Harare – Who’s heading Zimbabwe’s struggle on the ground now that #ThisFlag pastor Evan Mawarire has had to leave the country?
As combined opposition parties brace for a second “mega” demonstration on Friday, here is a quick run-through of some of the names that keep on coming up as unrest deepens in the southern African country.
Stern Zvorwadza, head of national vendors’ union Navuz. Remember that heart-stopping moment in the foyer of the Rainbow Towers Hotel in June when a small group of Zimbabweans were protesting Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s 500-plus days in luxury and a guy stepped forward to confront the advancing riot police? That was Zvorwadza.
He keeps on getting arrested, but keeps on coming back for more. He’s 47 and told the privately-owned Standard newspaper recently that he is a full-time vendor who sells paraffin.
There are claims that he is related to well-known Harare ruling party member Pauline Zvorwadza.
Promise Mkwananzi, spokesperson for the #Tajamuka pressure group (which seems to have overshadowed #OccupyAfricaUnitySquare, the group formed to support activist Itai Dzamara and then – after he was abducted – keep his memory alive).
Mkwananzi is a former youth assembly chief of the main Movement for Democratic Change and the director of the Zimbabwe Informal Sector Association. He was arrested last Friday for his part in protests earlier in the week.
Linda Musarira, a rights activist who has been linked to #Tajamuka. She has been in police custody since early July. Her Twitter handle is @lilomatic.
Ostallos Siziba, former University of Zimbabwe activist, now reportedly working for the rural teachers’ union. He was reported abducted during Friday’s protests and later located by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) in police custody.
There are claims – still unverified but widely circulating on social media – that he was assaulted during the intervening hours.
Patson Dzamara, brother of activist Itai Dzamara who has been missing since March 2015 after bravely staging lone protests calling on President Robert Mugabe to step down in central Harare’s Africa Unity Square. An author and speaker, Patson Dzamara mounted his own protest in front of Mugabe on independence day on April 18 (just before Mawarire posted his first video and launched the #ThisFlag movement).
Dzamara held up a banner outside the VIP tent Mugabe was sitting in at the public independence celebrations. The banner read: “Independent but not free: Where is my brother Itai?” He was quickly apprehended by security guards. Dzamara is now a familiar figure at Harare protests and court appearances.
Joice Mujuru and Morgan Tsvangirai, who are at the moment (and this could change) Zimbabwe’s main opposition leaders. State media suggested on Sunday that Tsvangirai’s MDC felt the success of #ThisFlag was rendering it a mere “sideshow” and quickly sent some supporters for paramilitary training outside Zimbabwe.
If you’re asking why the opposition wants to pursue the protest route (rather than the stayaway option), remember that it was in a large part the pictures of a badly-beaten Tsvangirai after a prayer rally in Harare in 2007 that spurred SADC to intervene ahead of the 2008 elections (although that didn’t stop the violence that broke out when the ruling party realised Mugabe had lost the first round of the poll).
Both opposition leaders face their own difficulties. Tsvangirai is currently undergoing treatment for cancer but still braved the teargas to go to the site opposition supporters had hoped to march from last Friday. As for Mujuru, her grandmotherly aura goes before her. But will she be able to shake off those less-than-caring Zanu-PF associations? And, the biggest question of all: will these two eventually form a coalition ahead of the 2018 elections?
Trevor Ncube, Zimbabwean publisher. Perhaps not your normal activist but the Zimbabwe authorities obviously see him as a threat as unidentified men keep popping up outside his house in Harare. He speaks his truth to power – and has a large online audience.