Harare – Confused and somewhat betrayed: That’s how one Zimbabwean feels about #ThisFlag protest leader Evan Mawarire’s failure to return to Zimbabwe more than a month after thousands gathered to support him in court.
Tempers ran high in Zimbabwe this weekend over Mawarire’s no-show in the increasingly restless nation, where he started his anti-government protests with a simple post to Facebook in April.
With rumours that Mawarire may decide to settle in the US (though the churchman has not confirmed they are true), Zimbabweans were bitterly divided.
Mawarire could face lengthy imprisonment if he returned. He was only released from custody due to a legal loophole last month when a magistrate in Harare ruled state prosecutors had been wrong to alter the charge against him without telling him.
There was every chance President Robert Mugabe’s government would try to charge him again with trying to overthrow the government.
Officials have recently increased their rhetoric against #ThisFlag and its sympathisers, speaking of “insurgent groups” and “cyber warfare”.
There were moves to push into law the Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill, which could see those the authorities view as social media “abusers” jailed.
Mawarire appears to have little doubt of the fate that awaits him. His official #ThisFlag movement’s Facebook page earlier this week compared his return to jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute. “[It]doesn’t make you ‘unafraid’… it makes you stupid,” said #ThisFlag.
But others ask what happened to Mawarire’s “We are not afraid” (Hatichatya in Shona) slogan. Echoing the views of many on Twitter, writer Jean Gasho said on her blog she felt “confused” by Mawarire’s claim that his movement was not about one person.
“To say we are all leaders and heroes of this movement is just downright stupid and doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Gasho.
But @SueNyathi countered on Twitter: “My admiration for Pastor Evan has not diminished. He stood up and spoke up. He stirred fierce pride and patriotism through #ThisFlag.”
Not surprisingly, Mugabe’s government seized on the controversy to support its claim Mawarire was sponsored by the West.
Tweeted Higher Education Minister @ProfJNMoyo: “Why is it so difficult for this #Pastor4Hire to say he’s going to get paid by the US founders and funders of #ThisFlag?”
As the accusations flew, outspoken advocate Fadzayi Mahere wrote on Facebook: “Whatever your view of Pastor Evan and his choices, he’s not your enemy. He hasn’t destroyed the economy.”