ABOUT six months ago, #ThisFlag shook Zimbabwean politics and the movement’s leader, Pastor Evan Mawarire, became an instant hero to many locally and in the diaspora.
Thousands of people supporters, sympathisers and neutrals thronged Rotten Row Magistrates’ Court in Harare following Mawarire’s arrest.
The crowd included dozens of lawyers who also turned up to show their solidarity. The hearing continued into the evening but the multitudes would not leave.
They turned the car park into a church service, many lighting candles, praying and singing in support of a simple cleric who had rattled the political establishment.
A clearly worried President Robert Mugabe later suggested that Mawarire should leave the country. Soon after that, the cleric left for South Africa and then went on to the United States, spending six months in exile until last week.
Opinion was divided over that decision while his absence also coincided with the faltering social media driven campaign against President Mugabe and his administration.
Mawarire returned home last Wednesday and was promptly arrested at Harare International Airport.
The authorities brought him to court on Friday on charges of subverting a constitutionally elected government.
But unlike last year, no supporters were in site at the court; the car park was virtually empty with only media personnel waiting to speak to his lawyers.
The situation was the same in courtroom 6 where the case was heard. Last year, court officials and security personnel had a tough time keeping people out of the room with more than a dozen members of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights standing by in support of his attorney. But last Friday afternoon Mawarire only had his lawyer Harrison Nkomo and supporters advocate Fadzai Mahere.
This time journalists and his relatives could easily walk in and out of the courtroom; there wasn’t the thousands of supporters witnessed last year.
Speaking to this publication #ThisFlag spokesperson Nyasha Musandu said: “When Pastor came back, he came back in silence; the way he wanted to return.
“He wanted the opportunity to return to his home country in peace, and he wanted to rebuild his life in peace, wanting to reflect and move forward.
“So, in as much as there may not have multitudes of people here, we have received tremendous support online with thousands of people sending their solidarity messages.
“So, we just encourage people to continue support and pray and remain behind the Pastor because what he is doing … he is fighting for a better Zimbabwe. Commenting on why Mawarire has not been as active on social media as he was last year, Musandu said the cleric had taken time to prioritise his family.
“As you know, his wife has a new child and while he may not have been that very active #ThisFlag movement has been going on. “We have been spearheading conversations through advocate Fadzai Mahere, we have been speaking out against injustice and against the introduction of Bond Notes. “So, his decision to go quite was to prioritise his family.” Mawarire will be back in court on the 17th of February.