Sunday, 14 August 2016


Activist clergyman Evan Mawarire — who waged a valiant social media campaign to press President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF to arrest the country’s deepening rot, and who has now been forced to relocate to the United States of America — has split public opinion in a seriously divided Zimbabwe about whether he is a hero or a coward.

The popular Baptist preacher led the infectious and highly resonant #ThisFlag campaign which galvanised fed up Zimbabweans to agitate for change, before panicking authorities descended on him like a tonne of bricks, forcing him into exile — first in neighbouring South Africa, and now in the US where he has been given long term refuge.

So prominent in the country’s body politic had Mawarire become before he fled out of the country that Forbes magazine even called him the Martin Luther King of Zimbabwe — likening him to the gifted and internationally-acclaimed American Baptist minister and activist who was a leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Some of his adoring local followers also affectionately refereed to him as “Captain Zimbabwe”, as he inspired and fired the imagination of long-suffering ordinary citizens who began to dream about finally being capable of forcing the country’s much-criticised rulers to change their errant ways.

But as has too often been the case over the past 36 years of Zimbabwe’s independence, the dream proved to be too good to be true, as the cleric was soon put in the slammer, before being hounded out of the country after the jittery Zanu PF government launched a thuggish crackdown against all dissenting voices.

And with his establishment detractors now looking to profit from his exile, and maliciously painting him as a coward, many analysts who spoke to the Daily News On Sunday yesterday said it would be “wholly wrong” to overlook both his bravery and the achievements of his #ThisFlag campaign.

“Maybe he did not anticipate the kind of pressure that was going to come from the campaign, and his arrest may have been a shock to him.

“He has a right to be where he feels safe but it’s unfortunate that he will not be present to see the developments of what he started.

“People have different giftings from God and God places them at positions to fulfil those gifts. Maybe Mawarire’s gift was simply to popularise the idea. It’s his right to decide what he wants to do next.

“You also need to understand that Pastor Evan has never been in politics and he came in, created and brought in a new ideology.

“Some of us would not have even managed that. I don’t think he has betrayed anyone. People have different roles and stretching beyond that would break him,” outspoken Harare Bishop Ancelimo Magaya said.

Last month, Mawarire helped to organise arguably the biggest general strike to have been mounted in the history of the country, with hundreds of thousands of fed up Zimbabweans heeding his call to stay away from work.

Human rights expert, Dewa Mavhinga, also paid tribute to Mawarire and said the cleric had inspired Zimbabweans to fight for their rights.

“We must never underestimate the creativity and capacity of the Zimbabwe regime when it comes to repression and the politics of fear. Mawarire is a simple pastor who took to social media to vent his frustrations at an insensitive government and in the process spoke what was in the hearts and minds of millions of Zimbabweans.

“Expectedly, the regime mobilised an entire machinery of repression to come against a man with no political or activism background, who has two small children and a pregnant wife.

“It is easy to engage in armchair politics and criticise Mawarire but my view is that the struggle must continue in key institutions, including civil society, churches, trade unions and opposition political parties,” Mavhinga — a senior human rights researcher with New-York-based Human Rights Watch — said.

After organising last months’s “shutdown”, Mugabe himself was so miffed by the popularity of his #ThisFlag campaign that he threatened Mawarire during the burial of his long time aide, Charles Utete, at the national Heroes Acre.

“I don’t even know him (Mawarire), and those who believe in that way of living, well, are not part of us in thinking. They are not part of us as we try to live together.

“If they don’t want to live with us they should go to those countries that are sponsoring them.
“I don’t know if he’s a man of religion. A man of religion will speak the biblical truth. First Corinthians, what does it say? Love one another. So beware these men of God. Not all of them are true preachers of the Bible. I don’t know whether they are serving God. Well, we spell God (as) G.O.D, they spell in reverse (DOG),” the nonagenarian thundered then.

“No one is indispensable to the struggle, as it is not one man’s responsibility but one that everyone must embrace. Yes, the disappointment with his move is palpable and has deflated some of the momentum, but the cause is not lost.

“After what he roused and achieved in a short space of time, I would have preferred he stayed. However, the decision to speak out was one he took independently and with no intention to spawn a movement.

“I am certain that the changed circumstances demanded reflection from the ruling elite’s part and the truth is no one except him knows what pushed him and informed his decision to leave the country,” analyst McDonald Lewanika said.

In the meantime, Mawarire has posted a video on YouTube in which he urges Zimbabweans to continue with the fight, vowing to spread his campaign even as he is domiciled in the US.
“As we go forward, let us remind each other that our movement is not about one person This not about one personality.

“Our strength is not in one person or one movement ... don’t stop protesting against government’s poor governance. I am meeting up with citizens in the diaspora, I am going to the USA, while I assess my next move.

“But don’t stop, don’t depend on Mawarire. Depend on you. This is what the strength of the movement is about,” Mawarire said.


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