Evan Mawarire is tired – and wary. He has no bodyguards and, every time he gets into a car, he fears he is being followed.
When he visited Johannesburg this week, his friends were worried. In one case, he was quickly hustled out of a crowded church when too many people approached him too quickly, fingers clutching cellphones, ready for their selfies.
South Africa may play a crucial role in what happens in Zimbabwe in the coming months, but Mawarire said he was not in Johannesburg to lobby. After mounting pressure in Zimbabwe, he came to “regroup and rethink”.
“I am not trying to get into politics. God has not called me to that. God called me and you to be people that stand for justice,” he said, addressing the crowd at the Randburg Methodist Church on Tuesday.
President Robert Mugabe is saying that it is not God who is behind Mawarire’s actions but foreign countries trying to destablilise Zimbabwe.
The pastor chuckled about the allegations levelled against him — that he is working for Zanu-PF to split the vote; that he’s an agent of Zimbabwe’s opposition parties trying to ignite a Zimbabwean Spring; that he has been deployed by the West.
“I don’t need somebody to come from some Western country to tell me I don’t have access to health. I know it. It’s the life I live every day,” he said.
Arrested on charges of inciting public violence, then accused of trea- son, Mawarire found himself thinking about his children.
“When they placed the handcuffs on me, it was a sobering and embarrassing moment for me.” He asked his wife “to make sure [our] children don’t see me like this in handcuffs”.
It was at that moment that he thought about deserting Zimbabwe’s public stage, but the cheers of Zimbabweans and their singing returned him to what he had started.
“I was seated just outside the courtroom on a flight of stairs, with one wall separating the courtroom from me. It was dark and reeked of urine, waiting for them to summon me. And I heard people singing ‘Zimbabwe shall be saved’. I thought it was outside and one of the prison guards opened the door and I realised people were singing in the courtroom.
“I sat there and I thought, ‘God, you are great and, if this is the purpose of my arrest, so be it.’”
Like other organisations, his has also set an August 31 deadline for the Zimbabwean government to make radical changes. Like them, Mawarire has a plan for what to do if the government fails to comply — more protests, different attempts.
But he has given little thought to what would happen if he succeeds. He does not have a presidential candidate in mind to replace Mugabe. At best he can describe the ideal candidate: young, capable of capturing Zimbabwean imaginations and inspire people, but open to counsel from political elders.
Age aside, that person will not be him; he insists he will not go into politics.
“We have to be careful not to occupy a space just because it is vacant. I have a sense that it may be more important for us to inspire those people that carry that gift, that purpose, that mandate, to get into that space.”