It’s the government. They have made promises they haven’t kept. They have implemented policies that do not have the citizens’ well-being at heart.
UNHERALDED pastor Evan Mawarire (EM) — author, motivational speaker, marriage counsellor and former child president, who started the #ThisFlag movement, which aims at encouraging ordinary Zimbabweans to participate in national-building — has been in the news after calling for Wednesday’s shutdown which was hugely successful. The Zimbabwe Independent (ZI) news editor Owen Gagare and reporter Fidelity Mhlanga engaged Mawarire this week to discuss the stay-away, his mission and ambitions, among other issues. Below are excerpts of the interview:
ZI: What is your assessment of Wednesday’s shutdown?
EM: The shutdown was extremely successful. It was beyond what many people thought it would be. I have faith in the citizens of Zimbabwe and I am glad that they have faith in themselves.
ZI: How, why and when did this movement start?
EM: I was sitting on this desk two days after Independence Day (April 18) and I had failed to come up with a solution concerning school fees for my children and I was very disappointed. I remember looking at this flag (in my office). I thought if I was in another country I could not have failed to have what I need. I started to think about what this flag means to me and realised that it (the flag) had been compromised. The flag’s promise had been broken. Then I realised that if we don’t start to speak out on issues of injustice, corruption and poverty it will never end. I then began #ThisFlag campaign.
ZI: What are the promises made through the flag?
EM: The promise that this flag makes to all Zimbabweans is that Zimbabwe is a land where people who call it home should be prosperous. The promise is broken and you can see it in the number of people who would rather be elsewhere; if you look at the number of people who would rather risk their lives to leave Zimbabwe.
ZI: Who do you hold responsible for breaking the promise?
EM: That is very clear. It’s the government. They have made promises they haven’t kept. They have implemented policies that do not have the citizens’ well-being at heart. When I am saying government, I am talking about the current government and ruling party and the head of government (President Robert Mugabe) because he is the chief servant in government.
ZI: What are the examples of broken promises?
EM: The promise was broken when we allowed our health system to deteriorate to where it is right now; a point where we see major referral hospitals like Harare Hospital not having running water; allowing the education system to become something we are not happy about; no jobs in the country; mishandling of public funds and allowing corruption at high levels. When government refuses to deal with corrupt ministers and corruption in general, they are breaking the promise of a prosperous Zimbabwe.
ZI: What is the ultimate goal of #ThisFlag?
EM: The ultimate goal of #ThisFlag is that citizens must participate in nation-building. Before focusing on holding government to account, our first port of call is to encourage the citizens to participate in nation-building. For so long, the citizens have been quiet for fear of being threatened or abducted for speaking out. But now we have come to a time when we say the citizens should get involved.
We are saying if we cannot cause the politician to change, then we must inspire the citizens to be bold. This is the case in Zimbabwe because the politician has proved that he/she is unwilling to change.
ZI: How are you mobilising the people?
EM: We started off on social media, this is where citizens are in terms of communication. We speak the same language; we are citizens together. That has been a major point and vehicle of mobilisation. We have also started to reach out to groups of young people, churches, women and men to say listen, this our country let’s stand behind #ThisFlag.
ZI: Who are you working with? You are constantly saying “we”.
EM: We have a small team of ordinary citizens who have given some of their time to get involved.
ZI: So what are you? Are you a protest group, lobby group or social movement or a civil society group?
EM: We are more of a social movement. The young student in school; a university student; young adult who has just left college; middle-aged parent with children in high school or the just retired citizens. It’s a cross-section of people who are part of it.
ZI: Do you have any political ambitions?
EM: It’s important for people to understand that by being a citizen of Zimbabwe you are involved within the politics of the country whatever way you look at it. If you vote, you are involved in politics. In terms of political ambition, right now my focus is with the citizen movement. I don’t have political ambitions at this point and I want to make this clear that at this point. If need comes, I wouldn’t hesitate to make the decision, but it’s not a decision I am considering to make right now.
ZI: In other ways, you are saying political office is a possibility in the future?
EM: Sometimes people want to push you to a place when you can say I don’t want to be in it. But it’s my right as a citizen if I want to do so. It’s a decision I will make after getting advice from my family, mentor and my church. If it is a decision I will have to make sometime, I would like to keep the door open.
ZI: Who is behind your movement? Are there some people working with you behind-the-scenes other than the citizens — the so-called Third Way?
EM: When I started, I heard people who insinuated that there is another force and that we are only a front and that there is another agenda behind it. Let me put it this way: I am a front for the citizens of Zimbabwe. This is the problem Zimbabwean politics has, the conspiracy theories are many such that when something genuine comes up, it is ignored.
This is not a front of any other force besides the force of the citizens. To answer your question, this is not a front but the Third Force is the forgotten citizens. We have been elbowed out from speaking issues that affect us.
One minister jumped out weeks ago with accusations that we are founded by the West. I say to them do you think I need someone to tell me there is no water coming out from the tap and say the hospitals have no drugs?
ZI: Who is funding you? Surely, for you to mobilise and do other activities you need funds?
EM: We don’t always need big budgets and funding to be effective and this is proof that #ThisFlag brings to the table. Well, at some point we shall seek funding and I remember when we had a discussion with our team and our decision was that if we seek funding we will do it from the citizens of Zimbabwe. They must fund their own change and processes.
