Reason to celebrate: 13 July 2016 and #ThisFlag

Anyone who cares about Zimbabwe has enormous reason to CELEBRATE today. What a momentous and electrifying time it has been! THIS is what the REAL Zimbabwe is all about. In case you missed any of it, here are some highlights:
– 9.30 am: Local church leaders gather at Harare Magistrates’ Court in support of Pastor Evan Mawarire who faces charges of inciting public violence. The Pastor is the frontman of ‪#‎ThisFlag‬ movement, arguably the most successful protest movement against Mugabe’s regime in over a decade.
– 10 am: A false rumour is spread on social media that due to the large crowds, the hearing will happen at the University of Zimbabwe rather than the courts.
– 10.15 am: Supporters continue to gather outside the courts. Riot police are there too, lining the entrances, and armored vehicles are close by. Still more supporters appear.
– 11 am: Over 100 lawyers arrive at the courthouses, all offering pro bono legal support for Pastor Evan and his legal team. The hearing is delayed until the afternoon.
– 12.30 am: Pastor Evan is transported from the central police station to the Magistrates’ Court.
– 1 pm: Courtroom 6 is packed with church leaders, lawyers and supporters. Riot police are also in the room. The court is told that the case will be heard at 2.15 pm.
– 2.30 pm: The charges against Pastor Evan are changed from inciting public violence to subversion which is linked to treason, carrying a maximum 20 year sentence.
– 3.30 pm: During the hearing, Defense Lawyer Harrison Nkomo points out that this is a trial of the justice system as well as the specific case.
– 4 pm: Local church leaders address the crowds waiting outside the courtroom, encouraging them to stay peaceful. The people pray and sing.
– 5 pm: Exceptionally strong arguments from Pastor Evans’ defence lawyer. The magistrate takes a break to consider the case.
– 6 pm: Crowds outside the courts number over 2 000 which is extremely high considering the police presence and history of political repression. Tension is high as darkness begins to fall and still the people remain.
– 6.30 pm: Inside the courtroom, people sing “Ishe Komborere” and hymns, and take turns to pray out loud. The court is mainly filled with lawyers who want to see the return of rule of law to Zimbabwe. The rest are family, friends and church leaders.
– 7 pm: Armed riot police go into the courtroom to silence the singing and praying. Outside, it is dark, and the thousands-strong supporters of all races have lit candles, determined to stay throughout the night, but getting frustrated at the delay.
– 7.05 pm: The riot police leave the court and go back to their trucks, to loud applause from the crowd.
– 7.15 pm: Pastor Evan stands in the docks with the Zimbabwe flag. The magistrate announces that the remands are refused. Charges are dropped and Pastor Evan is freed!
– 7.30 pm: Evan is out amongst the crowds, giving an emotional speech, thanking them all for their support. The atmosphere is electric.

This is indeed a turning point for Zimbabwe. It has proven to Zimbabweans that despite a repressive environment the people have a right to express themselves peacefully, and to support others who do so. It was an extremely anxious day. Rabble-rousers could have caused problems at any point, riot police could have made use of their batons and teargas (which they did use last week), and the magistrate could have made a very different verdict, intimidated by government powers who do not want a protest leader to stir discontent. But peace prevailed, and this was in no small part due to church leaders calming and steering the crowd.

No-one knows what will happen next, but we can be extremely encouraged: Many Zimbabweans risked their lives today to support the #ThisFlag cause, the constitution was upheld, and a brave man walks free. That can not be taken away. Previous activists, such as Itai Dzamara have gone missing, never to be seen again, and this is something that hangs over everyone’s thoughts. Today, however, proved that the people are watching.

What has this got to do with tourism in Zimbabwe? Everything. With better political leadership, Zimbabwe can regain its place on the tourist map. Zimbabwe has so much to share with the world, and tourism creates many jobs for people on the ground. Most tourism companies have kept quiet about today’s political events in Zimbabwe, perhaps due to pressure from stakeholders or concerns about upholding Zimbabwe’s image. However, as Great Zimbabwe Guide is an independent site, I think that visitors to Zimbabwe are aware of the general political situation and will appreciate hearing what’s really happening on the ground. Please join us in celebrating today and praying for the future of this country.

With thanks to sources who were present in and outside the courthouse in Harare. Times are approximate.
Photos are from various sources; I do not own them.
CNN Sky News BBC News ITV News Channel 4 News ‪#‎zimbabwe‬ ‪#‎africa‬‪#‎cnn‬ ‪#‎skynews‬ ‪#‎itvnews‬ ‪#‎zimshutdown‬ ‪#‎freepastorevan‬ ‪#‎tajamuka‬ ThisFlag – IfulegiLeyi – MurezaUyu VOA Studio 7 ROHR Zimbabwe (Restoration of Human Rights)

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Beth is the founder of Great Zimbabwe Guide Travel Blog: Zimbabwe’s first and longest-running independent online travel guide, created in 2010.

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