People Power

The trial of Vikas Mavhudzi, a Bulawayo resident who was charged with subversion after allegedly suggesting that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai should emulate pro-democracy protests staged in Egypt could come to nought after the investigating police officer indicated his inability to operate the handset.

Mavhudzi’s trial was scheduled to commence at Tredgold Magistrates Court on Wednesday after the State insisted that it was ready for trial in the last appearance.

But Magistrate Rose Dube postponed the trial to Friday after defence lawyers, Lizwe Jamela and Nosimilo Chanayiwa of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights demanded to be shown how the State retrieved the so-called message allegedly sent to Tsvangirai following indications that the State seized Mavhudzi’s mobile phone and intends to use it as an exhibit together with the alleged statements

Jamela and Chanayiwa protested that the prosecutor, Jeremiah Mutsindikwa and the investigating officer had not brought to court the exhibits in the matter including the mobile handset which they claimed had been used by Mavhudzi to post the offensive face book remark on Tsvangirai’s face book wall which forms part of the State case that should have been presented to the defence team together with other State papers.

“The State is now expected to bring the exhibits on Friday and demonstrate to the court how the Magwegwe resident contravened the country’s tough security laws with an indication already raised by the investigating officer that they may not be able to operate  Mavhudzi’s Blackberry cell phone and also that the phone’s batteries are now flat,” rights group ZLHR said in an alert.

Mavhudzi was arrested in February for allegedly posting a face book remark on Tsvangirai’s wall. Mutsindikwa, claims that the 39 year-old Mavhudzi sent a message to Tsvangirai suggesting “the taking over or attempt to take over the government by unconstitutional means or usurping the functions of the government”.

Mutsindikwa says Mavhudzi allegedly wrote the following words on Tsvangirai’s facebook page: “I’m overwhelmed, don’t know what to say Mr PM. What happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to all dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose. Worth emulating, hey.”


At the time of writing it appears as though calls to join a Million Citizen March in Harare on Tuesday have gone unheeded – for now.

People I’ve spoken to in the Zimbabwean capital describe calm and relative normality. Relative, because they also describe a heavy security build-up since Saturday, including armoured troop carriers on the streets, water cannon, riot police patrols, roadblocks, and an informal curfew on Monday night in which people were allegedly told by police to go home early.

It was described to me as a show of force by the regime aimed at instilling fear in anyone considering coming out to protest. By all accounts it worked. Zimbabweans are indeed very afraid.

There’s another theory behind the failure of the protest to materialise.

Over the past few days, in neighbouring South Africa where I’m currently based, I prepared a report that went to air on Tuesday morning. In it I described the concerns of Zimbabweans I’ve spoken to here and by phone in Harare that the email campaign calling for Tuesday’s march may have been phoney – a ploy by Zimbabwe’s intelligence service to lure activists onto the streets so they can be arrested. Activist groups said they didn’t know who was behind the email campaign or the proposed march. Was it an individual or an organisation? No one would put such tactics past the much-feared internal security apparatus.

If it was the work of central intelligence, and the aim was to expose Zimbabwe’s network of activists, then it didn’t work.

Watch my report:

I also mentioned that the Facebook site for the Million Citizen March had only 230-odd members – a poor omen and a far cry from the hundreds of thousands who joined similar social networking efforts in Egypt and Tunisia. It seemed unfortunate testament to the fact that only around 12 per cent of Zimbabweans have access to the internet, even fewer when you account for frequent power outages.

If this was an example of online activism in its infancy then it seemed to have a long way to go.

Well, here’s an update: the Facebook page in question now has 1,273 members, all sharing in some pretty lively debate. As far as I can tell the number is growing by the handful every few minutes. Perhaps something is catching on.

Take a look at it:

The seismic events taking place in north Africa provide plenty to wonder about in the Zimbabwe context. Clearly Zimbabwe is a possible candidate for people-led change of that sort. But there are obvious problems: a splintered and ineffectual opposition, a diaspora overflowing with the educated middle classes and aspirant youth, a history of state-sponsored violence and intimidation.

