Evan Mawarire, the pastor who launched the #ThisFlag protest movement in Zimbabwe, on Tuesday announced his intention to run for a local government position in Harare.
“Whilst the legislative side of things is extremely important, and the presidency, I think the bulk of the work Zimbabwe needs [is at the local level]. Running for local council gives that opportunity for citizens to bring local solutions to local problems,” he told the Mail & Guardian in an interview.
Mawarire is running for the Ward 17 councillor position in the capital’s Mount Pleasant constituency. He has formed a loose coalition of other independents. Currently, 10 other candidates for local office share his platform, and he intends to grow that number.
Fadzayi Mahere, another independent candidate – not part of Mawarire’s coalition – is running for the Mount Pleasant parliamentary seat.
Despite Mawarire’s high profile as a civil society activist, he is by no means an automatic favourite. The current Ward 17 councillor is Bernard Manyenyeni, of the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), who is also mayor of Harare.
“It remains to be seen if the mayor is running for council. If he is, then it is going to be quite a battle,” said Mawarire. “Our city can do with better ideas, better management. We really have had a torrid time in the last five or ten years, the deterioration of services in the city has been shocking. The idea is not so much to paint the current councillor with mud, but to point out where the problems are.”
Mawarire shot to national and international prominence in April 2016, when he recorded a video on his mobile phone in which he railed against the injustices and indignities of living in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The video went viral, and Mawarire found himself at the helm of an almost accidental protest movement – one which threatened the regime to such an extent that Mawarire was arrested and charged with treason in May 2016.
These charges were later dropped, and Mawarire fled into exile in the United States. On his return home, he was charged again, although these charges have also been dropped now that Mugabe’s no longer in charge.
Mawarire’s wife and children remain in the United States, for their safety. He hasn’t seen them in 13 months.
Should Mawarire win the councillor seat, the pastor’s first concern will be water provision in Harare. “That is going to be a number one priority throughout: to have clean water delivered to the residents of Harare. There are some areas that have not had water for 15 years. We cannot be living in a modern day city that is still installing pit latrines, or these hand pumps to get water from the ground.”
Mawarire was courted by various opposition parties, but said he chose to focus on the area where he could make the most difference. He also dismissed concerns that independent candidates risk splitting the opposition vote, potentially handing control to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu-PF. “I’m not worried about splitting the opposition vote. I don’t think the opposition vote can be split any more than it is,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the MDC-T, has been riven by infighting since the death of party president Morgan Tsvangirai in February.