Prominent activist and cleric Evan Mawarire last week announced plans to run for a seat on Harare City Council in the upcoming elections. Mawarire made headlines in 2016 when he was arrested after being identified as the leader of the #ThisFlag movement against then-president Robert Mugabe and encouraging citizens to protest against repression, poor governance, corruption and unemployment.
He faced up to 20 years in prison, but was later found not guilty of subversion. He will run as an independent candidate under a coalition called the People’s Own Voice (Povo). Mawarire (EM) spoke with DW, Germany’s public international broadcaster, about his decision to move into mainstream politics and the importance of empowering citizens to call for change. Below is the interview.
DW: What has informed the formation of Povo?
EM: The formation of Povo —the People’s Own Voice — has been informed by the desperate situation that the city of Harare finds itself in terms of service delivery.
Up to today we have areas in Harare that have had no water for 15 years. Up to today we still deliver very dirty and very dangerous water to the residents of Harare. We have got potholes; our road network is completely dilapidated and needs to be revived again. Those are the things that my generation feels urgently need attention.
DW: How important is it for you to be running as independent candidates?
EM: It is extremely important for independent candidates to be available to run. Independent candidates are not tied down to parties that have messaging which sometimes does not speak to the community. Independent candidates come from that very community, so they live the life every day that they are trying to change.
They are crafting their message and their solutions around what they are harvesting from the people that are around them. What we have done today as independent candidates is to come together to share resources and ideas and share a campaigning platform. This is part of the solution for our city or for our nation, to empower people. If our people are not allowed to participate in the elections and governance, then I do not think Zimbabwe will go anywhere soon.
The sign for me getting into mainstream politics was in 2016. I have been in mainstream politics in terms of speaking into it for the last two years. There is nothing that has changed.
All I have done is to say, I am now going to become a candidate. But it’s important for Zimbabweans to be involved in the politics of our nation. Nobody should disengage. Everyone is involved in politics. If you are a registered voter, you are actually the central aspect of politics in Zimbabwe.
DW: What is the future of #ThisFlag?
EM: The #ThisFlag citizen movement continues. It is not the ownership of one person, but it is found in the hearts of Zimbabweans. There are many Zimbabweans who are doing what this flag was advocating.
Our job was to empower citizens to speak up and to stand up. I think we have been able to achieve that in the last two years. There are more Zimbabweans today who are having conversations about politics and the direction of politics than there was ever before. Our payoff line, if you remember, was, if we cannot cause the politicians to change, then we must empower the citizen to be bold. Today is a result of that payoff line.
DW: Zimbabwe’s politics have been poisoned for the past 15 to 20 years. What kind of politics are you going to be bringing in as you start this journey?
EM: There is definitely going to be a break from the past politics of violence, of hate speech and of mudslinging. This is what has been part of our politics in Zimbabwe. We have to engage each other more.
The kind of politics we are bringing as the People’s Own Voice is the politics and contestation of ideas. Instead of mudslinging each other, let us mudsling ideas, let us interrogate ideas. This kind of politics will take us further. We want the people of Zimbabwe to choose candidates based on policies, based on ideas and not based on the fact that they have been marshalled or forced to choose a particular candidate and they have been intimidated to do so.