MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now to Zimbabwe, where, for years, the mantra from opponents of the country's longtime leader was Mugabe must go. Now that Robert Mugabe has gone, what's the future for activists seeking change in the South African nation? NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been speaking to the leader of the opposition movement known as #thisflag. His protests recently drew thousands of supporters onto the streets.
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EVAN MAWARIRE: Give the incoming president wisdom to take this nation where it needs to go. It's going to be a hard journey because many of us are divided. You have shown us how important it is to be united.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Preaching on stage, Pastor Evan Mawarire is something of a cult figure in Zimbabwe. He's known for wearing his country's national red, yellow, green, black and white flag around his neck. And Mawarire has deftly used social media to push his #thisflag campaign, seeking social justice for which he has been hounded by the security forces and jailed. Even though 93-year-old Robert Mugabe has been ousted, the pastor has warned incoming President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the military that backs him that his fight will continue.
MAWARIRE: It's important that we let the administration that is coming in right now know that if they do to us what Robert Mugabe's government did to us, we will do the same thing to them that we've done to Robert Mugabe.
QUIST-ARCTON: Mawarire says even though Mugabe has been driven from power, that doesn't mean that abuses have ended.
MAWARIRE: There still are many citizens right now who are imprisoned for political reasons, in terms of having stood up against the regime. The citizens of our nation are not enemies to our government. They are allies in building a better Zimbabwe.
QUIST-ARCTON: In the bad old days, Pastor Mawarire and his supporters would have been chased off the streets of the capital Harare with tear gas and batons and possibly arrested had they tried to hold a rally. Now, he's addressing a gathering in Africa Unity Square, a street away from the High Court that acquitted him of trying to subvert Mugabe's government and incite violence.
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MAWARIRE: (Shouting) Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
QUIST-ARCTON: Mawarire and other campaigners say Zimbabweans must hold the new leadership to its pledges of change, unity and economic revival but must also take action themselves.
MAWARIRE: We stopped talking. We stopped standing up. We stopped being citizens that participate. And so the space shrunk, and the fear grew. And so Zimbabweans became quiet out of fear. Our agenda is the agenda of scaling the wall of fear, emboldening citizens. It's such an opportunity.
QUIST-ARCTON: And Mawarire told NPR...
MAWARIRE: We're going to encourage some of our citizens to prepare to run for elections - yes, in 2018. We're saying, you are good candidates. Why don't you run for office? And we want people to register to vote.
QUIST-ARCTON: Another campaigner, Linda Tsungirirai Masarira, who's also been imprisoned in the past, is now campaigning to become an independent member of parliament. While Masarira says she understands why jubilant Zimbabweans took to the streets to celebrate and fraternize with soldiers after the military takeover, she remains cautious about the armed forces and President Mnangagwa.
LINDA TSUNGIRIRAI MASARIRA: I want to see if he's truly reformed and if he's truly willing to take Zimbabwe forward and to, you know, confess for the wrongs that he has done in the spirit of forgiveness, tolerance, truth and healing. We'd have to see it in action and not just as a speech.
QUIST-ARCTON: Zimbabwe's new president has not included any opposition politicians in his new cabinet despite calls for an inclusive, representative government. So, says Masarira, it's time for the younger generation to take the plunge.
TSUNGIRIRAI MASARIRA: The reasons that made me want to run for political office is, I realized, you just have to take your activism from the streets, from the protests into the august house, where laws are made that will benefit the masses in Zimbabwe.
QUIST-ARCTON: There's concern that Mnangagwa - once a loyal aide of Mugabe before he was fired as vice president last month - will not make good on his pledge to be a leader for all Zimbabweans in a new democracy. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Harare.
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