By Letwin Nyambayo
BULAWAYO – Evan Mawarire, the controversial cleric who popularised the #ThisFlag movement on Friday visited the City of Kings to lead the Zimbabwe prayer Night of Hope at Harvest House International Church.
After the church service, the Daily News on Sunday’s Letwin Nyambayo caught up with him for a brief interview in which he talks about his political future, his church, family, #ThisFlag campaign and his current court cases.
Q: Are you standing in the 2018 elections as you once promised?
A: Well, I think that the 2018 elections are a very crucial time for Zimbabweans and we have to be measured in terms of how we get involved, now what I said was that and what I continue to say is that the door remains open for me as a Zimbabwean, it’s my right to be able to stand if I so wish. But I think we have a lot of work to do to galvanise the citizens in Zimbabwe, to bring them around this idea of unity and especially hope. I think I have a job and a role to play on that so every day I am reassessing what my role is but certainly running for office remains one of those things that I would consider myself for.
Q: You want to run as what — MP or president?
A: Again I think it’s one of those things that as things continue to change my decision also becomes a little bit more pointed. I would love to run for a parliamentary seat, I doubt that there is anyone who would refuse to run for president if they had the chance because it’s an opportunity to develop our nation, to help people and it’s the most powerful position to do, so I think that again that still remains as lingering. I must stress how important it is for people like me to play the role I’m playing right now completely and to exhaust it, uniting people, bringing back hope and causing people to be courageous and bold citizens.
Q: Which constituency would you like to run for?
A: Again I think that’s something I still have not made a decision about but certainly I think that a lot of young people need to make themselves available for constituencies where they grew up, where they currently stay, because they have grown up with the issues, they know what’s going on there and I think that’s the model that is going to help Zimbabwe. People that are from those constituencies or neighbourhoods should represent the kind of issues that they have seen growing up.
Q: People say you have slowed down in your engagements, why is it that you are no longer as active as before?
A: I think our movement and our kind of engagements with people are going through a transformation or a change and I think that slowing down or being a little bit quiet has been tactical. I have been taking time to recuperate. I have also been taking time to attend to the cases that are in the courts currently and I think it’s been wise for me to try my best not to frustrate that goings on or to increase the number of cases that are hanging over my head. The one thing that the State continues to do to activists like me is to keep us tied up in legal cases, so I’m trying my best to keep those as low as possible, but I think it’s important to note that the way things are going is that the engagement is shifting into a different form. So it’s not that I have slowed down but I think I’m changing tact as well. I’m starting to appeal a lot more to young people, I’m appealing also to a place that is natural to me — the church. I have a job and a mandate as a pastor to play there and I think it’s important for me to also do that in a measured way and in a calculated way.
Q: Is your church still there?
A: The church is still there, His Generation Church is still growing strong. It’s important for me to be honest about the fact that when I was incarcerated both last year and this year, our church did suffer a little bit. People in Zimbabwe are afraid, so some people felt this was not what they joined the church for, they were afraid that they would be victimised and scrutinised and some people left the church. Despite that our church is still growing strong and I’m thankful to the leaders and pastors who continue to do a fabulous job seven years after we started in 2010.
Q: How far are you with the court cases?
A: I have two court cases pending, one has been set for September 12, that’s for the case where I was arrested at the University of Zimbabwe for standing and praying with protesting students and then the trial for the case for subversion has been set for September 23. So the two cases now have trial dates, we have been considering a constitutional approach for the subversion case but you know even at the High Court where I shall face trial for it, that case is a weak case for the State and I know that we will be able to see justice served if we stick to the Constitution and the law of this country.
Q: Do you think going overseas had a negative impact on the movement’s momentum?
A: I think when I left it did slow the momentum. I think we can’t run away from that, people had an expectation and you know when people are desperate and something looks like it is going in the direction of their expectations, they really want it to work. And I have always said to people that had I been in their shoes, I would have possibly been as disappointed as they were when I left but I also I think that if they were in my shoes, they would have understood why I made the decision that I made at the time. My wife and children had been threatened, my wife was pregnant and I really wanted to make sure that my daughter was born well and that I spent some time with her before I came back. One of the things that I’m excited about is that I fulfilled my promise of coming back home to Zimbabwe where, of course, right now I am not allowed to travel and I’m still in custody, out on bail and still facing the abuse of the system.
Q: Whatever happened to #ThisFlag campaign?
