The Story Of One Man Who Changed A Nation With A Bible, Flag & A Smartphone BaeZel
The first time I heard about Pastor Evan was when I heard him on radio. You can listen in here. I just sat on my bed and thought to myself, WOW, this man is saying nothing but the truth. He talked about all the issues in our country that we are too afraid to speak out on. This was nearly two months ago and since then there have been a series of events that led to yesterday. My heart would not let me simply sit at home and do nothing, tweeting did not feel like it was enough so I dressed up and went to join the crowd outside the court. I was part of the crowd in the evening at Rotten Row Court and the experience there was indescribable. Never have I seen so many people in one place joined together for one cause and that was to free #PastorEvan. Black, White, Indian, Coloured all races were there; the diversity was overwhelming! This will surely go down in the history of Zimbabwe!!!! People in almost every part of the world were praying and doing any and everything to spread the word. Social Media is indeed a powerful tool; a wildfire. The hashtag that was and still is trending is #ThisFlag “#ThisFlag movement’s goal was to “get as many citizens as possible involved in nation-building”. I tweeted and asked if anyone wanted to feature on my blog today and Mako came through. This is her story…
It’s hard to put into the words, the thoughts and emotions I’m experiencing. As a writer, this is both surprising and frustrating – I’m trained to use words as my weapon but words yesterday failed me. That’s what tends to happen when I write about my country. I experience a torrent of emotions that leave me unable to type a thing. However, reflection is a beautiful gift. Sleep and a short break from social media has afforded me time to look back at everything that has happened.
The first time I saw Pastor Evan Mawarire’s very first video, I got chills. The last time someone had dared to speak up, he had been dragged away, never to return. As I sat in my room in a university far away from home, I felt as if he was speaking to me. His struggles were my struggles. His frustration was my frustration. And it felt so good to hear someone say what many of us felt and experienced. It felt empowering to hear him say that our hardship was real and oppressive. And when I saw the flag around his neck I was reminded of who I was. I am a Zimbabwean, and it’s my duty to do what I can to break the culture of fear and silence.
The stereotype that Zimbabweans are ‘passive’ or ‘lazy’ is a misconception that I have always loathed. We were not passive when Mbuya Nehanda happily danced and sang to her death knowing that the fight would continue. We were not passive when young boys and girls left school, crossing the border to join the fight for freedom. We were not passive when people nationwide stayed at home on 6 July in protest against a system that seems to go out of its way to make life a living hell. We were not passive when we rallied together in support to help free a man that we all know did nothing wrong. We are determined, hardworking and fiercely patriotic people. When we rise to the challenge, we do not back down. Yesterday serves as proof of our perseverance.
The news of Mawarire being called in for questioning made my heart drop. I remembered others whose voices were muted: Itai Dzamarara, Learnmore Jongwe, people whose names never got to reach the public’s ear. The pessimist in me slumped back in defeat. It was going to happen again. Another one, gone, disappeared, or dead. However; I remembered my favourite line from the movie The Prince of Egypt, “though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill.” That tiny voice inside me beat back against my resignation, telling me not to give into that sense of despair. That night I prayed not just for the good pastor, but for all of us, not to give in, not to run out of steam. Then I set my alarm for 8:30am and slipped into an uneasy sleep.
I woke up at 9:30am on 13 July. I scolded myself for being so complacent as to sleep through my alarm. Others had woken up much earlier to go to the courthouse and make their presence known. I’d simply hit the snooze button and wrapped my blankets around me. As I got out of bed I felt an all too familiar pang in my stomach. A sharp stabbing sensation that spread across my tummy and made my knees buckle. My period had arrived, and this was going to be a bad one. I walked bent over like an old woman, each step on the cold floor amplifying the pain in my stomach. I chastised myself again. It meant that I would be rendered immobile, confined to my bed, battling with nausea and dizziness (I get particularly bad periods). But it would not prevent me from doing what I could to support and spread the word. So blanket, painkillers and hot water bottle in tow, I sat and tweeted and retweeted and posted until past midnight.
The day’s momentum was stop and start. I expected that we’d have to do the VPN dance once again, but to my surprise the Internet connection was working just fine. As I sat scrolled through news sites and social media, conflicting stories came in. Evan Mawarire isn’t at the courthouse. Wait, he is! But there’s been a delay. Oh they’re moving it to a secret location. It’ll be at University of Zimbabwe, a move to have the hearing in secret. No, that’s a lie; it’s still at the courthouse by Rotten Row. The only certainty was the people coming through to support. With their flags and their voices they stood outside the courthouse, watching and waiting for any news or development. I’m so grateful to all of those people. They represented all of us that day; those that couldn’t come because of distance, those that couldn’t come out of fear and even those who ridiculed and trivialized their efforts. They showed power and dignity in their loyalty to the country and to the flag, and by keeping the rest of us informed as to what was happening, they provided factual and up-to-date coverage of what was happening.
And a lot happened… Mawarire’s arrival at the courthouse. The sight of 100+ Lawyers from the Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers Association showing up and all volunteering to represent the accused, free of charge. The police who stood and watched as their fellow countrymen sang and danced. For a moment, I felt sorry for these police: many looked like they too wanted to drop their uniforms and join their peers, but they couldn’t. There were celebrities, businessmen, civil rights activists and politicians that came through and raised their flag in solidarity. It was so beautiful to see everyone together for a common cause. I can’t imagine how it must’ve felt to be part of the gathering at Rotten Row.
Two announcements symbolized the nadir and zenith of my emotions. The first was the change in charges, from inciting violence and disturbing the peace, to treason and attempting to overthrow the government. I laughed out loud. It was a harsh, joyless laugh. Same old, same old. Even as I felt that familiar resignation creeping in I refused to slump back and accept the injustice. That mental shift wasn’t just reserved for me alone. Many others also refused to simply accept it and walk away. We failed others who spoke up for justice with our silence. We could not let it happen again.
Then the big news came. HE WAS FREE. The tweet from one of the people on the ground flashed on my screen and I exhaled in shock. As much as I had fought hard against that nagging doubt, the news of Evan Mawarire’s release stunned me. They had done it. We had done it. I immediately turned to tell my mother. She almost dropped the cup of tea in her hand and asked me if I was sure. It was true. Justice had prevailed. Pictures and videos of people celebrating outside the courthouse filled my Twitter feed. I drank it all in, inspired, humbled, and proud, so proud. It was an unfamiliar pride, something I can’t quite put into words even now. It was the pride of knowing that, despite everything that had happened to us, we still had a voice. We’d just forgotten about it for a while, but now we’re reclaiming it.
I want to use my voice more. I want to give of myself to my country, my people and my future. I want to play a role in building the kind of Zimbabwe we all want: a prosperous, open, fair society. To everyone who’s been tweeting, taking photos and videos, hash tagging and reporting these past few months, I salute you. Thank you for reminding me that this flag is for all of us.
I can’t wait for the day we become a stronger, richer and enthused nation. A country with better opportunities, a country where no one thinks of relocating and leaving their children and loved ones behind because they are happy and content. I feel like that day is coming soon though, yesterday proved that together we can make a world of difference. Thank you to EVERYONE who supported this in each and every way they knew how to. # #
This was the highlight for me yesterday:
“@simonallison Judge asks who is representing @PastorEvanLive. 50 lawyers hold up their ID cards. Incredible moment #ThisFlag”
If you were and still are a part of this movement please feel free to share any or all the moments you have experienced through this. Let’s talk.
Photo Credits : Tino Nyandoro