Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

Making sense of #ThisFlag, Zimbabwean dissent and South African solidarity

Blessed are the poor, in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus. (Commas restored) .

Jesus was as usual talking about solidarity: about how we join with others

and, in spirit, feel the world, and suffering, the same as them.

This is the kingdom of owning the other as self, the self as other;

that transforms grief into

peace and delight.

I, and you, might enter the heaven

of right here

through this door.

In this spirit, knowing we are blessed,

we might remain poor

Alice Walker

I was in primary school when my consciousness of the rest of the continent began. It was the place that everyone was running away from; even the people who were born on the continent. South Africa wasn’t part of Africa because it was different. South Africa was the salvation and Mecca for those who were running. Rumours were spreading wildly that Butterworth was being overpopulated by amagrigamba, amaGhana who later became amakwerekwere. Some began to arrive in my home town. There was an uneasiness.

Then the “land grabs” began in Zimbabwe. White people were in danger. The Africans (who had a right to the land) became the savages once again because they were grabbing land that seemingly didn’t belong to them. Then the Zim dollar collapsed and Zimbabwe became the breadbasket of the continent. SABC showed us images of empty shelves and long queues at the bank. Things fell apart in Zimbabwe and we all watched fascinated as the high hopes of independence crumbled like the walls of Jericho with no promise of freedom. All in the name of “quiet diplomacy”. We laughed when President Mugabe fell on stage because that was the only revenge we had: laughter.

Meanwhile in South Africa we called fellow Africans names. We burned their bodies. We looted their shops. We blamed them for our problems. We were jealous when they succeeded in school and university. We wrote about the problem: xenophobia and veiled the existence of Afrophobia. We hurt those who looked like us.  We lamented how doctors had come to South Africa only to become car guards and gardeners. Those who were privileged enough to be distanced from the anarchy watched in despair and marched through Hillbrow and tweeted #notinourname and supported campaigns. We hid behind our privilege and continued with our lives. We complained about how expensive it is to travel to Africa and continued to live our lives.

This is a simplistic understanding of the unravelling of Zimbabwe which is more complicated than I can explain. Zimbabwe’s problems run deeper than I can fully comprehend. The #ThisFlag movement is a response to the messiness and complexity that is Zimbabwe. The campaign was almost overshadowed by the Dallas shooting and the Black Lives Matter movements. Some South Africans called meetings to support the Black Lives Movement while our neighbours in Zimbabwe were out in the street demanding their country back. This eclipse of #ThisFlag by #Blacklivesmatter made question: which black lives? Those in richer countries with a rock star president?

While #ThisFlag built traction, South Sudan’s fifth anniversary was marred by murder and mayhem. But few tweeted about it and there was no hashtag. And #bringbackourgirls has been long forgotten.

I’ve been trying to make sense of Zimbabwe since I learned about the country. I’ve been trying to make sense of Africa since I discovered that Pan-Africanism is an ideal that has become expedient at the expense of globalisation. Zimbabwe is broken and we’ve all been watching it happen. Pastor Evan Mawarire’s campaign is a reminder of this brokenness and the hope that still exists in speaking up. But there’s still a silence amongst most South Africans because we’re blinded by the bright lights of the the local election campaigns. We’re distracted by the SABC’s refusal of airing violence we know exists and will continue to exist whether we see it on our screens or not.

A march has been organised in Pretoria to show solidarity with the #ThisFlag movement in Zimbabwe. But surely more can be done. Zimbabwe needs more than South African solidarity. It needs us to learn from the movement and demand accountability from our own leaders. We have the opportunity to do so in less than a month. Like those in Zimbabwe, we are the poor in spirit and we “might enter the heaven/of right here/through this door./In this spirit, knowing we are blessed,/we might remain poor. We ignore #ThisFlag at our own peril. 

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    • Ishmael Mbetse

      I think that as ordinary South Africans, we tend to be imperceptive about the challenges faced in other African countries and as a result we do not show any solidarity to people who come to our shores seeking refuge. Perhaps, what is even more shocking from the South African body politic is the nonchalance which our government and the various political parties have shown on this matter. Save for the EFF, which said that they are in support of the protest action in Zimbabwe, the ANC says that they believe ‘that the protests in Zimbabwe are being sponsored by outside forces who would like to see regime change in the country.’ From a erstwhile liberation movement that has strong historical and political ties to Zimbabwe’s governing ZANU-PF, this does not seem to be a well considered view. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe once said that ‘it is Britain and America that want regime change in Zimbabwe, not Zimbabweans,’ however looking at the current developments, one can say that this does not seem to be the case anymore (if it ever were).

    • vdmerwe

      Is there an element of “sharpville’ mentality that has prevailed with Africa’s approach to Zim. What I mean is when Sharpville happened it strengthened the Nats but in the long term destroyed the Nats. White people supported the Nats because they beat up “the blacks”. By the same token Mugabe was a hero because he beat up “the whites’ and everyone has issues with “the whites”. But whilst worshipping Mugabe they were blind to he havoc and destruction that he brought about, this was an uncomfortable truth.

    • johnbpatson

      South Africa can never learn from ThisFlag until South Africans learn the reasons for Zimbabwe’s collapse. It did not start with “land grabs” but with Zimbabwean society tolerating thieves in power and a de facto one party state system.
      This gave the state the power to crush opponents and those it saw as opponents (commercial farmers included) while claiming to be the people’s party.

    • MrK001

      The Zimbabwean ‘collapse’ literally started with the collapse of the Zimbabwe Dollar vs the US Dollar in 2002, the year the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 put the Zimbabwean government on a credit freeze. (More here.)

      This was 5 years after the end of one of the IMF/World Bank’s most disastrous implementations of their Economic Structural Adjustment Program, from 1991-1996.

      Not a lot of people know that, because all the media has been interested in, is blaming Mugabe and replacing him with a really neoliberal sellout party.

      The weakness of the ZANU-PF is that now and then, they give in to the IMF/World Bank and it’s horrible policies (see the same results in Greece, Iceland, Ireland, etc.).

      Right now, they are trying to tax the New Farmers to pay the former colonialists, taking money out of agriculture and putting into the hands of those who should be paying reparations to the Zimbabwean people – demanded by the IMF.