President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, in Southern Africa
Aug. 29, 2016 (GIN) – It all started with a flag. Zimbabwe Pastor Evan Mawarire, posting on Twitter in a feed he called “ThisFlag”, was letting off steam about his children’s rising school fees. But that “steam” ignited a wildfire now raging among Zimbabweans long hungry for leadership change.
Exhausted by shortages, unpaid salaries, limits on democratic freedoms, sky-high unemployment and a fast growing spread between rich and poor, Zimbabweans took to the streets last week in a demonstration approved by permit to ask the 92 year old President Robert Mugabe to step down.
Some had seen the pastor’s Twitter posts but others heard about the protest over the human internet.
Despite the permit, police were out in full force and began firing tear gas and water cannons at opposition leaders and the demonstrators at Friday’s protest which swept across large parts of the capital, Harare. Pictures posted of the violent police action were seen widely around the world.
Some 68 people were detained and charged with burning public property, attacking police officers and looting shops.
The pastor is now in the U.S. after charges that he intended to overthrow the state were dropped. Stopping first in South Africa, he spoke to students at Wits University in Johannesburg where his speech in English and Shona was posted online by various news sources.
“Thank you fellow citizens for the voices we have raised… Whether I’m in Zimbabwe or not, we keep moving… Our strength is in our numbers, not in one person or in one movement.
“Don’t stop building these movements that are protesting the government… Don’t depend on Mawarire. Depend on you. That’s what the strength of this movement is about.” Supporters of President Mugabe attacked the movement in articles belittling the pastor. “Evan Mawarire – a cry baby or a cry boy?” jeered a columnist in Bulaway24 News. Mawarire, he wrote, “is masquerading as a Pastor” and “shedding tears for the alleged crises in Zimbabwe.”
But the Pastor’s #ThisFlag movement has lit an unstoppable fire, wrote Kitsepile Nyathi, a Kenyan correspondent in Harare. “There are now a plethora of movements that includes Tajamuka (We have rebelled), that lead daring protests against President Mugabe’s rule,” he wrote. Another group, “build Zimbabwe,” can be found on Facebook.
“Protests have become the order of the day in Zimbabwe’s major cities as calls grow louder for one of the world’s oldest leader to step down,” Nyathi wrote. “Unemployed graduates, rural teachers, vendors and opposition political parties led by former deputies Joice Mujuru and ex-Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai are some of the groups that have taken to the streets demanding change in the last two months.
Arriving last week in Dallas, the Pastor met with famed Zimbabwean musical icon Thomas Mapfumo, composer of Chimurenga (revolutionary) songs, who supports the pastor. Mapfumo, seen in an online video, said Mugabe and his party have “a wrong understanding of what freedom is… A country is not led by a few individuals but by a majority… That is what is called power to the people,” he said. A rally is planned for President Mugabe’s arrival for the U.N.’s General Assembly on Sept. 17. Pastor Mawarire is expected to attend.