WE have lost enough people in Zimbabwe. I don’t want to be another martyr,” Pastor Evan Mawarire said Tuesday, explaining his decision to go into exile which has divided Zimbabweans and particularly angered some of his supporters.
Mawarire, left the country after his arrest last month, initially crossing the border into South Africa before moving to the United States.
Pro-regime figures have gleefully accused him of being a coward but the 39-year-old cleric told the UK-based Times newspaper that officials subtly warned to leave the country if he wanted to stay alive.
“Right now I am terrified for my life and lives of my family. We have lost enough people in Zimbabwe. I don’t want to be another martyr. I want to help rebuild my country,” said Mawarire.
He likely had in mind several government critics who have either been butchered to death or simply disappeared; the latest being Itai Dzamara who was abducted in Harare in March 2015 and has not been seen or heard from since.
Mawarire’s #thisflag social media campaign has revitalized opposition to President Robert Mugabe who has been in power for 36 years and is accused ruining what was one of Africa’s most promising economies at independence in 1980.
#ThisFlag has inspired the largest anti-government protests for many years which also come at a time Mugabe, now 92, faces increasing pressure from his own Zanu PF party.
Mawarire said he was worried that a civil war could erupt if Mugabe continued intimidating, kidnapping and beating its opponents.
“It will be so hard to rebuild Zimbabwe from ground zero after a civil war,” he told The Times.
“We’ve lost too many people already to disease, to poverty and because our hospitals haven’t been kitted out properly. That’s enough of a sacrifice.
“The only way a civil war will happen is if the government keeps up its tactic of kidnapping and torturing people.”
Even so, Mugabe’s time was up, the cleric insisted.
“If there is one thing that is certain it is that the time for Robert Mugabe is finished, it is over. Zanu PF is eating itself.”