Harare – Do we support him again or don’t we?

That’s the question some Zimbabweans are asking as they’re faced once again with the detention of the protest pastor who not so long ago symbolised the nation’s hopes for change.

Evan Mawarire spent a second night in custody on Thursday after being arrested at Harare’s main airport a day earlier and charged with trying to subvert – overthrow, in other words – the government of President Robert Mugabe.

Arguments are raging on social media over whether or not the #ThisFlag leader should be sympathised with or steered clear of. It’s clear some believe he let them down by fleeing into exile last July.

The word “coward” keeps coming up.

Echoing many, commentator Vic Shona posted to the #ThisFlag Facebook community page: “Eish. Will back [Mawarire] though he was coward back then. He left us in open space. Many of us felt cheated.”

Zimbabwean Shepherd Kawara was more critical. “Fooling us! when the pan gets hot u run away.” On Twitter, @RidiculousMoyo said: “Bottom line z when momentum could have helped Zimbos, he helped [him]self to America.”

Guilty feeling 

Mawarire’s decision not to return from South Africa – which he left Zimbabwe for soon after his release on July 12 – and to go on to the US with his family was certainly controversial.

At the time “Pastor E” only said that his family came first. Hardly anyone knew that his wife Samantha was pregnant with the couple’s third child, who was born in November.

But a mixture of homesickness, the strength of his vision (an early video made by him shows him ‘dreaming big) and perhaps the guilty feeling he’d let people down appear to have propelled him back to Zimbabwe this week.

Where not many are ready to stand up for him publicly, judging from the lack of crowds waiting outside Harare magistrates court on Thursday.

His #ThisFlag organisation tried to rally goodwill, asking Zimbabweans in a press release Thursday to “join hands with us as we begin the arduous task of defending an innocent man yet again.”

Some are of course doing just that.

‘Insulting the flag’

Former education minister David Coltart has urged people to pray for the pastor, saying that he commended Mawarire for coming home in the face of danger. “That is what true patriots do,” Coltart wrote.

And @SLWMO said in a tweet retweeted by Zimbabwean publisher @TrevorNcube and many others: “I will not judge Pastor Evan at all nor call him a coward. I say so because I myself have no guts to do what he has done & continues to do.”

Police on Thursday afternoon pressed yet more charges against the pastor, this time of “insulting the flag”, according to lawyer Fadzayi Mahere. He could face 20 years in jail. The US embassy has called for his immediate release.

So is Mawarire a coward? Stupid? Or is he immensely brave?

The argument may take a long time to settle.

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