Tuesday’s Million Citizen March might have been a pivotal moment. It clearly hasn’t been. It might also have been a cynical ruse. And looking at the Facebook numbers ticking upwards, and the heated commentary online, it might yet provide the basis for something. Quite what though, no one knows.


THE Arab revolt fever could be spreading across the southern African region with Zambia, Angola, Zimbabwe and Swaziland reportedly on the edge over a possible mass protests.

And the leaders of those countries are not taking chances. They have openly warned against any kind of revolt.

In Swaziland, a Facebook known as The April 12 Uprising is calling for the overthrow of King Mswati III on April 12, 2011. This is the date in 1973 when political parties were banned.

Angola’s ruling MPLA party has threatened to take ‘serious measures’ against anyone seeking power in the streets after an anonymous call for a mass protest in on March 6.

Zambia has not been left out in all these going by President Rupiah Banda’s recent warning to his adversaries against “misleading” Zambians to stage Egypt-style street revolt to remove his government from power, while in Zimbabwe, underground activists are planning anti-President Robert Mugabe protests on Tuesday.

The activists calling for President Mugabe’s resignation have been mobilising through social networks such as Facebook since last week.

At least 45 activists, including a former opposition legislator and university lecturer Munyaradzi Gwisai, have been charged with treason after they were found watching videos of the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings.

Analysts say the arrests were part of a plan by President Mugabe’s loyalists to pre-empt similar protests.

Meanwhine in Zimbabwe, the treason case of 45 human rights activists failed to take off on Monday after the Chief Justice of Zimbabwe summoned the magistrate hearing the matter amid reports that armed soldiers had been deployed in Harare’s streets to thwart any Egyptian style demonstrations.

The 45 activists were arrested at a meeting in the capital Harare and were accused of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe’s government using the ‘Egyptian’ mass uprising style which saw former Egypt president, Hosni Mubarak resigning.

“The presiding magistrate is meeting with the Chief Justice. You are remanded in custody to tomorrow (Tuesday),” Harare magistrate, Memory Chigwaza told the court.

Reasons were not given why the magistrate, Munamato Mutevedzi went to have a meeting with Justice Chidyausiku. Chigwaza could not listen to appeals by the defence lawyer, Alec Muchadehama to have his client’s access private doctors after they testified last week that they were tortured by law enforcement agents in custody.

Muchadehama last week told the court that his clients have no case to answer as videos they are accused to have seen that showed uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were also seen by millions of Zimbabweans on television.

Mugabe’s ally Muammar Gaddaffi of Libya is facing off with massive protests that are threatening his 42 year iron fist rule after ordinary people followed uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Gaddaffi and his regime were slammed with sanctions by the United Nations, after thousands of people protest against Gaddaffi’s rule was killed by the army and security forces for marching in the streets.

Meanwhile armed soldiers were on Monday deployed in Harare’s streets. observers suspected the soldiers had been deployed to deal with anyone wanting to start an Egypt-style uprising.

Hordes of heavily armed soldiers, and anti-riot police disembarking from military tankers were seen in the city centre near the Harare gardens.

“I know for sure that these soldiers are up to no good. They can do anything at any time, “ an eye witness told Radio VOP. “We don’t feel safe,” said a fruit vendor.

This comes after a circulation of emails which alerted the public that there would be demonstrations to force Mugabe to resign.

“The protest is intended to demand the immediate cessation and an end to the dictatorial regime misruling Zimbabwe ,”read the email. “In addition, the mass demonstrations countrywide will convey anger and concern about the suffering of Zimbabweans from brutal economic, military, political and social repression under the regime of Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980.”

Zanu (PF) secretary for legal affairs and the country’s Defence Minister Emerson Mnangagwa last week warned that the army would not allow anti-government protests inspired by the mass revolutions that have occurred in Tunisia and Egypt during the past month.

“Those who may want to emulate what happened in Egypt and Tunisia will regret. Everybody is warned to keep peace in the country,” Mnangagwa told army officers in comments broadcasted by the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation last week.