A: Well #ThisFlag campaign again still goes as you can see I have my flag with me — I don’t leave it, I go everywhere I can with it. It’s not true that the government has banned the national flag, it’s impossible, they have threatened citizens, so #ThisFlag campaign is still there, and it’s still going strong. The important thing is; it’s not about me as Evan Mawarire, this flag belongs to all Zimbabweans, it’s about everyone and I think when the government tried to ban the flag more than anything else they gave us victory, so #ThisFlag already succeeded in terms of its Ideals. It was about bringing Zimbabwe back into the hands of Zimbabweans and that began by taking back some of the symbols that had become a reserve only for the political elite. So I think #ThisFlag campaign succeeded in making people stand up and speak out — since last year until now, I think there is a marked difference in terms of the number of people that speak out and speak up against the injustices in Zimbabwe and so in that sense it succeeded and I think it continues to take on different forms and it will also become more visible as we go towards elections as well.
Q: Where is your family?
A: My family is safe away from this country, when I went overseas I left them there and I think for me that is the only consolation I have that they are safe. It’s very difficult to be away from my family, I miss my wife and my children and my newest daughter has grown up and doesn’t know me. I think that’s the price that we have to pay to be able to get the kinds of freedoms that we are looking for, many people paid that same price when they went to the war in the 60s and the 70s and I think our generation has to also face the fact that the kind of freedom we want for our nation is going to come at a price. And we have to start paying that price and this is part of it, not being with my family.
Q: How do you see the political environment as we go into campaigns for 2018 elections?
A: There has never been a time in the political environment in Zimbabwe where inspiration and the need for something that people can believe in has been more needed or evident than now and I think at this point the political environment is uninspiring, it’s very disappointing to watch. The ruling party continues to let the economy slide down. It’s disappointing to watch the opposition fail to unite and fight among themselves and I think there is despondency within the people of Zimbabwe. People really want something to believe in, I think this is part of what we are trying to do, like we did with the Zimbabwe night of hope in Bulawayo, to say we do have hope, we can believe in ourselves, we can unite, we can tell the politicians which way to go as citizens. So unless something changes, I think the despondency is going to be our biggest enemy going into the 2018 elections. My biggest prayer for the looming 2018 elections are on two things; that they would be safety and peace for everyone and that our elections will be free and fair.
Q: Are you joining other political parties in any coalition?
A: I think there is a lot of wisdom that needs to be applied in terms of joining parties and coalitions, I already did stand in solidarity with the MDC Alliance the other week and went there to give them a message of uniting the people of Zimbabwe and letting them know that if this is going to work they must keep the doors open for everyone. So while I might not be out rightly supporting a particular alliance or coalition, my job is to continue to say to the actors and the players; invite everyone on board, open the doors, keep the doors open and have the country at heart because that what will help us going forward. That’s the role I am playing.
Q: But why not join them now as campaigning hits the ground?
A: I think that joining is not the main thing to do, but I think playing a role to make sure that, those that are forming are forming something that is credible for everyone to join is. I mean they have my support, for me they are pro-democracy movements but even then, it’s important that pro-democracy movements have voices that speak to them about some of the issues that they are either not seeing or that they are not considering as being mainstream issues going forward. One of the things that is evident is that many people have lost confidence in things like the alliance or the coalitions. It’s part of my job to try my best to first of all speak to the Alliance about being something that is likable, that people can believe in and then speak to the people themselves and say; hey, listen, this could be something that’s going to work. I have got to be responsible in that I can’t drive a person towards something that is going to fall off the cliff.
Q: In your own view, do you think the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is doing a good job and do you think they are capable of administering over a free and fair election?
A: I think Zec has a lot of challenges on their hands and one of the biggest challenges they have is the credibility challenge. They need to prove now more than ever to the people of Zimbabwe that they are an independent commission and not one that is captured or one that is serving the interests of one side. So in terms of them doing a good job, I think that they could do better, they need to be doing better to inspire confidence again in all the actors. It has to be fair and forthright with information, in acting prudently, in being just, and I think that they have been found wanting in the last couple of months when it comes to that fairness. So there is room for improvement, they don’t have a lot of time to show that they are for everyone and not just for one side
Q: Any last words to Zimbabweans?
A: Can we focus on uniting our nation and can we come to a place where each of us realises that before we are Shona or Ndebele, or Kalanga, or Tonga, before we are black or white before we are Zanu or MDC or NPP, or Transform Zimbabwe International, we are Zimbabwean and that should bring us together. When the night of hope comes to your city, come; let’s pray for a better Zimbabwe together.