This Flag – Zimbabwean Social Media Movement
When the Zimbabwean flag was erected after independence in 1980, each colour symbolised a promise to its citizens. The black represented the majority of the nation, the black people. Although they had been ignored and downtrodden during the British rule, they were now a significant proportion of the citizens and their contribution to independence was significant enough to be represented on the national flag. The Green represented the agricultural and natural resources which saw (Rhodesia) Zimbabwe being called “the bread basket of Africa” because of the country’s ability to grow enough crops for its citizens and then export to the rest of Africa. The Yellow represented the mineral wealth as the country boasted large amounts of gold, copper, chrome and even diamonds. Red could not be left out as it represented the bloodshed in the birth of the Republic of Zimbabwe and finally the White represented peace as all citizens were to move on peacefully as one nation under the ZANU PF government.
As beautiful and empowering as this all sounds, the ordinary Zimbabwean does not live under all these promises. The country is currently experiencing high inflation, unemployment and poverty with the wealth and much coveted resources not being equally shared out amongst the masses. This did not begin yesterday, last month or even last year but has been an ongoing deteriorating situation for Zimbabweans and the promises imbedded in the flag seem to be drifting further and further away if not vanishing. Undoubtedly, there have been grumblings and murmurings from the citizens criticising and questioning the government but always comes at a price in the form of police brutality and violence which have made oppression commonplace with many silenced and not speaking out for fear of facing the same consequences.
However, April 2016 saw a dramatic shift and change in attitude through the birth of the #ThisFlag campaign. The sole purpose of this campaign is to both question why the promises imbedded in the flag have not materialised and to demand them. #ThisFlag is citizens, in and out of Zimbabwe requesting (imploring) the government to serve the people better and better management of resources; resources which, if not squandered illegally and selfishly could be enough for the masses. This movement is doing what has never been done before, and that is, speaking out boldly against the government, albeit mostly via social media. What is inspiring and tugging at the heartstrings of many is that this movement is uniting Zimbabweans across the globe which,(given the government’s often violent reaction to dissent) is once unimaginable. A stay-away was organised and the 6th of July, 2016, hailed #ShutDownZim2016. With oppression and suppression, including the harm inflicted on those who dare to speak out, many thought that this would be an epic fail, but no! Zimbabweans rose up and indeed for that entire day Zimbabwe came to a standstill with citizens staying away from work, children staying away from school, shops closed and scarcely any cars on the roads. This is not to say that arrests and attacks from the police forces have not happened. Pastor Evan Mawarire, the #ThisFlag founder, was arrested and events that followed are ones that Zimbabwean children will be reading about in history books. Citizens flocked to the police stations and to the court house demanding his release, which has become the norm now for other protesters that are being arrested for exercising their Constitutional right. Fundraising for bail is now also routine as Citizens have turned “Comrades” and will not stop fighting and speaking out against injustice despite numerous arrests. This does not come as a surprise because revolution and uniting to fight against oppression is not a new thing to Zimbabweans; after all, the country only gained independence a mere 36 years ago. Many of the liberators are still very much alive to motivate and to be emulated once again.
Many, including the Government, ridiculed the #ThisFlag campaign calling it a simple social media campaign with no longevity but this social media campaign has seen the country shut down and citizens standing together as one, fighting to take back their country and to claim back those promises imbedded in their national flag promised to them since 18 April, 1980. Change might not be here yet but surely every Zimbabwean must feel it is imminent, and must feel bolder and braver. However, in the early days of the country’s independence, it was questionable whether those promises could be genuinely attained after the British colonial masters had already looted before leaving the country.