Opinion: thisflag campaign draws attention back to home nation for WA’s Zimbabwean expats


Zimbabweans living in the UK gathered in London to support the stay away in their home country. Picture: Kate Jarvis
Zimbabweans living in the UK gathered in London to support the stay away in their home country. Picture: Kate Jarvis

JULY has seen a surge in social media posts using #thisflag as a scattered nation campaigns for change.

Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire initiated the social media campaign in April as the African country faced worsening economic challenges, running out of cash in the US currency that replaced the worthless Zimbabwean dollar in 2009.

As public servants faced months without pay due to the cash shortage, and hunger increased amid a drought, a protest was planned on July 6.

The nationwide stay away called on people to stay home rather than go to work, and organisers and supporters broadly called it a success as the streets fell quiet last week.

The momentum built, with Zimbabweans living abroad spreading the word on social media and gathering outside Zimbabwean embassies in the UK and South Africa.

This week, a two-day stay away was planned but police arresting and charging Mawarire on the eve of the protest instead brought people draped in #thisflag on to the streets.

As most of the nearly 10,000 Zimbabweans living in Western Australia slept on Wednesday night, a magistrate dismissed the case and the pastor walked out of the Rotten Row courthouse free.

Scenes of jubilation spread through pictures and videos on social media, highlighting the voice people have found online.

As my father quipped, “everyone now has power even if they don’t”; coincidence or not during an electronically charged campaign, parts of the capital Harare have been without electricity for the past week.

Zimbabwe gained independence from the UK in 1980, and Robert Mugabe (92) has held the presidential mantle ever since, despite the country’s economic and political instability.

The #thisflag campaign might be the driving force that sees a younger, social media-savvy generation reclaim their voice in how their country is governed and what kind of future it has.

It has already reignited a sense of pride in the flag, which has coloured stripes symbolising agriculture (green), mineral wealth (yellow), blood shed during the war of independence (red) and the ethnic majority (black).

It also features a white triangle for peace, red star for the nation’s aspirations and socialism, and a bird based on stone carvings at the historically significant Great Zimbabwe site.

An online petition calling on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to protect Zimbabweans pursing liberation has attracted about 13,000 supporters in the past week.(Note: Population figures sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which recorded 9817 Zimbabwean-born people living in WA during the 2011 Census, the largest proportion of the 30,252 people recorded nationally.)

The author was born in Zimbabwe and has lived in WA since 2004.