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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