Flood of flags sweeps Harare

zim_flagPatriotism on the rise
HARARE - The streets of Zimbabwe's capital are alive with nationhood. There is a wave of buoyant patriotic optimism which is sweeping over Harare that is without a parallel in the country's history, and it has not escaped the attention of Parliament.

The colours of Zimbabwe’s flag, a white triangle on a striped, green, red, yellow and black on a white background, are everywhere. It is as if the nation’s symbol has come to life. The national flag has been stitched into every imaginable fashion, drawn onto every imaginable surface, painted onto the faces of babies.

This used to be synonymous with soccer matches, but not anymore. The Zimbabwean flag is everywhere. It seems that every second car on the streets of Harare has at least one, if not four, five or six, little Zimbabwean flags stuck on the dashboard, to the roof or the back windscreen. Some cars display the flag on their side mirrors using specially made covers. There are flags flying out the front of shops, and from rooftops and balconies.

To an observer visiting Harare for the first time, the flood of flags seems perhaps a little bit over the top, but otherwise nothing too unusual. For Zimbabweans, however, the story was not so simple.

The renewed love and display of the Zimbabwean flag is something of a phenomenon in a country where flying the national flag has long been a taboo. This taboo, a reflection of post-election disquiet about symbols of patriotism, was shattered when Zimbabwe formed a unity government two years and ended years of hyperinflation, growing the economy for the first time after a decade. Average inflation has been

three percent.

But all this over-the-top patriotic fare veers dangerously close to xenophobia, elicits loud whistles, louder applause and frequent comments about “taking over our country.” The fabled foreign enemy is no longer anonymous. It is named.

Unabashedly. And it is not Britain anymore. The Britishphobia is over. It is now foreigners who have set up businesses here. All these attempts to cash in on a heightened sense of nationalism are nothing new. Businessmen have always been on the look out to make a killing.

Magwegwe MDC MP, Felix Mafa, raised the issue with the minister of Justice and Legal Affairs Patrick Chinamasa last week. “What are the legal implications of selling national flags that are being sold everywhere in the roads?” Mafa said. “What are the implications of selling national emblems and who benefits from the proceeds?”

Chinamasa replied: “Thank you hon. member for your question, the National Flag Act comes under the administration of my ministry, so I am in a position to clarify the position. Any company can manufacture the national flag, what is not permitted is to imprint on it anything that should not be on the national flag. Therefore, as long as it is reproduced faithfully, in terms of what the Act provides, there is no legal implication.”

Mafa clarified the question: “My main question was the proceeds of the sales of national emblems?” to which Chinamasa replied: “The proceeds go to the entrepreneur.” Political analysts are flabbergasted with the change in attitudes towards the display of patriotism.

A lot has changed, says political commentator Ronald Shumba. Before, it was a social norm to display a certain critical distance towards the nation, and of course the reason for this was the shame about what had happened during the elections and the economic meltdown that has had made us a leper on the international scene.

Statements like I am proud to be Zimbabwean were hardly heard during the height of hyperinflation and repression. As far as most people were concerned, the notions of patriotism and nationalism were inseparable.

It remains unclear what is pushing this drive, but there is an apparent steep rise in nationalist sentiment.

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