Sunday 28 May 2017

Activist defiant in her quest for 'free, just' Zimbabwe

Activist defiant in her quest for 'free, just' Zimbabwe
(AFP 03/17/17)

She bears scars from police beatings, has been arrested many times, detained for months, and become the first person to be convicted over mass anti-government protests last year.

But Zimbabwean activist Linda Masarira, a 34-year-old widow with five children, vows to fight on.

"I am not deterred," she told AFP after a magistrate's court in Harare last week sentenced her over her role in the protests against President Robert Mugabe as the country's dire economic crisis worsens.

"Zimbabwe's situation is bad," Masarira said, her voice quivering with anger.

"Look at the economy. There are no jobs. Hospitals have no medicines and people are dying.

"We have a mandate to demand a free, just and democratic Zimbabwe -- not a Zimbabwe for an elite few."

Since becoming involved in activism in 2009, Masarira has emerged as a ubiquitous figure at the front of anti-government protests, often leading the singing and chanting.

She was found guilty of blocking traffic and pedestrians during countrywide protests in July last year, but she dismisses the case as "a travesty of justice" and insists she committed no crime.

Magistrate Stanford Mambanje sentenced her to a hefty penalty of 385 hours of community service, with a suspended 18 months in jail.

"I have been arrested at least 10 times and all the times I was beaten by police. Last year I was arrested six times. The state has no right to assault people for demanding their rights," Masarira said.

She said she has had an arm broken by police and has suffered bad bruising to her back and legs in beatings.

- 'No fear' -

Masarira was among the founders of the Tajamuka movement that led last year's protests against 93-year-old Mugabe's government.

She has also backed other groups such as This Flag, led by pastor Evan Mawarire, and has marched at night vigils for fellow activist Itai Dzamara who was abducted in 2015 and remains missing.

His fate provides a stark warning of the potentially fatal risks that dissidents have taken throughout Mugabe's 37 years in power.

As Zimbabweans endure 90 percent unemployment and wait to see if Mugabe's ailing health will usher in a new era, she vows she will not be cowed into silence.

"I have no fear of anything," she told AFP. "There is no easy struggle. When you see a struggle becoming easy then it is not a struggle. I always get stronger whenever I face challenges.

"I want to see a better Zimbabwe. I want my children to have hope."

Earlier this month Masarira was admitted to hospital for treatment after she was beaten by police while staging protests in support of striking doctors.

She trained as a computer technician but now works for the Zimbabwe Women in Politics action group, as well as raising her children -- three boys and two girls, aged six to 17.

- 'Injustice intolerant' -

While in detention last year, she led inmates in protests over alleged abuse and poor conditions.

"The food and treatment were terrible," she said, describing herself as "injustice intolerant".

Prison authorities transferred her to a maximum-security jail where she was held in solitary confinement.

She has two other cases hovering over her -- one for insulting Mugabe in a speech and the other for being a "criminal nuisance".

Last year's protests were quashed in a brutal crackdown by Mugabe's security forces who crush any signs of opposition activity.

Despite the dangers, Masarira called on fellow Zimbabweans to be brave and challenge Mugabe's government head-on.

"Everyone has to play their role, we have to fight for the Zimbabwe that we want," she said.

Facebook comments