The Politics of #ThisFlag

 

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The year 2016 has seen an explosion of online activism and hashtag movements in Zimbabwe, with #This Flag and #Tajamuka/Sesjikile being arguably the most prominent social media hashtags in the country.

 

Generally speaking, Zimbabwean online activism in 2016 has been characterized by impulsivity and emotionality, mostly in reaction to the thorny socio-economic circumstances currently experienced by many people within the country.

 

By Definition, social media activism, or hashtag activism means “supporting a cause through social media like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other networking websites.”

 

In addition, hashtag activism “is the kind of activism that does not require any action from the person other than sharing or “liking” a post or “retweeting” tweets.”

 

It must be observed that online or hashtag activism is different from political activism, which often takes the form of street protests and picketing.

 

In this regard, it should be noted that the popular Zimbabwean-born hashtag: #this flag, is an example of online activism, while the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign is actually a political movement.

 

In this article, I will explain why the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign is an organized political group designed to achieve political outcomes.

 

I will also explain why the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign should be differentiated from other spontaneous online movements like #ThisFlag.

 

Hashtag Movements and Online Activism

Protesting and picketing on the street has been the common method of raising consciousness and awareness around political and social issues for many years.

 

Even today, civic and political groups still organize pickets and demonstrations to raise consciousness.

 

However, owing to the advent of smart phones and the global proliferation of the internet, consciousness can now be raised online using hashtags, live video posts, like buttons and memes instead of loudspeakers and picket placards.

 

Some of the most popular online hashtag movements that I have come across in the last few years are listed below.

 

#Black Lives Matter

 

In 2014 police brutality in Ferguson USA and other parts of America led to an outcry on social media.

 

The deaths of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and Laquan McDonald (African Americans who were killed by white American Police Officers) inspired the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s momentum throughout 2015.

 

As a result #BlackLivesMatter was tweeted over 9 million times, and now in 2016 the hashtag movement that started on social media, has become a social movement aimed at achieving social justice and racial equality across the USA.

 

#Pray For Paris

 

After terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 129 people in Paris in November 2015, over 70 million people from 200 countries took to social media where they expressed their prayers and support for France. The number one trending social media hashtag was #PrayForParis.

 

#I Stand With Ahmed

 

This became a popular social media hashtag in America when 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested in September 2015 by Texas police for taking a homemade clock to school.

 

The police assumed the clock was some kind of bomb.

 

#I Stand With Ahmed became a symbol for the issue of American islamophobia and racism.

 

#Oscars So White

 

This hashtag was created to protest the under-representation of black people at the annual Academy Award nominations.

 

The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was meant as a response to the lack of racial diversity in the 2015/2016 Oscar nominations, and what started as a small comment on social media became an American social media awareness campaign.

 

Eventually, Mainstream American media picked up the hashtag, and some celebrities announced they would boycott the Oscars in protest of the under-representation of black people.

 
#This Flag

 

#ThisFlag is a Zimbabwean hashtag movement that rose to prominence in mid 2016 when Pastor Evan Mawarire spontaneously started posting videos online, lamenting Zimbabwe’s socioeconomic circumstances.

 

Consequently, he managed to organize a national stay way in July that was perceived as successful. He did this all online.

 

Today,  #ThisFlag has about sixty thousand online followers.

 

#This Flag versus #Tajamuka/Sesjikile

Now, here are some things that have been particularly interesting to me.

 

Around the time when #ThisFlag rose to prominence in mid 2016, we started to hear more and more from a group called #Tajamuka/Sesjikile.

 

In fact. not many people knew about #Tajamuka/Sesjikile before Pastor Evan Mawarire came to prominence.

 

However, the more Pastor Evan Mawarire and #This Flag gained mainstream popularity, the more it seemed the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign tried to associate itself with #ThisFlag.

 

I found this quite curious because the two are quite conflicting creatures.

 

While #ThisFlag is an online movement led by a shepherd, on the other hand, #Tajamuka/Sesjikile is perhaps a political pressure group of wolves in sheep’s’ clothing.

 

In fact, earlier this year, members of the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign told a South African Media house that “President Mugabe should quit immediately…[that] they would do anything to make sure this happened.”

 

Furthermore, when asked his opinion about Pastor Evan Mawarire and #This Flag, the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile spokesperson responded by saying: “The objectives are obviously the same… but at the same time, we believe that Tajamuka brings in the value of real leadership on the ground.”

 

He also stated that the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign comprised of 14 political parties including MDC-N and MDC-T.

 

Now here is the thing. As I mentioned earlier, a hashtag movement has specific characteristics.

 

Firstly, a Hashtag Movement is born online, it is spontaneous, and it combines diverse groups irrespective of race, political persuasion, gender, ethnicity, or nationality.

 

Furthermore, the purpose of a hashtag movement is to raise awareness around a specific issue.

 

While #This Flag fits the definition of an online/hashtag movement, #Tajamuka/Sesjikile is the opposite.

 

#Tajamuka/Sesjikile is in fact, politically organized, and comprises of political activists that seek to achieve political goals.

 

Unlike #ThisFlag that constantly speaks of non-violence, and non-partisanship, the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile is confrontational, abrasive, partisan and has demonstrated its willingness to participate in violent protests.

 

I supposed that is what the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile leader meant when he said, “Tajamuka brings in the value of real leadership on the ground.”

 

Also, ironically, when Pastor Evan Mawarire decided to seek refuge in the USA, it appeared as though most of the people disappointed by his departure felt hard-done-by, because they assumed that the plight of #ThisFlag was synonymous with the plight of the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile Campaign.

 

In other words, most of the people who criticize Pastor Mawarire for skipping the country are people who identify with the narrow interests of the political outfits comprising #Tajamuka/Sesjikile.

 

Perhaps they thought that in the pastor, they had found an unsuspecting sacrificial lamb that could be slain on the altar of political expediency.

 

Yet from where I stand, Pastor Evan did well by leaving the country.

 

At the end of the day, I suggest that #ThisFlag dissociates itself not only from #Tajamuka/Sesjikile, but also from politics in general.

 

As Pastor Evan Mawarire said in an online post recently, #ThisFlag seeks to accommodate supporters from across the political spectrum.

 

#ThisFlag should therefore detach itself from the narrow political interests of radical groups, and rather focus on constitutionalism and providing key social services.

 

It is in that light that calls by #ThisFlag to mobilize resources for hospitals without medicine are welcome.

 

Ultimately, a citizen’s movement should seek to serve all citizens. If  #Thisflag is a citizen’s movement, it should therefore be cautious not to be lured into the arena of narrow political interests.

 

Tau Tawengwa

 

Executive Director

 

Email

zimrays@gmail.com

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