On 18 April each year, since 1980, the Republic of Zimbabwe commemorates its Independence from colonial rule (and from a racist and fascist Rhodesian regime). The event is characterised by military parades, mass displays, the President’s speech and a soccer match at the National Sports Stadium in Harare. In any other country, a similar event would be characterised by wholesale patriotism. In Zimbabwe the event is mostly viewed with a partisan. A lot of Zimbabweans do not attend the Independence festive, rather they merely take advantage of the official designation of 18 April as a public holiday and they rest. The conscious ones willingly boycott the festive. In boycotting they seek to send a strong message that they are not complicit in the way the country is being run. To these, boycotting ‘national’ commemorations is a show of newfound patriotism.
Patriotism, itself a not so progressive concept, relates to a one’s love or devotion to one’s country. The concept can be observed when one celebrates the history, trials and triumphs of a nation. Zimbabwe’s dominant politics if jambajaism and insults results in a divided society based on one’s political party membership; people from the collective opposition are constantly denounced as unpatriotic and ‘sell-outs”. This denigration is accompanied by segregation when it comes to public processes such as Independence Day commemorations.
It was interesting that the President Speech at the 2017 Commemoration included the sentence that “every person has the right to a political; party of their choice”. The statements however remain hollow to a majority of urban based and working class Zimbabweans who chose to remain at home.
Indeed there is every justification for people to boycott national events. This will ensure that future governments and leaders will learn lessons and ensure that these events are not privatised for the benefit of a sole political party or class. However these boycotts should be organised and be pronounced. At the moment, the capacity of the ruling party to mobilise its supporters, by force or other means, and the resultant multitudes who attend the commemoration, can cover up the partisan nature of such commemorations to the untrained eye.
After over three decades of uhuru, Zimbabwe should be a more democratic, inclusive and participatory society. The fact that even the leader of the majority opposition party , Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T or the former Vice President Joice Mujuru who has been in government since 1980 until being purged recently, do not participate in the Independence Day commemorations, should be worrisome to any organiser of such events.
As a final word, whilst the people should not be keen supporters of patriotism, since the concept doesn’t recognise the reality of class struggles and differences in a given society, the same people should oppose in every form, the dominance of partisanship and other divisions during the commemoration of past historic struggles and events such as the War of liberation, Unity Day, Independence day, Heroes Day and Defence Forces days.
[Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is an activist and lawyer based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He tweets at @LeninChisaira and is interested in Economic Justice, Human Rights, Leftist Politics and Environmental Justice. He edits www.africafightnow.org and blogs at cdetinashe.blogspot.com ]