#This Flag Movement: Modernity versus Traditionalism in Zimbabwe

Recently in Zimbabwe, a young pastor named Evan Mawarire started a social media movement popularly known as #This Flag.


The pastor began by posting a series of videos on social media. The videos exhibited the pastor bemoaning various socio-political and economic ills currently affecting Zimbabweans at large.


According to reports, Pastor Evan Mawarire started posting these videos online in April 2016, after struggling to pay his children’s school fees on time.


His videos are usually expressions of frustration with what he perceives to be systemic corruption in the Zimbabwean government, injustice and widespread poverty in Zimbabwe.


A few months after his first post, Evan Mawarire’s #This Flag movement has evolved into a social media movement which is followed by tens of thousands of people in Zimbabwe and outside.


Now in early July, Pastor Mawarire’s movement went a step further than social media posts, and called for a nationwide “stay away” protest.


In other words, Pastor Evan called for all productive Zimbabweans across sectors to stay at home, and not report for work as a means of expressing dissatisfaction at the country’s current socio-economic and political circumstances.


The set date for the “stay away” was 6 July, and according to reports, most urban centers across the country took note of that protest call and did not report for work.


Now, what’s interesting about the July 6 protest is that both business and labour participated , despite their traditionally contradictory marketplace perspectives.


Furthermore, it’s notable that the calls for the July 6 “stay away” were conceded by all urban-dwelling ordinary Zimbabweans.


In fact, the 6 July “Stay away” projected an impression of shared disgruntlement among Zimbabweans despite their varying political perspectives, racial and class differences.


Even vendors did not open shop in Harare Central on July 6.


Nevertheless, it must be observed that the 6 July “stay away” protest coincided with a civil service strike organized by Zimbabwean trade unions.


It’s also worthy to note that early on 6 July violent commuter-taxi-protests erupted in Epworth, which is one of Harare’s most notorious slums.


In the midst of those Epworth taxi protests, a police officer was assaulted and the ensuing riot-police’s heavy-handed response was captured and published on social media, and those visuals went viral.


In the end, the Epworth commuter taxi demonstrations were inadvertently and mistakenly associated with the non-violent July 6 “stay away” called for by #This Flag.


Therefore, it could be argued that the fear, intrigue and anxiety inspired by the Epworth taxi-demonstrations contributed to the success of the 6 July “stay away.”


Simply put, after seeing visuals of the Epworth commuter-taxi demonstration most Harare based business owners, workers and vendors alike chose outright not to report to work on 6 July, predominantly because of fear of violence.


This point is reinforced by the fact that #This Flag’s call for a peaceful two-day “stay away” on 13 and 14 July was largely ignored by vendors, ordinary workers and business owners alike.


In fact, one local newspaper had this to say about #This Flag’s 13 and 14 July protest:




“Zimbabweans… largely ignored calls for a national stay-away by pro-democracy activists, with business open as usual despite a slow start by entrepreneurs who feared an explosion of violence.”


Now, despite that it was clear on 13 July that the calls for the “stay away” had been largely ignored, the originator of #This Flag social movement, Pastor Evan Mawarire was arrested.


He was initially charged with “inciting public violence and disturbing peace” and was later charged with “subverting a constitutional government in contravention of section 22 (2) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.”


As widely documented, the arrest of Pastor Evan Mawarire and his subsequent appearance in court shifted the Zimbabwean public’s attention from the “stay away,” to Pastor Evan Mawarire himself.


In fact, after his arrest thousands of #This Flag supporters were mobilized via social media and physically gathered at the Harare magistrate’s court where Pastor Evan Mawarire’s matter was being heard.


According to reports, people gathered outside the court with the national flag. They sang songs and prayed outside the courthouse until the charges against Pastor Evan Mawarire were finally dropped and the pastor was released.


What ensued after his release has been widely reported and will not be discussed here.


Modernity versus Tradition

Now, from an analytical perspective, I find it curious that the young pastor was arrested in the first place.


I mean, as I mentioned earlier, it had been widely acknowledged that the July 13/14 “stay away” was unsuccessful, and that people had reported to work.


With that in mind, why, then, would anyone in authority insist that Pastor Evan be arrested despite that his call for a two-day “stay away” had been largely ignored?


If the authorities had let him alone, #This Flag would almost certainly have gradually dissipated. Yet, conversely, arresting him has brought more attention to #This Flag as a social movement and consequently, Pastor Evan is now one of the most popular people in the country.


This brings me to the issue of tradition versus modernity in social theory and the dynamics of Zimbabwean social change.


Modernity, put plainly, refers to modern societies characterized by democratic political structures, urbanization, technological progression, education, rationality and free market capitalism to name a few.


On the other hand, the traditionalist approach refers to beliefs and practices common in organizations economies or communities which are economically and technologically undeveloped and therefore fairly static within their structures and practices and tend to be predominately rural instead of urban.


Now when I analyse Pastor Evan Mawarire and #This Flag, as a social movement, all I see is people who strive for, and subscribe to modernity. These are people who want to catch up with the world and compete globally.


On the other hand, those who are denouncing Pastor Evan Mawarire and his #This Flag movement seem to lean towards traditionalism, and would prefer to remain in a state of de-industrialization, underdevelopment and stagnation. Essentially, they perceive #This Flag as contradictory to their pseudo revolutionary ideals.


It seems to me, however, that the country has reached a crossroads.


The thing is, #This Flag is a collective expression of the desire for modernity in a country that seems to be in a perpetual state of stagflation.


Yes, Evan Mawarire is the originator of #This Flag, but targeting him personally, doesn’t change the nature of the movement or the motivation behind it. The more anyone trys to silence Evan Mawarire, the louder that movement will become.


What’s needed in Zimbabwe right now is for those in authority to understand and appreciate that a significant proportion of Zimbabweans do not subscribe to the traditionalist ways of doing things anymore.


It is a fact that the majority of the population is below 40, and therefore in more cases than not, the majority of the population can empathize with pastor Evan Mawarire and the grievances that #This Flag conveys on behalf of citizens.


This is true in business, politics and social relations alike.


People want to move forward. People want to able to fulfill their potential. People want to be able to express themselves economically in their own country. I believe that is what #This Flag is about.


It’s a loud call for those in charge to embrace modernity in politics business and community alike. Zimbabwe can’t survive in a vacuum. We need to catch up with the rest of the world.


Tau Tawengwa


Executive Director




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