Why Evan Mawarire decided to come back to Zimbabwe
Zimbabweans across the divide have been debating on whether it was wise for activist clergyman and founder of #ThisFlag movement, Evan Mawarire to come back to the country after his six months self-exile in the United States.
Mawarire returned to Zimbabwe on February 1 only to be arrested by State security agents at Harare International Airport. He was released this week on bail.
The Daily News spoke to a number of social and political commentators who gave their views on Mawarare’s unexpected return and arrest. But was it a mistake that he decided to come back home?
Political commentator Macdonald Lewanika said Mawarire’s mistake was to leave in the first place as it postponed the inevitable, killed hope and belief in the cause which he had been able to cultivate with a broad spectrum of people at home and abroad in a short time.
“His initial decision allowed the arrest to take place at a time when his support and sympathy from some elements of the public had ebbed.
“But his return knowing this, both that some people were unhappy with his initial decision thus no longer supported him as fervently as they did last year, and knowing that he would be incarcerated and probably lose his right to travel on a Zimbabwe passport for a while if released, or if convicted, shows a sternness of character and sacrifice that is admirable on his part.
“One hopes that he can beat the charges and be released soon to begin the work around building real relationships on the ground in Zimbabwe which stood aborted when he decided to leave last year.”
Social activist Farai Maguwu could only agree with Lewanika: “Mawarire’s mistake was not in returning to his country, but rather the decision to leave when the movement he had initiated had reached its peak.”
Human rights lawyer Dewa Mavhinga said: “To my knowledge there was no warrant of arrest for Mawarire while he was away in the United States because when he left last year he had been cleared by the courts and had committed no crime.
“Mawarire, like all other Zimbabwean citizens, has a fundamental constitutional right to freely travel and leave or return to his country at will, without any fear.
“But it is unfortunate that the Zimbabwe authorities choose to use prosecution for persecution of a citizen whose only ‘crime’ was to speak out against corruption and lack of accountability.
“President Mugabe’s government released Mawarire on bail but must drop all charges against him.”
Social commentator Rashweat Mukundu said: “Charges against Mawarire are trumped-up and politically-motivated and to hide away in exile is to give credence to these charges as well as give in to Zanu PF politics of fear.
“Mawarire is right to come back, clear his name and expose the abuses that many face in Zimbabwe. He equally has a right to criticise the government and pursue either civic or political activism as he pleases. Zimbabwe belongs to all that is those who support and oppose Zanu PF.
“We must never, and I repeat, never be coerced into believing this one party, singular narrative and ideology propagated by Zanu PF of and enforced with fear and violence.”
MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said: “As far as we understand, Mawarire was not a fugitive from justice and so there is absolutely no lawful reason why he shouldn’t have returned to Zimbabwe.
“The main issue here is that the Zanu PF regime is a renegade and terrorist outfit that is seeing enemies even where there are none.
“This regime is intolerant, violent, brutal and corrupt to the bare bones. Mawarire should be immediately released from custody. He has got no case to answer.”
Political commentator Vivid Gwede said: “Mawarire was clearly aware of the treatment that potentially awaited him back here in Zimbabwe if one followed the scenarios he gave to foreign media.
“It was not a mistake coming back; I should think so, because he probably wanted to see an end to his self-imposed exile status. I think he wanted a closure to the case.
“Now what is happening is moving towards that end of concluding the case, and he stands a chance. For now he is paying the dues of reclaiming his freedom through directly facing the legal arsenal that his enemies have assembled.”
Protest playwright and actor Silvanos Mudzvova said Mawarire is a Zimbabwean and he did not commit any crime, hence there was no reason why he shouldn’t return home.
“If you are a genuine fighter for the rights of people it pains to stay out of Zimbabwe while problems continue to happen every day. Mawarire felt the pain of letting the people who trusted him down.
“Look, he is good at social media mobilisation and all activists in this country failed to close that gap.
The only way for social media activism to work effectively is when you are on the ground with the people and Evan did that coming back to the people.
“Mugabe went into exile with Sally (the late President’s first wife) and they returned, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison but in the end the war was won.
“With Mawarire back in Zimbabwe the spirit of social media activism has been revived and Zimbabwe will become interesting again.”
Political commentator Phillip Pasirayi said: “Mawarire decided to come back even if he knew about the impending arrest. You need leaders like that who are prepared to go that extra mile to fight the unjust system.
“If he had prolonged his stay (in the US) many of his supporters would have doubted his commitment to the struggle.
“I think he did the right thing to come back and be with the people. Already some people were starting to doubt him and his return and what he is currently going through will restore that confidence in people who follow him.”
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said: “Mawarire is a Zimbabwean and he has every right to come back home. But he had fled in the first place for his safety then it was imprudent to come back so early without guarantees that he will be safe.”
ZimRights director Okay Machisa said: “Coming back to your country especially when you have started a very legal and noble case for the country becomes paramount to the democratisation process of Zimbabwe. Mawarire proved beyond doubt that he with us and ready to face the system and that it’s better to be in jail in Zimbabwe than outside the country
“Mawarire knew that he would be arrested and that he could be locked up for a long time but he decided to come.
“Struggles all over have not been fought from comfort zones. He is not the first to be arrested on such issues and therefore it becomes important for him to be brave and follow the path of those that have gone through such.”