TELFORD VICE, Bulawayo
NOT for the first time in Zimbabwe, cricket could be the platform for a wounded nation to vent its feelings in Bulawayo on Saturday.
The first day of the second test between Zimbabwe and New Zealand at Queens Sports Club has sparked the country’s This Flag movement into action.
The group’s leader, Evan Mawarire, has posted a video on social media asking Zimbabweans to attend the match.
“Take your flag with you,” Mawarire tells his followers in the video.
“But here’s the special bit: when the 36th over starts, you and I are going to stand up as a sign of saying for 36 years we have been quiet but now we are standing up.
“In the 36th over I want you to start signing the national anthem.”
Robert Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s president for 36 years in which, after an initial period of stability, the country has lurched from one crisis to the next.
Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate, officially pegged at 11.3% in April last year, is estimated at 95% by some analysts.
Political dissent is rare and media freedom limited.
Visiting foreign journalists are required to apply for government accreditation, which costs them US$200.
Mawarire is an auto electrician turned pentecostal pastor who has been advocating for change since April, calling on the government to address “corruption, poverty and police brutality”.
This Flag organised a work stayaway on July 6, and Mawarire said in a video posted five days later that he had been told to report to the police.
He handed himself over on July 13, the day of a second stayaway – which was followed by a third the next day.
Mawarire was arrested and charged with “inciting public violence and disturbing the peace”.
He appeared in court the same day with the Zimbabwean flag draped around his shoulders and with the the charge changed to “subverting a constitutionally elected government”.
The case was thrown out as the charges were ruled to violate Zimbabwe’s constitution.
Mawarire, who claims to have received threats to strange him with the Zimbabwean flag, then fled to SA.
He is thought to have posted his latest video from there. Would he be at Saturday’s match?
“When the 36th over starts, you and I are going to stand up as a sign of saying for 36 years we have been quiet but now we are standing up,” Mawarire said in the video.
Should Mawarire be in attendance he will join the ranks of former Zimbabwe players Henry Olonga and Andy Flower, who wore black armbands on the field during their team’s 2003 World Cup match against the Netherlands in Harare to protest “the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe”.
Neither played for Zimbabwe again after the tournament.