Pastor Evan Mawarire of the #ThisFlag movement says he has gone into “temporary exile” in the United States due to security concerns after suspected pro-Zanu PF government operatives threatened to abduct his children and rape his wife.
Mawarire, who left Zimbabwe for South Africa last month after a Harare magistrate refused to put him on trial for subversion, arrived in the US a fortnight ago where he has been engaging ordinary Zimbabweans and activists.
He has also met with US personalities, including civil rights icon and diplomat, Andrew Young, who while serving as America’s first black envoy to the United Nations under President Jimmy Carter’s administration, played a key role in ensuring an end to Ian Smith’s colonial rule.
“My family became threatened severely with many visits; my wife was threatened with rape and my kids were threatened with abduction at their school,” the 39-year-old cleric said during an appearance on a Studio 7 live broadcast in Washington DC last week.
“And as their father it’s my job to make sure that those people are well-looked after.
“I don’t want to fail at that responsibility because that’s what makes me who I am.
“It’s what makes me the genuine person that people have listened to and followed, and I must protect that constituency.”
While Mawarire is noncommittal about the duration of his stay, surrogates tell The Standard that he will remain domiciled in America for at least three months as he weighs his security situation back home and ponders his next move.
Armed with nothing but oratory, charisma and a savvy for social media, Mawarire has managed to energize Zimbabwean citizens across the demographic divide at home and abroad to stand up to President Robert Mugabe’s government and demand jobs, an end to corruption, accountability and a better life.
His departure has elicited mixed reaction with critics charging that he exploited the people’s desperation for leadership to get a visa to the US, a charge he vehemently denies, insisting his family’s life was in serious jeopardy and that “I think I am more useful to my family and to the people of Zimbabwe alive than dead or incarcerated.”
Still in Washington DC, a defiant Mawarire addressed a seminar at the Atlantic Council think-tank where he shed tears on the podium as he lamented the enduring crises in Zimbabwe and regretting that his father and grandfather had fought in the liberation struggle for nothing.
“I made the decision that I will not allow the people that took my father’s dreams to take mine. They have taken mine, I am 39-years-old but they can’t take my children’s dreams. You can’t do that,” said a visibly emotional Mawarire as he chocked and wiped off tears, his Zimbabwean flag draped around his shoulders.
“You have to forgive me; I am so passionate about Zimbabwe… A friend said to me ‘you cry too much please don’t cry when you go there.’ But this is what’s happening in Zimbabwe, we are crying. We can’t suppress the tears anymore.”
Mawarire promised to continue pressing for change in Zimbabwe even as he remains in the US, saying #ThisFlag campaign has become an ubiquitous phenomenon that no amount of force can weigh down.
He also urged Zimbabweans to keep up the pressure against Zanu PF, saying the struggle should not be about him as an individual but about all citizens and a new reformative trajectory.
Mawarire condemned police brutality on peaceful picketers throughout last week in Harare.
“They have threatened us, they have beaten us… but we want our government to know that they will beat us some more, they will jail us some more but we will only get stronger. We have drawn a line in the sand that says we will hold you accountable,” Mawarire added.
He also had a strong rejoinder for Mugabe who has told him to leave Zimbabwe, accusing him of pushing an illegal regime change agenda on behalf of westerners and inciting public violence.
“Nobody, absolutely nobody, including the president of the Republic of Zimbabwe can ban me or any other citizen from home for standing up for what we believe in,” he said audaciously.
“There are many things that you can do Mr President, but there are two things that you are powerless in this season to do. You cannot stop your sun from setting and you cannot stop mine from rising.”
Mawarire has since visited different cities, including Atlanta, Washington DC and Dallas where he will attend a church service with Zimbabweans today.
He will also participate in a protest by Zimbabwean expatriates at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September where Mugabe, 92, is expected to attend.