This Flag Vigil

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On July 20 Rhodes students gathered to hold a night vigil themed This Flag Vigil and lit candles to show their support and solidarity for the Zimbabwean #ThisFlag Movement.

The night vigil started at 18:00 and took place outside the Clock Tower. #ThisFlag Movement has led to the neighbouring country’s anti-government protests against the ruling party ZANU-PF led by President Robert Mugabe who came into power in 1987.

The protests in Zimbabwe have largely been against poverty caused by corruption and the high unemployment rate along with the injustices caused by censorship, human rights violations, a ban on imports and a lack of accountability. A manager of a night-club in Grahamstown spoke about how his father, a former member of the national party, died a disillusioned man when his life’s work was reduced to R1500 in 2008.  His story was relatable to those in the crowd because it echoed others’ stories of disillusionment.  #ThisFlag movement did not begin and will probably not end with Pastor Evan Mawarire, who is now in South Africa, after he was released from prison on treason charges which did not hold in court. However, he has provided the fuel that has fired up a nation trapped in an authoritarian government state that has been repeatedly accused of gross human rights violations against its citizens especially after the 2008 elections.

“It is not one person leading it. We all have a role to play. The system that we are fighting is not that simple.  We are fighting something that we once all believed was right. We are fighting something that we once all believed in, in some sense. Let’s do what we can because it’s a tough system” said a student at the vigil.  Pastor Evan Mawarire posted an online video titled This Flag- A Lament of Zimbabwe on 19 April. In the  video he used the flag as a metaphor to explain how the values that the Zimbabwean flag stands for no longer have meaning.

“This flag, this beautiful flag, they tell me that the green is for the vegetation and the crops, I don’t see any crops in my country. The yellow is for all the minerals, gold, diamonds, platinum and copper. I don’t know how much of it is left, who they sold it to and how much they got for it” he said. It is because of this that he called out for Zimbabweans to demand accountability from the ruling party and voice their criticism. “The red, the red they say that is the blood that was shed to secure freedom for me which I am so thankful for. I just don’t know that if they were here, those that shed their blood and saw the way that this country is, if they would demand their blood back” he continued.

The flag wrapped around his neck stands as a reminder of the values that founded the Zimbabwean nation and symbolises what the anti-government protests are about. “So, I must look at it again and try to remind myself that it is my country” he said.

Hope for Zimbabwe?

A student spoke about his feelings of defeat when he was leaving Zimbabwe for South Africa earlier this week. He felt that there was no future for him in Zimbabwe until the vigil which gave him hope. “There is this new fire in me. Maybe someday South Africans could say [ohh gees] maybe we could jump the border up North” said the student.

Another student read the following passage from the bible, Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is a time for everything

A time to be born and a time to die,

A time to plant and a time to pluck up what you have planted,

A time to kill and a time to heal,

A time to tear down and a time to build,

A time to weep and a time to laugh,

A time to mourn and a time to dance,

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

A time to be silent and a time to speak,

A time to love and a time to hate,

A time for war and a time for peace.”

The evening was filled with optimism, “this movement is very powerful and this shows that every Zimbabwean is willing to do anything to ensure that things change” one student said. Another student spoke out about her experience as a victim of intimidation at the hands of the military. “I have never been so scared in my life because I was so afraid, but I don’t want to be afraid anymore” she said. In tears she told the story of how she, her mother and her nephew where driving back to their home when their car ran into a problem. Their car stopped and they could not start it, this obstructed some military officers and one of them pulled a gun on her mother and pointed it at her. The officer said they had to move their car even if they had to push it out of the way.  The student spoke of her fear “I was so scared. I don’t want a government and a system  that instead of helping people whose car broke down pull a gun on you” she said.

The evening was also filled with apprehension which was heightened when a woman, who did not identify herself, warned the journalists and the people in the crowd to not tag anyone in photos because this would make them and their families a target for the government thus endangering their lives. “Please be safe about the images you release today guys. They will hunt your family. I have seen it since 2001” she said. She also spoke out about the inefficiency of South African public authorities.  Another student, who is also Zimbabwean, explained the level of censorship and fear. He said that a while ago he began posting things on Facebook about Zimbabwean politics. His mother saw his posts and was so afraid for his safety that she asked him to stop as that would make him a target for the government.

For years the world and South Africa in general have turned a blind eye to the plight of Zimbabwean nationals, even at times adding to their suffering in the form of xenophobic attacks. However, the tide seems to have turned so whatever our preconceived notions were, this is the starting point. The people of Zimbabwe are speaking so listen.

Written by: Nokwanda Dlamini