Luthando Vikilahle, News24
Cape Town – Zimbabwe’s outspoken activist Stern Zvorwadza has vowed to keep on fighting for the ouster of President Robert Mugabe’s government, despite having been exposed to police brutality in recent weeks.
In an interview with News24, Zvorwadza reiterated that he was born and raised in Zimbabwe and, therefore, would continue to fight for the country’s “true independence”.
The 47-year-old father of one described himself as a dynamic and hardworking man.
Zvorwadza said he was the head of the National Vendors’ Union (Navuz), the largest informal traders grouping in Zimbabwe – with more than six million members.
He is one of several activists behind the protests that have engulfed the southern African country recently.
Zvorwadza first appeared on social media during an incident in the foyer of the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare in June, when a small group of Zimbabweans were protesting Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s 500-plus days stay in the luxury establishment.
He stepped forward to confront the advancing riot police.
From there on, he became the symbol of the ongoing protests as he kept on being arrested, but kept coming back for more.
Zvorwadza said he was forced into activism at a very tender age.
“I lived a very harsh life as a kid. It was made even worse by the governments that have led my country. Both the colonial regime and the so called independent government under President Mugabe have been violent. Therefore, I have never known peace in my country,” he said.
Zvorwadza said that he had 10 years of banking experience, having worked for Barclays Bank Zimbabwe Limited between 1989 and 1999.
But, despite his many years of experience in the financial sector, he had been reduced to a vendor who sold paraffin.
Zvorwadza said he had obtained a number of university degrees abroad, but that they had become “useless” in the southern African country due to a declining economy.
A number of Western countries imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2000, after they accused Mugabe of trampling on human rights, rigging elections and a crackdown on press freedom – accusations that the veteran leader denied.
The sanctions led to devastating economic challenges, with the country reportedly now sitting with around 90% unemployment.
“I did my first degree in Business Studies and Accounting (Joint Honours) with Brunel University in South West London. And also did my Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and attained Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) at Bradford College for England and Wales, (United Kingdom).
“I’m a chartered bookkeeper (FIAB). I’m an associate member of the Institute of Business Executives (ABE). I’m also the founder of Restoration of Human Rights, the National Vendors Union Zimbabwe (Navuz) and Voters Roll Campaign Trust,” Zvorwadza said.
Zvorwadza said that, during his early years of activism, his family had tried to stop him as they feared for his safety.
“My family had in the early years objected to my activism, but as time went on they came around, and even my daughter, who is based in London, is now following in my footsteps,” he said with a giggle.
He said that his activism took off in the early 2000s, when he became a socio-economic and human rights activist.
Zvorwadza also disclosed that he was once a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). It’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had been his mentor for a number of years.
“I was once a member of the MDC, but due to strategic thinking from our organisation Navuz, we decided that I suspend my membership from them sometime this year. Our organisation is a multi-party organisation, therefore, if I had continued in the MDC it would have affected our work.
“We have members from across the political divide, and some of them are even from the ruling Zanu-PF party. So my affiliation with MDC would have been a problem,” he said.
He is also leading vocal social movement #This Flower, which has been led to his arrest countless times, He says he had also been tortured.
Zvorwadza is at the centre of the current defiance against Mugabe’s ruthlessness, mobilising Zimbabweans to find their voice, act and be heard.
“No form of intimidation would deter me from realising a free and better Zimbabwe. This is not about me , this is about the future generations. They can beat me all they want, but I would keep on fighting for my country,” an emotional Zvorwadza concluded.
THERE was commotion at the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare as a group of protesters stormed the hotel demanding the immediate removal of Vice President, Phelekezeka Mphoko.
All pictures by Tafadzwa Ufumeli