Evan Mawarire, Zimbabwean protest leader who was arrested six times and tortured for his human rights work, addressed the 13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy as a panelist on the Champions for Change panel – see quotes below.

For the full text of the Champions for Change panel, click here.

For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.

13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Monday, June 8, 2021

On being a dissident in Zimbabwe:

“Dictators crave to be feared. That’s the one thing that they want. They want to know that you’re afraid to the point that you run and never come back.”

“You have to have a life that is worthy of being lived, and there is no better way of living a life worthy than living it for other people.”

“I got to a point where I could see that the collapse of our country, which had been allowed to happen — the corruption, the injustice, the desecration of our constitution — was just not stopping.”

“One of the times when I was arrested and put in prison, thousands of people spontaneously gathered at the courts demanding my release. And that’s when I realized that this was bigger than me, that this was a moment in our nation’s history where I had to put my hand up for it, but somehow the struggle had picked me to be at the forefront of it.”

On returning to Zimbabwe after being in exile:

“I landed back in Zimbabwe on [Feb. 1, 2017] and was arrested immediately at the airport and thrown into Chikurubi maximum security prison. I thought I would die, you know, when that happened — the torture that we went through, the disgrace, the shame of being hauled before the courts and sometimes being thrown into solitary confinement.”

“There was a sense of being satisfied that I had come back to Zimbabwe and that we had been able to instill a sense of courage in many of the people who were afraid before to stand up.”

On how social media has helped Zimbabwean activists:

“The onset of social media changed the game because what it did is that it allowed each of us as citizens in Zimbabwe or as individuals to be able to tell our own truth, to show our own reality without any filters.”

“Facebook and Twitter and the social channels gave us a platform that we controlled, one that didn’t rely on the 24-hour cycle of the national news or the national newspaper. We could tell our stories over and over and over again. We could update those stories. We could cross-pollinate. We could gather virtually. We could exchange ideas. We could build a movement. And our government did not know what to do with us.”

“That was a very big gift for us and continues to be a big gift.”

On why he continues his activism:

“‘I am more afraid of my daughters twenty years from now asking me, ‘Why did you do nothing when this happened?’’ And I think that’s part of why we do what we do is that we owe it to the coming generation to set a certain level or to set a certain platform that they can stand on and do what they need to do.”

“The most important tool in all of this that’s really common to all of us here is, first of all, our personal voices. That’s what began what we all do today…”

“I think also the ability to give birth, in a sense, to more people like ourselves in our own nations is possibly one of the best ways to make use of the tools that we have…”

“If I could stand up and challenge the Mugabe regime and challenge the Mnangagwa regime, there is a young man and a young woman somewhere too that will spark something that will bring the kind of change for Zimbabwe that Zimbabwe needs.”

On today’s leaders in Zimbabwe:

“The disappointment is in the fact and the realization that our liberators, who went to war to liberate the nation from colonialism, those that survived — at least not all of them but those that are in governance today — have become our oppressors.”

“Zimbabwe and those that governed it are like a mother hen that eats its own eggs.”

“Unbelievably, Zimbabwe has become worse today than it was under Robert Mugabe. And that’s not a very easy thing to admit.”

“The work of the regime is that it always works to divide us.”

On the power of the people:

“People don’t realize that you can actually spark off almost a tsunami of change by just starting a hashtag.”

“The spirit of freedom is a peculiar thing; it responds to the determination of those people that have been underestimated.”