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Zimbabwe: it’s the system that’s on trial

This article is over 9 years, 9 months old
Ken Olende spoke to Tatenda Mombeyarara and Munyaradzi Gwisai, two of the six socialists who avoided prison last week after being convicted for watching a video of the Arab Spring. The six Zimbabwean socialists were convicted of "conspirac
Issue 2296

Tatenda Mombeyarara, ISO activist

To us the meeting hadn’t seemed unusual. We regularly gather and have discussions on neoliberalism and what is going on in the world.

It was only when the brutal interrogation began that we realised this was something serious. For most of us it was our first brush with real repression.

Now we can see this is part of how capitalism responds to a crisis.

The state is now very paranoid. They wanted our case to deter anyone else who opposes what they are doing.

In the end they said we had set a date for a revolution. People might discuss the idea of revolution, but we certainly don’t believe that a small group of socialists can meet up and just announce one.

The endless delays in the court case over the past year were like psychological warfare. Our nerves were constantly on fire.

But in one sense it was a sign of the state’s weakness.

They weren’t quite sure what to do with us. I think they were worried that their repression risked igniting the very rebellion they had hoped to stop.

Obviously we’re very happy not to be in prison.

But we are angry with the suspended sentence. It hamstrings us as socialists. We were convicted for discussing Egypt. We can still be sent to prison if we repeat the offence in the next five years—but anything we say as socialists could be said to repeat the offence.

Munyaradzi Gwisai, coordinator of the ISO

The meeting where we were rounded up was about Tunisia and Egypt.

The prosecution admitted in court that the economic, social and political conditions that led to the uprisings in North Africa are similar to those in Zimbabwe.

Our ruling elite panicked. They looked particularly at Tunisia where a small seemingly innocuous event set off a major confrontation.

They thought any protest could trigger their downfall.

The ISO worried them because we brought together students, trade unionists and leaders of the radical social movements.

They wanted to make an example of us. The ISO is a small group so they thought they could get away with it.

Although the immediate fear of unrest passed, we must see this in the context of an election that will probably happen later this year.

The ruling Zanu-PF party is still using violence and intimidation.

In reality we saw two judgements in one last week. First, the state succeeded in pushing through a guilty verdict despite its weak case. But second, it didn’t manage to put us in prison.

The solidarity we mobilised was so important. We had 200-300 people coming to the court. Beyond that was all the international solidarity.

Zanu-PF felt isolated. Normally pliant civil society groups were joining the protests and rapidly radicalising.

So the regime panicked again and we were not sent to jail. They could see the danger of these protests getting beyond their control.

It just shows—solidarity works.

We will appeal, but this is a good foundation to build around the coming election.

The situation is highly polarised. No election date has been set yet.

Effectively there are only the two bourgeois parties standing—and both are in government. Zanu-PF is liable to try and steal it again. But the MDC (see box below) still gets support because people want to oppose the authoritarian and dictatorial Zanu-PF.

The MDC is also diminished by its neoliberal policies.

Outside these parties there is anger, particularly among students and trade unions. Seven students are in custody now, including ISO’s student leader. They were arrested because they sang when they heard that we would not be jailed.

Our case was key. If they had succeeded in jailing us the repression would have escalated.

At the same time as our verdict police went on the rampage in a small town called Shamva. People were hospitalised and one was killed.

But the town wasn’t intimidated. They demonstrated and now eight police have been arrested.

The regime’s atmosphere of fear has been eroded.

We want to thank everybody who built solidarity for us. That has made such a difference.

The events in North Africa show that the world is changing. This must be our time. We all have a role to play.

We think we have managed to raise the money for the fines now. But we still need money for legal expenses and related costs.

Demand for maximum punishment

Prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba demanded last week that the magistrate impose the maximum ten-year jail sentence.

He said that in Biblical times the defendants would have been stoned, adding, “those who revolted against authority were swallowed up when the ground opened up.

“Their families, including their cats and dogs, were not spared.”

Send money to support the defendants to
ISO Zim Solidarity,
Unity Bank, Birmingham,
account number 20136938,
sort code 08‑60‑01,
IBAN: GB11 CPBK 0800 5150 0732 10

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