ZI: Do you fancy organising some form of a revolution like the Orange Revolution or the Velvet Revolution?
EM: I would like to see things happen more spontaneously in terms of strategy than trying to craft something that we force on the people. When we started out about a month ago, one of the ministers said these people are trying to do an Arab Spring-type of uprising, which is not true. You start to see the psyche of government in the way they respond.
They never respond with inspiration, motivation and acknowledgement or assurance, but with suspicion, intimidation, threatening, banning and the citizenry is tired of those kind of responses. So we keep pushing for a non-violent, but direct and truthful confrontation-type of protest. So Wednesday’s stay-away was testament to that.
When people say no; when we go on to the streets, you beat us; so what we do here at home is because there is no law which is against that. So instead of trying to copy and paste something, which has happened in the past this thing has its own identity.
ZI: Some are saying you are trying to be the Mahatma Gandhi of Zimbabwe. Is that the case?
EM: I think there is nothing wrong from learning from the people like Gandhi because they achieved a lot of things in pushing the non-violent aspect of things. If we use violence we send a message that it’s okay to destroy. This government has been using violence over the years and if we fight violence with violence, the result will be more violence.
There comes a time when we have to use a different strategy to that being used by the people we are confronting.
This government is prepared to use violence. It will crush people if we engage it violently. We saw that happening when kombi drivers protested against the numerous police roadblocks on Monday. Somehow, it ended up with people being beaten and being followed up door-to-door.
As citizens, we are each other’s hiding place and support. Instead of violence let’s raise our voices, expose the wrongs where government has failed and use our strength. Our strength is in our numbers. Our government depends on us for money; maybe let’s shut down its revenue streams. A good citizen must not be violent and brutal towards his/her neighbour and even state property because it’s my property which I paid for through taxes.
I think that’s an important underlining theme .We don’t want history to point to us and say we were a violent lot.
I don’t hesitate to then say to the citizens, do not be violent, but you must do what it takes to defend yourself and your family.
ZI: So what’s next after the stay-away?
EM: What happens next is that we take our victory to inspire each other going forward — to push government to listen to the demands of the citizens. We have now outlined the demands. The three pillars that government has to deal with, namely, corruption, injustice and poverty. Under corruption, we are saying government must stop the impunity. We have to deal decisively and immediately with cases of corruption that are known and recorded, especially by government ministers. We want them fired and they must face justice.
Then under injustice, we are saying the police on the roads, who are abusing the citizenry and public transporters to raise money — that should stop. They have to reduce those roadblocks and move away from a culture of raising money by putting the citizenry into a tight corner.
Still under injustice, we are demanding that our civil servants, who are citizens serving the nation, must be paid on time every month going forward. There are no excuses. It’s an injustice for someone to serve the nation and not get paid.
Under poverty, the government must scrap the plan to introduce the bond notes. We are also saying to the government the import licences must be lifted immediately because we don’t have the industries to protect. All they have done is to shut down the businesses of informal traders who, after not getting jobs, have gone to look after themselves. Those are the demands we want met.
ZI: What if your demands are ignored?
EM: If they are not met we go back to the citizenry and we go back again and shut the country down. If we have to do it for longer we will do so. We will plead with the citizenry to unite and stay home until government responds to the demands of the citizenry.
ZI: Are you worried about your safety?
EM: It does scare me. It’s important for me to be honest as a human being — I am definitely afraid of that. I remember when we started with the #ThisFlag protest, someone called me and threatened to strangle me with the flag saying the flag came with blood and will be defended with blood.
I received phone calls after that with people threatening. Just a day before the mass stay-away, there were anonymous people who came at my office looking for me. They demanded to know where I was. I had to be away from my home to a safe house on the stay-away protest day.
ZI: So what is keeping you going despite the threats?
EM: My security is God. I go back to the Bible. It says unless the watchman watches with God, he will watch in vain. The God factor is driving me.
We have some form of security we have put in place, but we don’t security arrangements that make me not live a normal life. I don’t move around with security guards or motorcades; I am safe with the citizens. God is our protector and the citizenry are our hiding place and have proved that.
ZI: Who is Evan Mawarire?
EM: I have been pastor for the last 13 years and I have been married for 13 years as well. I have devoted my life to inspire people. I started off as a youth pastor.
In 1993, when I was 16, I was chosen to be junior Member of Parliament for Hurungwe in Mashonaland West.
From 1993 to 1994, I was chosen to be the child president for Zimbabwe. It was something that changed my life — that I can actually lead. That was my first time to meet President Robert Mugabe. It’s 23 years now since I met him. He was my hero then. Today I look back and say what changed? Either I grew up or he messed up big time for sure.
Evan Mawarire Fact File
Date of birth: March 7 1977
Primary school attended: Amandas Primary School (Concession)
High School: Prince Edward (1990-1992), Charles Clack (1993-1994 (Magunje)
Professional qualification: Auto Electrician Diploma (Harare Institute of Technology, 1996)
Church: Youth and Young Adults pastor at Celebration Church (2002-2007)
Regional director Celebration UK (2007-2010)
Planted His Generation Church in Harare (2010)
Married to Samantha and they have two daughters