By Maynard Manyowa
When Evan Mawarire fled Zimbabwe a few months ago, there was a worry that the amazing movement he had started could lose momentum. But, momentum appears a heaven at this point, #ThisFlag appears to have lost appeal altogether.
This Sunday, Mawarire called for football supporters in attendance at the Zimbabwe Derby (Dynamos vs Highlanders) to all stand up in the 36th minute, in solidarity, and show their displeasure with the government of Zimbabwe.
The 36th minute came and went. Not a single flag in sight, no jeers for the government, or Robert Mugabe, just passionate cries for their teams.
For the third consecutive time the citizens of Zimbabwe have ignored calls by the charismatic protest leader Pastor Evan Mawarire. It is instructive.
Yet it was not always this way. Things were not always like this. Barely months ago, #ThisFlag could speak volumes to all segments of Zimbabwe’s disenfranchised society. Who can ever forget Mbuya va Hector, the old woman who phones ZiFM Radio to speak in solidarity with our pastor, and all Zimbabweans.
Personally, I can even recall my centurion paternal grandmother comically asking me about it via whatsapp. She is 103, and lives in one of the most remote areas of Mberengwa. Such was the appeal of This Flag, They were almost universal. Yet now, they have become an object of mockery, trolling, tomfoolery or outright disdain.
Evan Mawarire’s slide into oblivion then obscurity can only satisfy the evil Zanu PF regime though. Ordinary Zimbabweans turning hostile towards the pastor represents a less formidable opposition. It is a win for Mugabe’s failing regime. A gifted win.
Everything is not lost however. For the sake of our country, #ThisFlag needs to seriously reflect, and do some soul searching. They need to examine why they have lost appeal, why people consider them an elitist movement. It is imperative that they examine why people think the movement is a spent force and is not relevant in our political dispensation.
To begin with, they need to strategize at an elite level. Understandably, Evan Mawarire did not agitate for leadership. He made a Facebook video directed at his friends, mourning about the situation back home. Before he knew, he had become a global sensation, and had stumbled a movement so momentous he had no choice but to follow it through. To his credit, he gave it his best shot. With his life at risk he made a concise decision to leave. One we must not second guess.
A lot has unraveled before our eyes, forward to that decision. Nonetheless, at this present time, #ThisFlag appears a spent force.
Some people are angry and say Evan let them down, some say he betrayed his #Hatichatya mantra, while for some, he used them to get political asylum.
I have no doubt Pastor Evan Mawarire is passionate about his country. Even after landing asylum, he still tries to contribute to the agenda of a new and free Zimbabwe.
Clearly, asylum was not a motivating factor. I know when he made his #ThisFlag video, he had no intention of becoming a protest leader. It was fate that chose him.
Deep in his heart, Evan wants free civil movements that operate outside of a personality. I agree with him too. But the ideal sometimes is not the same as the real. At the end of the day, Evan started a movement, and 13 million Zimbabweans depend on it.
At this present time, they are starting to loathe it, even though they need it, and it is imperative that the movement reflects, and re-invents. Too many lives depend on it.
After leaving Zanu PF, Joice Mujuru took 2 years to prepare herself for her re-entry into the political space. Those years were spent in training, education, and sensitization. Patson Dzamara spent almost a year and half after his brother’s abduction, before choosing to re-emerge in the protest field.
While #ThisFlag was not planned, its time for them to appreciate that they are part of the game. They may have stopped speaking to all, but they still speak for some. To that end they owe those that follow them religiously a modicum of strategy and well thought out initiatives.
Each bad decision they make (each ill-advised protest call) will give the impression they are a spent force.
Calling on football supporters to protest was a bad move, one set up to fail to begin with. First and foremost was doomed to fail. Football lovers are passionate, often times more than national allegiance.
Barbourfields stadium on its own remains a bad choice. It is a confined space within an unreliable structure. The risk of a stampede is very real. No matter how big the statement we want to make, we should always appear motivated by a desire to preserve human life.
The citizens rejected this latest call, as with all recent others. Nonetheless, #ThisFlag and Pastor Evan Mawarire still have an important role to play in Zimbabwean politics. Their gift, that of citizen awareness and activism is irreplaceable.
After losing the elections in 2013, Morgan Tsvangirayi was presumed dead and buried. Evan Mawarire off late has been called yesterday’s man. He does not need to be. He can still save himself, and save those that listen to him.
Its time for #ThisFlag to re-invent itself, for the sake of us all.
- Maynard Manyowa is the co-editor of Khuluma Afrika – a nonpartisan center for analysis, commentary and investigative journalism.