Pastor Evan Mawarire of #thisflag movement is currently in the United States where he is set to address a packed audience at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC on Wednesday.
Back home, some Zimbabweans feel that he has not lived up to his slogan ‘hatichatya’, literally meaning we are no longer afraid, which he used to organize public protests together with Tajamuka-Sesijikile Campaign that shut down Zimbabwe last month.
But others say Pastor Mawarire made the right decision in leaving the country as his life was in danger.
Zimbabweans are exchanging harsh words on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook with some saying Pastor Mawarire was not supposed to leave Zimbabwe while others claim that he made the right decision to go to South Africa to protect his life and family.
One lesson from the saga of Pastor E’s betrayal of his hashtag movement is that leadership isn’t about selfies.”
In a stinging tweet, Higher Education Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo wrote Tuesday,“One lesson from the saga of Pastor E’s betrayal of his hashtag movement is that leadership isn’t about selfies.”
But Abbie Mphisa and several others immediately shot back saying Pastor Mawarire did not betray anyone. Mphisa wrote, “If he had, Zanu PF wouldn’t be obsessed with him. You sir betrayed us by stealing our children’s future.”
This kind of debate that has set social media and streets of Zimbabwe on fire.
In the streets of Harare, one of Pastor Mawarire’s supporters Celine Eunice Nyakutsvika, now believes that #thisflag movement was just a conduit for him to leave the country for greener pastures.
“I think Evan Mawarare was just an opportunist who used the masses to climb the ladder of success and to gain popularity which he did. I am sure that he got the VISA he has always wanted and he is happy where ever he is. His crying on television was to attract the investors out there and … he is getting the monies that he has always wanted.”
Zimbabwean Abbie Mphisa
Her views were echoed by Warship Dumba who said he is no longer sure whether Pastor Mawarire of This Generation Church, which is operating in his absence, is a true prodemocracy activist.
For Dumba, a fighter should always be with the people and should never leave the battlefields despite threats to his or her life.
“What bothers most people is why he has decided to leave the country because a true fighter will always fight with the people. Even people like Robert Mugabe spent some years in jail because he was with the people then. But now for him just going to court once where he was acquited, he then decides to leave the country, that bothers many people because a fighter should always be with the people.”
During the liberation struggle of the 1960s, nationalists like Joshua Nkomo, Morton Malianga, Robert Mugabe, Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo, Herbert Chitepo and several others left the country in fear of their lives while living in exile.
So fierce has been the debate over Pastor Mawarire's departure that people have come up with various theories about him. Some allege he is a Zanu PF activist while others believe that he has played his part in creating space for Zimbabweans to carry on with their struggle for democracy.
Dzikamai Bere, a human rights activist, said Pastor Mawarire had an obligation to keep himself and his family safe and that is why he left the country.
“This is a struggle or everyone. As a human rights defender I think Pastor Evan Mawarire has an obligation to defended himself and his family if there are credible threats on his life. He is not the first one who has done that. As a citizen the call to martyrdom is not a call that other man should call upon other man. It is a call that a person should do by themselves. Mawarire has done well in raising consciousness and Zimbabweans should be grateful and encourage him more.”
On the other hand, Harare resident and political activist, Wisdom Mugagari, urged Pastor Mawarire to return home even in the face of adversity to continue the fight against all forms of oppression against citizens.
Pastor Evan Mawarire leaves the Harare Magistrates Court, Zimbabwe, July 13, 2016, after the court freed him ruling that police violated his rights.
“Unfortunately he has decided to relocate for his safety and it poses a lot of questions on why he is out yet he started a good campaign. If he is genuine let him come back home and start again working with other prodemocracy activists. Mr. Mawarire come back home my brother and we fight from one corner and make things happen.”
The #thisflag protest leader was not immediately available for comment. He once told Studio 7 that he is not seeking political asylum in the United States.
Pastor Mawarire, a technician, started his movement by posting a video online, a few days after Zimbabwe celebrated independence saying he was prompted by his failure to raise school fees for his children to use the national flag to question what is going on in the country.
The 39 year-old was arrested by police after the July 6th protests that led to a complete shutdown of Zimbabwe but charges laid against him of attempting to subvert a constitutionally-elected government were dropped by a Harare magistrate.
He decided to leave the country a few days after the court case with indications that his life was in danger.