Pastor Evan, hero or villain: The cult of personality in Zimbabwe

6 Min Read

Following #ThisFlag leader, Pastor Evan Mawarire’s decision to quit Harare for the United States, a lot of political discussion in Zimbabwe has ranged from whether he is a “sell out” or if he was justified to leave the country, as his life was under threat.

The sell-out group claim Pastor Evan should have finished what he started – that is leading demonstrations against President Robert Mugabe until he either reformed or left the political scene.

What Evan did was to shake the foundations of Mugabe’s regime and when the novelty of standing up to the veteran ruler was beginning to take a foothold, he left Zimbabwe for South Africa and ultimately ended up in the US.

For this group, Evan was not brave enough and this counts for betrayal.

Evan left Zimbabwe after he had barely survived charges of conspiracy and plotting to unseat a constitutionally elected government.

These are charges that are likely to make even the bravest men shrink, as they carry lengthy prison sentences, coupled with harassment by State agents, as Evan revealed he had received death threats.

Being in Zimbabwe, this is quite a scary prospect and I would not fault anyone for leaving the country under such circumstances.

The problem that Zimbabwe faces is that a cult of personality has long set in and in most cases our political heroes are framed as infallible, beyond criticism and above all invincible.

From Mugabe’s characterisation, for example, you would almost swear he fought the independence war single-handedly, without him Zimbabwe is nothing and, hence, the country is eternally grateful for his continued presence and rule.

The same goes for opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, his supporters are more than willing to ignore his transgressions and build a larger than life persona around him. Tsvangirai is a deeply flawed character (like all of us), he has extended his stay in power beyond the dictates of his party’s constitution, but his supporters insist he is the face of the opposition.

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for almost 37 years now and Tsvangirai has been leading his party for just over 17 – if you were to go by their supporters, you would swear that they were God-ordained to be competing for the top post – Mugabe ruling and Tsvangirai in opposition, with no interference from anyone else.

Then there’s Joice Mujuru, the newbie in opposition circles. The Joice legend has been long in the making, with the ruling Zanu PF party, when she was still part of them, maintaining she shot down a helicopter during the war.

This cemented her liberation bona fides and made her an all-conquering hero, hence, easy to sell her to the public as a heroic politician

But, when they wanted to fire her, they delegitimised her and said the shooting of the helicopter was an urban legend. Several stories have been written about this in State media, most of them contradictory, just to bring down (excuse the pun) the person of Mujuru.

Whether the helicopter story is true or false does not matter, as long as it served a purpose – to prop Mujuru up or bring her down.

It is in this regard that when Evan came onto the block, because we are so accustomed to the cult of personality, we thought a new super hero had been born.

Never mind that he could have been imprisoned or harmed because of his activities, what we wanted was a swaggering hero, ready to lead us to the promised land.

No one speaks about issues or anything; are the issues that Evan raised still relevant and isn’t there anyone who can continue from where he left?

These are the same questions that we can ask of Mugabe and Tsvangirai, after so long at the helm of their parties, isn’t there anyone who can build on their legacies, do they have a monopoly of leading?

Until we start looking beyond individuals, to what they stand for, then we will continue in this situation, where we are afraid of change because we have deified our political leaders, no matter what wrong they perpetrate or whether they have run out of ideas?

Evan played his part – and continues to do so, albeit from overseas – now the baton has to be taken by those that remained.

Evan awakened a patriotic spirit in many with his #ThisFlag campaign, activism, which was in a coma was given a new lease of life and Zimbabweans dared to dream, using the very instruments – the flag and patriotism – that had been used to shut them down.

Share This Article