Opportunism or heroism: Pastor Evan Mawarire and #This Flag movement
“Enough is Enough……Hatichada and Hatichatya”
These are words which had become synonymous with the torrent of online videos of a cleric turned citizen/political activist, Pastor Evan Mawarire. They have undoubtedly over the last four months became more or less of an anthemic and the message they carry have resonated well with ordinary Zimbabweans both at home and abroad.
Hitherto since the end of the Government of National Unit followed by electoral loss of MDCT at the highly disputed 31st July 2013 general elections. Fatigue, lethargy and inertia had creeped in the body politic of opposition movements in Zimbabwe.
The traditional main opposition parties such as MDCT had started to show signs of weariness and slowing down after years of fighting a losing but at the same time gruelling, arduous, physically and mentally challenging battle against a brutal and belligerent ZANU PF repressive regime. Therefore, the opposition movements have to certain extent abdicated their responsibilities as the main force and medium of carrying and expressing the anger, outrage, hopes and the concerns of impoverished and politically and economically emasculated citizenry.
It was against this background of inaction and apathy from opposition parties coupled by economic meltdown, severe unemployment rate which is estimated to be around 85%, unprecedented deindustrialisation which saw companies closing shop at the average rate of thirty every week, liquidity crunch which manifest itself in endless cash queue at banks and non-payment of civil servants salaries, That Pastor Evan Mawarire unwittingly stepped in and filled the void by uploading his videos while draped in the national flag on social media lamenting the socio-economic crisis in Zimbabwe and at the same time exhorting the ordinary citizens to take action and do what is necessary to hold the government to accountable over bread and butter issues such as 2013 electoral pledge to provide 2,2 million jobs, address structural and endemic corruption in public enterprise which had become cancerous and its indifference over the deplorable current state of affairs.
Accordingly, with this unorthodox means of civic engagements and conscientisation #ThisFlag citizen movement spread like a wild fire in dry season on most social media platform. All of a sudden the whole nation was re-energised, captivated and reawakened. It became customary for people to express their views by either prefacing or post face them with #ThisFlag hashtag.
However, the pinnacle of success of #ThisFlag movement came about on the 6th of July 2016, when Pastor Evan Mawarire managed to organised a nationwide strike dubbed shutdown which literally brought business to a standstill. This became the final straw that breaks the camel’s back of the of ZANU PF despotic regime. Everybody worst fears were confirmed when Pastor Mawarire was inevitably arrested on the 12th of July 2016 which was on the eve of further planned two-day protest and shutdown. He was initially charged with inciting public violence and it was later changed and upgraded to a more serious crime of subverting a constitutional government which carries a possible 20 years’ prison sentence.
By arresting him the embattled ZANU PF government inadvertently made Pastor Mawarire an international and a potent symbol of resistance against an authoritarian and corrupt ZANU PF regime. Also in the hearts and eyes of ordinary long suffering people of Zimbabwe Pastor Mawarire had become like a biblical Moses who could lead them out of the wilderness into the promised land of a new Zimbabwe. Hence on day of his trial on the 13th of July 2016, two hundred lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) volunteered to represent him. Furthermore, outside the Harare magistrate a huge crowd of cross sections of Zimbabwe came out to solidarize and show support for the cleric. Thereafter the charges were dropped and Mawarire walked out of the court as a free man to a heroes’ welcome.
Few days later Pastor Mawarire fled into self-imposed exile in South Africa where he was later re-joined by his family the reason being for his own safety. Later this week he posted a video confirming that he is travelling to United States of America where he will engage with diasporan community and decide what he will do with his future. However, Pastor Evan Mawarire is on record saying #ThisFlag campaign is a citizen movement for every progressive Zimbabwean and therefore he is not the leader. Suffice to say his latest decision to move to America has hugely divided opinion among the Zimbabweans. Judging by the comments coming from social media it seems there is a storm brewing.
One section argues in support of him to go into exile, their reasoning is that Robert Mugabe had openly threatened and issued a stern warning against the cleric`s on two occasion. One when he addressed the war veterans meeting at ZANU PF headquarters and on the Heroes Arce. Judging by the repressive and ruthless nature of ZANU PF regime these threats should not be taking lightly. Its more akin of Mugabe issuing a death sentence on Mawarire. Especially these threats coming against the backdrop of 500 days since the abduction and subsequent disappearance of Itai Dzamara at the alleged hands of security and military operatives. Furthermore, they believed that Mawarire is a man of cloth and therefore is not a politician and people should not expect him to be the lead the citizen movement. This argument is historically and factual incorrect, because prominent religious leader has played an active role in politics and in leading citizens and grassroots movements. For instance, in South Africa during struggle against apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu lead the struggle against apartheid regime when other prominent anti-apartheid activists such as Mandela and Sisulu were imprisoned.
They also draw parallels when Mugabe and Tekere fled into Mozambique during Ian Smith Rhodesian era. However, this particularly different because Mugabe and Tekere were desperately needed to be in Mozambique rather than in Zimbabwe that time, because their leadership was needed to spearhead the armed struggle which was being fought in the trenches of Mozambique. In this case it can be argued that for Mawarire he should be waging the struggle inside Zimbabwe encouraging people to register to vote and so on.
Despite the fact that Mugabe had issued more like death warning to Pastor Evan Mawarire. They could not probably abduct him Dzamara’s style because, unlike Itai Dzamara Pastor Mawarire had become such a global symbol of resistance against tyrant, corruption and bad governance in Zimbabwe. Hence the whole world would have been watching closely and Mugabe regime would have known that the risk is too much to take, especially at a time when they are making efforts to engage the international community especially IMF and World Bank for lines of credit.
The other section argues that Pastor Mawarire by fleeing Zimbabwe he had demonstrated moral cowardice. They point to fact that other pro-democracy activists such as Promise Mkwananzi with his #Tajamuka movement and Sten Zvorwadza with National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe have been arrested countless time and threatened but they are still rooted in Zimbabwe and fighting and resisting against the regime. They believe that by moving into exile #ThisFlag movement had lost momentum and sense of direction inside Zimbabwe, as people inside Zimbabwe might not willing and prepared to follow and take instructions to risk arrest or their lives from someone outside Zimbabwe, who is in the comfort and security of South Africa or America. Ultimately concerned citizens are holding the cleric to accountable by saying he should practice what he preaches in another words he should put the phrase Hatichatya into practice and therefore the buck must stop with him.
Nonetheless Pastor Mawarire is on the record saying he is not the leader or never intended to be the leader of #ThisFlag movements. It is a citizens’ movement owned by the citizens. However, the question is how do you balance the concerns of those who felt that Pastor Mawarire let them down because they have put on faith trust and belief in him to be the leader of the movement and the others who support the idea that Pastor Mawarire is a man of god not a politician and hence he is not supposed to lead the citizens’ movement, he played his role well by inspiring the nation to act and take control of their destiny.