What independence? Zimbabwe marks 37 years of Mugabe rule (and 1 year of #ThisFlag)

2017-04-18 10:46
Robert Mugabe (File: AFP)

Robert Mugabe (File: AFP)

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Harare - Zimbabwe marks 37 years of independence on Tuesday - but it's not clear if anyone will be really celebrating.

The economy is in a tailspin, there's very little money on the streets (even the central bank's freshly-minted bond notes are difficult to get hold of) and as for President Robert Mugabe... well, he's 93 and top officials in his Zanu-PF party are at each other's throats.

With elections little more than a year away, Zimbabweans in London are planning to hold a "What Independence?" demonstration.

Back home in Zimbabwe there will be festivities and speeches, as every year.

Here's what you need to know:

What's the main event and will anyone go?

There will be an Independence Day parade and a speech by Mugabe at the National Sports Stadium on Tuesday.  

And yes, people will go: there is a big football match afterwards.

Mugabe attended the annual children's party to mark independence in Harare on Monday afternoon, sporting his new short haircut and a very big floral buttonhole.

What's the mood?

In a word: flat. Not hopeful but not totally despairing either. Though it's a public holiday, street vendors were out selling their wares on Easter Monday; fish sellers mingling with used clothes sellers.

Zimbabweans are making a plan - even if that plan involves trading goats or free labour for outstanding school fees.  

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party tried to start a hashtag, #37yearsofwhat? After eight hours, only three people had bothered to respond.

Talking of the opposition, what are they up to this Independence Day?

Here's what Zimbabwe's opposition is not doing: writing persuasive editorials, running eye-catching social media campaigns or doing anything to counter the ruling party's things-for-votes strategy.

Opposition parties don't seem to have made much visible progress in forming a coalition (is there really any hope they still might?) Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC is campaigning, according to local press watchdog @ZimMediaReview and others.

Joice Mujuru's party doesn't look to be living up to the hopes some had in it. It suffered a damaging split in February and its spokesperson, Jealousy Mawarire, was reportedly involved in a public fistfight recently.

Hang on, didn't another Mawarire start the #ThisFlag movement about this time last year?

Yes, Pastor Evan Mawarire posted his first #ThisFlag video two days after Independence Day in 2016.

His heartfelt account of his frustration and love for his country quickly touched a chord with the masses.

Many Zimbabweans were swept up by the call he made for politicians to be accountable - and it would not be unfair to say that a fair few saw in the youthful pastor a possible new face of Zimbabwe.

But his huge following unsettled Zimbabwean authorities.

When a national stay-away he'd called for in July was widely supported, Mawarire was arrested.

Upon his release he fled into exile, arguing that he needed to put his family first (his wife was pregnant with the couple's third child).

Mawarire returned to Zimbabwe on February 1, to be promptly rearrested.

The case against him still hangs over his head and because of that, he appears to be keeping a low(-ish) profile.

Rightly or wrongly so, many Zimbabweans feel Mawarire betrayed them.

The momentum of #ThisFlag has all but gone.

Read more on:    robert ­mugabe  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa

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