The man who has become the face of the #ThisFlag campaign says he will remain in South Africa out of concern for his safety after President Robert Mugabe effectively declared him persona non grata.
Mugabe publicly denounced Pastor Evan Mawarire, who became a national hero by starting the #ThisFlag social media campaign to highlight the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans starving because of dire socioeconomic conditions.
Mawarire was arrested and then released when a Harare court threw out charges of trying to overthrow the government after which the cleric decamped to South Africa. Addressing thousands of mourners at the funeral of Charles Utete, the country’s first black cabinet secretary, Mugabe lambasted Mawarire saying he was not a true preacher but a foreign sponsored agent bent on destabilising Zimbabwe.
Said the veteran leader: “The Mawarires, I don’t even know him, and those who believe in that way of living, well, are not part of us in thinking.
“If they don’t want to live with us, they should go to those countries sponsoring them. We will say no, forever.”
Speaking to City Press in South Africa at the weekend, Mawarire said he would not be returning to Harare for a while.
“It’s important that people understand that I am not running away from Zimbabwe. I travel to South Africa regularly for my own personal and church business. But because of my arrest, there has actually been a disturbance.
“I have to rethink my return to Zimbabwe because of the current situation,” he lamented.
“I was denounced by Zimbabwe’s government; yet, I am just one person who has raised his voice and spoken out.
“So, it is a tricky situation and something that I am still thinking about.”
Speaking out against injustices Mawarire said he had not expected to be harassed by state security agents just for speaking out against injustices.
“We are allowed constitutionally to challenge our government and raise our voices.
“As a pastor, the word of God holds me to challenge these injustices, particularly for the poor, for the widows and for the downtrodden.”
He added: “The role that Zimbabwe’s citizens played [to get him released] made them the real heroes.
“I saw thousands of people waiting for me when I was released, and this just proved that this movement is here to stay,” he told City Press on Saturday.
Incidentally, the pastor attributes his political consciousness to a government leadership programme he was involved in when he was just 16 years old.
“The government runs a ‘children’s parliament’ that celebrates June 16 in memory of what happened in South Africa. The programme has everything, from a president to Cabinet ministers, and I was a part of it.
“In 1993, I was selected to be a child member for this parliamentary programme for my area, and I ended up becoming the president for that term.
“Even though it was a mock parliament, it raised awareness about relevant issues and was aimed at helping us to learn and recognise the rights of children.”
And so when he observed the suffering of his community a few months ago, Mawarire expressed his outrage via an online video that he posted on social media using the colours of Zimbabwe’s flag to argue his points. The video has to date been viewed 170 531 times and forwarded to millions. Its popularity gave rise to the #ThisFlag movement.
Born in 1977, Mawarire was raised in Glen Norah, a high-density township in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, where he grew up in a modest home with five siblings.
“My parents were civil servants who worked for the government their whole lives,” he said.
“My father enrolled me in a rural school after not performing well at the Prince Edward High School. This really woke me up to realities of life I wouldn’t have experienced.”
After completing his O levels, Mawarire studied a vehicle electrics course with the Harare Institute of Technology for about two years. He then moved on to become a youth trainer at a church.
“I ended up going to Bible school, where I did a leadership training course with Celebration College. I then became a youth councillor and eventually a pastor for a church in London for almost three years [2007 to 2010].”
#ThisFlag objectives achieved
He returned to Zimbabwe in 2010 where he and his wife looked after a Celebration Church congregation.
He said the #ThisFlag movement had garnered mass support and achieved its objective because it was meant to “register the citizens’ voice, the voice of discontent and the voice of holding government to account”.
“The citizens of Zimbabwe have shaken the government in terms of showing that we can see what is being done and we are demanding things to change,” he said.
“This movement is not housed in a building. It is an idea that is within Zimbabweans, and that is why people identify with it.
“For Zimbabweans, it’s personal and not about following an individual. This is about a better Zimbabwe that lives in the hearts of us all.”
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