HARARE – It is exactly a year since #ThisFlag leader pastor Evan Mawarire shot to fame following a successful shut-down campaign, but his relevance seems to have sharply nose-dived, with most critics arguing he has outlived his welcome.
Last year, the His Generation Church leader became a hero and people’s darling, as he seemed to provide a ray of hope to long-suffering Zimbabweans, who saw him as the Biblical Moses who would eventually take them to the land of “honey and milk”.
He attracted a huge following during his moment of fame, with thousands thronging the Harare Magistrates’ Courts in solidarity, as he was charged with treason — punishable with death.
People prayed outside the courts building into the night, seeking God’s intervention in the perceived persecution of the clergyman by the system.
It was unprecedented.
Mawarire’s fame was not just confined to Zimbabwe, it attracted international spotlight, making headlines on world news channels.
However, it was not for long that he enjoyed these moments of fame, and many have attributed that to several factors and theories.
Along the way, Mawarire seems to have betrayed his motto hatichada uye hatichatya (we are fed up and not scared anymore) — after he left for South Africa, where he claimed he was just taking a breather with the hope of coming back home soon.
This was not to be, as he left for the United States (US), leaving most of his supporters in limbo.
To many, this was betrayal, with some claiming that he was seeking fame for personal gain.
Most people felt emotionally used by Mawarire, as they had pinned high hopes on him.
Here was a man who had decided to do what most cannot do, knowing very well the ruthless nature of the terrain he was trudging.
He had decided to take the bull by its horns, with the hope that he had so many strategies to change things, but he had just left for the US — a dreamland for many.
While in the US, Mawarire sank into obscurity, because he had left behind the people who identified with his cause, which is the reason why his planned demonstration against President Robert Mugabe at the United Nations conference was a monumental flop.
For Zimbabweans, he was no longer one of them; he had deserted the struggle, with many accusing him of acting cowardly.
Possibly realising his mistake and trying his luck for a “second bite of the cherry”, Mawarire unexpectedly returned to Zimbabwe in February this year.
He was immediately arrested at the Harare International Airport and charged for trying to topple a constitutionally-elected government.
Unfortunately, his initial remand took place without the previous euphoria.
Since then, he has been quiet until last week when he made a rare appearance at a University of Zimbabwe medical students protest against fees hike.
He was arrested during the protest and received serious criticism from people, who accused him of seeking relevance by “hijacking” a mere student protest.
Social and political analyst Blessing Vava said Mawarire is a non-student and currently on bail for treason charges and had no business at the UZ students’ protest.
He said while his actions may have been “genuine”, Mawarire was on an attention-seeking adventure to revive his waning popularity after a self-inflicted blow when he fled to the US.
The South Africa-based analyst said while news of the students protest took a backseat, Mawarire’s arrest stole the limelight from the real reason what the students were demonstrating for.
“The clashes at UZ could have been avoided had Mawarire stayed at home to pray for the students. We must always look at the bigger picture and avoid individuals with selfish agendas to override a genuine cause of the students. For him, he has gained mileage, it’s like he was trying to make a re-entry after his movement failed to take off. And for the students, they remain to face their challenges.
“I am sure those who reacted violently did so as a result of Mawarire’s presence, which probably was viewed as a #ThisFlag protest. While it is good for people like Mawarire to offer solidarity, he was just at the wrong place and at the wrong time. I have nothing personal against the ‘Man of God’, but politicians and celebrities must stay away from campuses, they should fight in the streets. Let the students fight their struggles on their campuses, there are many ways of offering them solidarity than to hijack their noble cause simply because of his insatiable appetite for newspaper headlines.
“Students should be wary of associating with figures that will do little in contributing to their struggles,” Vava said.
The Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) also blasted Mawarire for hijacking the students’ demonstration, arguing that his presence was not appreciated.
The Union said it was insensitive for politicians to boost their political profiles on the backs of long-suffering students who wished to make their right to access to education a reality.
“Just last semester, when the administration first attempted to hike fees for medical students, Zinasu and the UZ SRC held a successful demonstration at the main campus and Parirenyatwa Hospital. It was a Fees Must Fall demonstration code named #thislabcoat and the fees which had been hiked fell,” it said.
“However the same happens this semester, Mawarire interferes, students get victimised, get evicted from campus into the cold, studies are disrupted. Zinasu would like to make it categorically clear that solidarity is one of its values and principles but interference is never condoned,” the students union said.