Until his interview on The Platform show on Monday with Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa, I had neither fully understood nor followed Pastor Evan Mawarire and the #Thisflag campaign which he started shortly after independence day this year. The campaign is a movement seeking to embolden Zimbabweans to embrace the flag as a sign of patriotism, and on that note, challenge the government about the myriad socio-economic and political problems the country is experiencing. The campaign has prompted a lot of ‘flag selfies’ among many Zimbabweans, including some friends and colleagues of mine.
Following its launch, in just three days Pastor Mawarire’s inaugural #ThisFlag video had amassed over 80 thousand views. The campaign seems to be resonating with a lot of Zimbabweans.
Here are four lessons from the campaign:
- Zimbabweans are a traumatised people
Judging from the messages people are sharing with their ‘flag selfies’ and the words of the women who phoned into The Platform show on Monday, it is quite evident that many Zimbabweans are harboring a lot of frustration that has had no outlet for too long. A lot of what keeps coming up is how this government seems to be taking us back to 2007/08, a period in which Zimbabweans experienced serious trauma; waking up to empty supermarket shelves and finding their savings nullified. Even RBZ governor John Mangudya acknowledges this.
When people experience trauma, sometimes their road to healing starts from simply being allowed to mourn for what they have lost, and have that trauma acknowledged and validated. There was no mass counseling session after 2008, and a lot of people, especially the elderly generations, never fully recovered after losing all their lifetime savings and pensions. But Zimbabweans needed somehow to find closure, and they never did. The thought of having the bond notes brings back memories that stir something that is a combination of grief, fear and anxiety, which understandably transcends all rationality. Zimbabweans have lived in a bearer cheque era, and therefore have an idea what the bond note era might look like, they are also worried a repeat could be looming.
People need to vent, and should be allowed to speak, whether they have solutions or not.
Some of the biggest criticisms from naysayers about the #ThisFlag campaign, is how it is intangibly and predominantly online, and there are no solutions being proffered alongside the ranting. Professor Jonathan Moyo has also dismissed the campaign as being nothing but cyber-nonsense, or cyber-noise, to be precise. It is important to be realistic sometimes. In Pastor Evan’s words, “imi vanhu musadaro” (you people don’t do that): how many Zimbabweans can openly protest or complain without risking being arrested, disappeared and/or tortured? People can only resort to the Internet, the one channel yet uncontrolled (but slowly getting there), for them to partake in e-activism that helps them overcome the pervasive sense of helplessness they feel.
Why are people being vilified for having perfectly normal human reactions to a situation? In daily life, when you have been wronged, have you not sometimes just needed to just rant about it to someone who cares enough to listen even if they have no solutions, and this is therapeutic?
If the #ThisFlag campaign ends as just being an anger-venting space, so be it. That is valid too.
- Being emotional is considered a weakness
Listening to The Platform interview on the #ThisFlag campaign, there was a certain meanness and smugness to the way Tafadzwa Musarara denigrated and eviscerated Pastor Evan. He would occasionally condescendingly belittle him, as ‘this young man’ or ‘so-called Pastor’ who is an ‘emotionalising attention seeker’ who has no idea about anything and complains without solutions. Musarara went on to say that he hoped the police would not give Pastor Evan the ‘privilege of arresting him’ and making him more popular. Really? One cannot speak or be angry anymore about how this country has gone to the dogs, without being dismissed as just another attention seeker?
When I did my undergrad degree many years ago, one of my lecturers shared a little story with my media studies class, to help us understand and appreciate the value of freedom of expression.
A tale of two dogs
There were two dogs living in neighboring countries, A and B. The dogs were of the same breed and had become really close friends over the years, but neither could cross the tall fence separating their countries, to be with the other. ‘Country A’ dog had a shiny mangy fur, and was a little overweight. Its government provided it with meat and milk everyday, so long as it did not complain about anything. This seemed like the ideal life. ‘Country B’ dog on the other hand, was like a shadow of itself, emaciated to the point of starvation. Country B was liberal, but too poor to feed it. Dog B envied dog A’s life so much that he was quite shocked one day when he found that the latter had sneaked intro country B. The conversation between the dogs went something like this:
“Why would you even opt to come and starve this side, leaving all that food and wealth in your country?” Dog B asked. Dog A replied, “You know, that side we get everything. But sometimes, I just need to bark.”
For the longest time, Zimbabweans have genuinely been too afraid to openly complain about their lived situations. The fear has been quite debilitating, and seems to spread so easily. When people now don’t care anymore, it doesn’t mean that the fear went away. It simply means that there is no option that does not feel like risking death.
- In Zimbabwe, we turn cruise ships like speedboats
Contrary to what Bishop Tudor Bismark thinks, here in Zimbabwe we have a track record of turning massive ships as if they were speedboats all the time. Yep, one day you wake up and they now require honeycomb reflectors, fire extinguishers, and reflective triangles. Another day, such things like mandatory fuel blending or the privatisation of water through the introduction of pre-paid water meters. There are plenty other ‘ship-turning’ incidents that have happened here.
As long as some ‘shef’ needs to eat, there is always a way.
We have always gone against the grain. Cash shortages? Just print more currency not backed up by anything at all. Can’t print more notes (like in the case of USD)? Just introduce bond notes, and I suspect that these will literally be on bond paper.
- Tafadzwa Musarara either lives under a rock or has the Ostrich problem…
People like Musarara and many others like him in high places frighten me. They lack compassion. There were at least three women who called into The Platform interview on Monday, including the now popular Mbuya vaHector, a 62 year old woman who bemoaned the fact that at her age she has zero savings after they were wiped out from her bank account in 2008. As a result, she is still hustling in informal trade to make a living. Musarara literally ignored their views and went on to downplay the magnitude of the problems being described with dismissive statements like ‘there is nothing new’, the ‘opposition has mentioned this before’ etc. Feigning amnesia or pretending that the problems do not exist will not make the go away. To be clear, and for Musarara’s benefit, among other things Zimbabweans want jobs (two million of them were promised); they want a logical explanation of what happened to the 15 billion dollars; they want to be able to enjoy fundamental rights like access to water and affordable healthcare; they want to retire in peace with the assurance that their savings and pensions wont be eroded and above all, they do not want bond notes.
The privileged do not see their privilege. That is all.
Main image used with permission from Evan Mawarire