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Zimbabwe: Exclusive interview with Pastor Evan Mawarire

Privilege Musvanhiri
March 30, 2018

Mawarire is best known as the founder of the #ThisFlag movement. He believes Zimbabwean politics has the opportunity to change for the better — but the power to do so lies in the hands of citizens.

Zimbabwean pastor and activist Evan Mawarire
Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Njikizana

Zimbabwean activist and cleric Evan Mawarire has announced plans to run for a seat on the Harare City Council in the upcoming elections. Mawarire made headlines in 2016 when he was arrested after being identified as the leader of the #ThisFlag movement against then-President Robert Mugabe and encouraging citizens to protest against repression, poor governance, corruption and unemployment. He faced up to 20 years in prison, but was later found not guilty of subversion. He will run as an independent candidate under a coalition called the People's Own Voice (POVO). He spoke with DW about his decision to move into mainstream politics and the importance of empowering citizens to call for change. 

DW: What has informed the formation of POVO?

Evan Mawarire: The formation of POVO — the People's Own Voice — has been informed by the desperate need that the city of Harare finds itself in in terms of service delivery. Up to today we have areas in Harare that have had no water for 15 years. Up to today we still deliver very dirty and very dangerous water to the residents of Harare. We have got potholes; our road network is completely dilapidated and needs to be revived again. Those are the things that my generation feels urgently need attention. 

How important is it for you to be running as independent candidates?

It is extremely important for independent candidates to be available to run. Independent candidates are not tied down to parties that have messaging which sometimes does not speak to the community. Independent candidates come from that very community, so they live the life every day that they are trying to change. They are crafting their message and their solutions around what they are harvesting from the people that are around them. What we have done today as independent candidates is to come together to share resources and ideas and share a campaigning platform. This is part of the solution for our city or for our nation, to empower people. If our people are not allowed to participate in the elections and governance, then I do not think Zimbabwe will go anywhere soon.

Does this signal your entry into mainstream politics?

The sign for me getting into mainstream politics was in 2016. I have been in mainstream politics in terms of speaking into it for the last two years. There is nothing that has changed. All I have done is to say, I am now going to become a candidate. But it's important for Zimbabweans to be involved in the politics of our nation. Nobody should disengage. Everyone is involved in politics. If you are a registered voter, you are actually the central aspect of politics in Zimbabwe.

Supporters of the #ThisFlag campaign kneel for prayer
Supporters of the #ThisFlag campaign kneel for prayer in 2016 outside the Harare court where Pastor Evan Mawarire appeared on charges of inciting public violence Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Njikizana

What is the future of #ThisFlag?

The #ThisFlag citizen movement continues. It is not the ownership of one person but it is found in the heart of Zimbabweans. They are many Zimbabweans who are doing what this flag was advocating for. Our job was to empower citizens to speak up and to stand up. I think we have been able to achieve that in the last two years. There are more Zimbabweans today who are having conversations about politics and the direction of politics than ever before. Our payoff line, if you remember, was: If we cannot cause the politicians to change then we must empower the citizen to be bold. Today is a result of that payoff line.

Zimbabwe's politics have been poisoned for the past 15 to 20 years. What kind of politics are you going to be bringing in as you start this journey?

There is definitely going to be a break from the past politics of violence, of hate speech and of mudslinging. This is what has been part of our politics in Zimbabwe. We have to engage each other more. The kind of politics we are bringing as the People's Own Voice is the politics and contestation of ideas. Instead of mudslinging each other, let us mudsling ideas, let us interrogate ideas. This kind of politics will take us further. We want the people of Zimbabwe to choose candidates based on policies, based on ideas, and not based on the fact that they have been marshaled or forced to choose a particular candidate and they have been intimidated to do so.

There is a growing desire across the continent, including Zimbabwe, for young people to take a stand and be in leadership positions. Why is it important for young people to be in control of their destiny at this time in Africa?

It is extremely important in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe, for young people to be involved in things like running for local government or central government politics because we are starting to take control of our narrative and our future. We are the people who are going to be here, 20, 30, 40 years from now. We are the ones who are going to have children 20, 30, 40 years from now. We must craft our future today. That is why it is important for young people to get into politics and to begin to rise up. Because Africa needs people who are going to be present in the future to start crafting their future today.

#ThisFlag: The man behind the hashtag that shut Zimbabwe down

This interview was conducted by Privilege Musvanhiri.

Evan Mawarire is a Zimbabwean pastor and leader of the #MyFlag movement. He will run as an independent candidate for the Harare City Council in the upcoming elections.