May 30, 2016 (GIN) – A “Million Men” march in support of Pres. Robert Mugabe that drew thousands in support of the aging leader failed to diminish the impact of an opposition rally last month that brought out thousands of citizens concerned with the country’s troubled economy.
Despite his advanced age, Pres. Mugabe has vowed to run for another term in office at the next election in 2018 when he will be 94.
At the “Million Men” march, Mrs Mugabe declared that her husband would rule Zimbabwe even from the grave.
The opposition, meanwhile, has been energized by a Twitter campaign called #ThisFlag, or what The Guardian newspaper called “an accidental movement for change.”
It was started inadvertently by a church pastor, vexed over the financial difficulties of paying his daughter’s school fees. He decided to film himself venting his frustrations with the Zimbabwean flag around his neck. “When I look at the flag,” he says to the camera, “it’s not a reminder of my pride and inspiration; it feels as if I want to belong to another country.”
He then posted the video using the hashtag #ThisFlag and it quickly racked up tens of thousands of hits.
Pastor Evan Mawarire told the Guardian he was “shocked by the reaction,” which he likened to an avalanche. Pictures were soon posted of people wrapping themselves in the flag. Others wrote to say he had expressed feelings that they were too scared to vocalize.
Five days of “digital activism” using #ThisFlag led to 25 days. For Mawarire, May 25 “is not when we stop but when we start to push (the government) to accountability.”
Meanwhile, the activist twitter feed is taking off with photos of rationed cooking oil (2 litres to a customer), high-end “ministerial vehicles”, flags inscribed with various complaints or demands, and debates among twitterers.
A songwriter has also used the occasion to revive a song “Zimbo Till I Die” which can be found on the Facebook page of DJ Stavo.
The government response, unsurprisingly, has been to ridicule the pastor’s Twitter feed, with Education Minister Jonathan Moyo calling its supporters “nameless, faceless trolls,” and then starting his own, called “OurFlag.”
Tendai Marima, a freelance journalist writing in The Daily Vox, notes that one month since the birth of #ThisFlag, it has great potential, “but only it if can leap beyond the digital and into the hearts and minds of the millions suffering through Zimbabwe’s hardships.”