Unbowed clergyman and leader of the #ThisFlag campaign, Pastor Evan Mawarire — who has been leading a peaceful campaign against Zimbabwe’s deepening rot — says he will call for more protests until President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF listen to the cries of the people.
Speaking in an interview with a South African television news station, the much-harassed Baptist preacher said despite the growing vitriol that was being directed at him and other pro-democracy activists by panicking authorities, abandoning the struggle was not an option.
Mawarire spoke as former Zanu PF stalwart and intelligence minister, Didymus Mutasa — now a senior official in former Vice President Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) — told the Daily News yesterday that long-suffering Zimbabweans should abandon their fear if they hoped to bring leadership change in the country and improve their lot.
At the same time, an angry Mugabe savaged Mawarire and other like-minded activist clergymen when he addressed thousands of bussed-in Zanu PF supporters and government workers who gathered at the National Heroes’ Acre in Harare yesterday, at the burial of the late retired top civil servant, Charles Utete.
Mawarire, who is taking a breather in South Africa after escaping the thuggish legal tactics of the government on a technicality last week, said not even the worst police brutality would stop the wave of protests being mounted by fed up Zimbabweans, until all the issues fanning public anger were addressed.
“We cannot back down from this space ever again and our goal now is to go further and further into becoming citizens that speak more and more. I think the future plans for the (#ThisFlag) movement are found in the seeds of the movement and the seeds were to create citizens that are bolder.
“In Zimbabwe over the years, we have been afraid to speak for various reasons, among them being the intimidation, and of course the brutality that we have experienced for many years”.
“We are trying to get our government to realise that the citizens have needs and the reality on the ground is not something that we are just dreaming up … so part of our goal is … just to change things,” he said.
Mawarire also commended the work of fearless pressure group Tajamuka/Sesjikile, which had also been at the forefront of leading campaigns against the government, as well as the stunningly successful general strike of three weeks ago which paralysed the country.
After being arrested early last week on charges of inciting public violence, charges later upgraded to more serious ones when he arrived at court — sparking unprecedented anger among Zimbabweans who swamped the court in solidarity with the popular cleric — Mawarire was later set free on Wednesday.
Had he been convicted, he could have faced a 20-year prison term.
Commenting on claims by the rattled authorities that he had taken off for the United States of America after his close shave with the law, the #ThisFlag campaign leader said this was simply malicious gossip.
“I’m absolutely not running away from home. This (trip to South Africa) was a scheduled visit. I travel to South Africa often and to other parts of the world, and those who know me know that I travel. There is nothing to run away from because I have not committed a crime.
“Everyone knows the government has their way of getting rid of people like me and it does not matter whether I am a government spy or a western ally but the important thing is the government should address the crisis in Zimbabwe.
“It is true that my life is in danger but the bottom line is that I am just a citizen and I don’t have a budget for security and my safety is within the citizens because these are the people that keep me safe, stand for me and fight for me,” Mawarire said.
And as Mugabe was attacking Mawarire at Utete’s burial, his long time confidante and erstwhile friend, Didymus Mutasa, was encouraging people to abandon their fear in their pursuit for change.
“Demonstrations are part of our Constitution. We are protected by the Constitution and we hope those in authority will observe the law. We have got to do everything that is possible and when you want to climb a mountain do not be scared of the slopes. You must climb. And as you climb you may go down one step backward but that is part and parcel of climbing a mountain,” Mutasa told the Daily News after meeting opposition political parties in Harare.
“We have agreed that the current crisis is a national crisis … we want to make sure that the move to solve the current crisis will be peaceful and those who are in authority should not be harsh and beat people like what they are doing now,” he said.
The comments by Mutasa, who was secretary for administration in Zanu PF before his expulsion in the run up to the party’s hotly disputed December 2014 congress, come as the ruling party faces its biggest challenge in its 36 years in power.
The broke government is, in addition to facing growing citizen unrest, struggling to pay its huge civil service on time, as the country has run out of cash in the face of the dying economy.
By late yesterday, it was still not clear when soldiers would get their July pay. But Mugabe skirted the issue of civil servants’ salaries yesterday, choosing to attack Mawarire instead, whom he accused of being funded by the West in his campaigns.
Mawarire helped to organise arguably the biggest general strike in the history of the country when millions of Zimbabweans heeded his call to stay away from work.
Four days before the strike, riots had erupted in the border town of Beitbridge when small traders protested against a government imports ban on South African basic goods, before the disturbances spread to Harare where touts and commuter omnibus drivers clashed with police over extortion at roadblocks. Daily News