inciting public violence and the state lawyers’ attempt to ramp up the case to subversion of the government was deemed unconstitutional in proceedings that lasted nearly nine hours.
The noisy, colourful vigil had steadily grown as word spread throughout the day. At each of three entrances to the court, hundreds of Mawarire’s supporters were pressed up against rows of sullen riot police who had endured a long day of heckling, but also hours of praise, pleading, and promises of peace and love from the crowd.
“We love you, you are our brothers, we want your children to go to good schools and for you to own your houses,” said one man to the police, who were standing behind well-battered shields. He went on to tell his story.
“I am a graduate from the University of Cape Town, but I can’t get a job here so I am working as a vendor in town. In what kind of country can this happen? This has to end, and it is going to end now,” he said, alluding to the rise of the #ThisFlag campaign.
During the course of the day, any signs of aggression within the crowd were swiftly quashed by other people standing nearby. The peaceful nature of the day emboldened many first-time demonstrators to come out, leading to a very mixed crowd with people from all suburbs and backgrounds in attendance. Their bravery was rewarded when, around 7pm, the main group of police suddenly left the scene, retiring to the four large troop carriers parked nearby. Soon afterwards, word got out that Mawarire was to be released, and the crowd thronged the front steps of the court, singing, hugging, and crying with joy.
Mawarire appeared shortly afterwards, surrounded by a scrum of journalists and a sea of candles. People were falling over themselves to be near the hero of the day. The jubilant crowd, unable to contain their excitement, only afforded Mawarire a few words amid the din.
“People have come together. The country you are building is for your children,” he said. The cheering continued amid a blare of car horns as people slowly went home.
Today, Zimbabweans will be taking stock of what Mawarire’s release means for the ongoing civil society struggle against the government. Whilst far from over, yesterday will be remembered as a landmark occasion – the moment that the will of the people was resoundingly vindicated, and a time when citizens united, and earned their first taste of civil victory and liberty in many years. It will be remembered as the moment that made speaking out possible.
Image: Celebrating the release of Pastor Evan Mawarire who had been charged with treason.