18 April 2002

Zimbabwe: Vital to Cherish Zim's National Flag

Twenty-two years after independence, some Zimbabweans still take the national flag for granted.

"It is not a cloth of convenience. It is our identity," says Information and Publicity permanent secretary Mr George Charamba.

The national flag is an expression of sovereignty, identity and a symbol of the people of Zimbabwe.

"It is a summary of the history of the people, it expresses their wishes, ambitions and vision and that is why we all bear allegiance and loyalty to it," said Mr Charamba.

The flag, he says, expresses the mood of the nation and that is why it is hoisted high when the nation is happy and flies at half mast when the nation is in grief.

While some companies and institutions have not been hoisting flags at their premises, it is mandatory for them to fly the national flag.

"It is an integral part of all our institutions and it is a must for all of them to fly the national flag," Mr Charamba said.

It is the Government's plan, said Mr Charamba, that his department in collaboration with the two education ministries ensure that each day begins with the hoisting of the national flag and singing of the national anthem in all educational institutions.

The production of the flag is controlled by the Government.

The Government distributes most of the flags through the Department of Information and Publicity while profitable organisations have to buy it.

Its production is associated with the Government of the day.

This, Charamba says, is to ensure that the colours are not fiddled with, standards are met and produced in quantities that makes it available and affordable.

Designed in 1979 on the basis of a colour combination agreed on by both Zanu-PF and PF-Zapu, the two major parties in Zimbabwe's liberation struggle, the national flag was formally presented to the new Government in 1980.

"I feel very proud," said Dr Nathan Shamuyarira, a former Cabinet minister who was part of the brains behind the formulation of the flag at independence in 1980.

"It's a sign of national unity and it symbolises the birth of a new Zimbabwe."

The road to the adoption of the Zimbabwe flag is fascinating.

Cde Eddison Zvobgo, who was part of Zimbabwe's first Cabinet, says the designing of the country's flag dates back to the war of independence in the 1970s.

He says the flag, which was used by Zanla forces, was agreed upon during meetings of the Dare reChimurenga, the Zanu-PF party's supreme body that directed the war of independence.

By then and now, the party's flag has the green, yellow, red and black colours in square like design.

"If you want to know the similarities just put the national flag side by side with the Zanu-PF flag," he says.

"In fact, the party flag preceded the national flag."

At independence, Cde Zvobgo says, there was a strong feeling among the members of Zimbabwe's first Cabinet that the same interpretation given to the Zanu-PF flag should be given to the national flag.

He says people like President Mugabe, the late Cde Mayor Urimbo, Cde Josiah Tongogara, Cde Kumbirai Kangai and other members of the Dare reChimurenga played a key role in the adoption of colours on the Zanu-PF flag which were later transformed to the national flag.

"The first Cabinet met and discussed the issue of the national flag before April 18 in 1980," he says.

"We endorsed it after we were sworn in as ministers.

"But it is important to note that the actual decision had been taken way back in Mozambique when we designed the Zanu-PF flag.

"Our flag as a party flag has a semi-spiritual meaning . . . each time we buried a comrade we would raise the flag. It was that flag that inspired every comrade in the army.

He says the adoption of the Zanu-PF flag colours, which were transformed into the national one, was not controversial in any way.

"Everybody supported it. Ministers from Zapu, RF and Zanu-PF alike supported it."

The new flag was established in 1980 through the Flag of Zimbabwe Ordinance, which was later amended into an Act in 1985.

Cdes Zvobgo and Shamuyarira both say President Mugabe was instrumental in coming up with an idea to insert the Zimbabwe Bird on the national flag.

"The idea of putting the Zimbabwe Bird was President Mugabe's," Cde Zvobgo says.

"He felt strongly that it would enhance the colours and make it look better."

Says Cde Shamuyarira: "As Prime Minister (Cde Mugabe) he was instrumental in the designing of the flag and he suggested that we should put the Zimbabwe Bird in the corner."

He said President Mugabe felt it was an important symbol of linking the present with the "old Munhumutapa and Rozvi empires."

As the message of freedom spread out in Zimbabwe and penetrated the fabric of the new nation, the new flag became rallying point of the country's social, business and political activity.

It symbolised the nation's assertion both nationally and internationally.

And, in May 1984, Cde Mugabe spoke with emotion and empathy about the Zimbabwe Bird when he unveiled the new Air Zimbabwe colours, which were similar to those on the national flag.

"The Zimbabwe Bird, as our national emblem, will remind us and tell others that we have come a long way and that we have a history of striving to conquer nature.

"The bird was initially kept at Great Zimbabwe, that symbol of what our ancestors could do with rock, a resource so abundant in their environment.

"The bird sitting on a five-pointed star symbolises the marrying of our past with our nation's aspirations. It emphasises our determination to improve on what we inherited from those before us," President Mugabe had said.

"Both our past and our aspirations are intricately linked by this desire for peace," Cde Mugabe once remarked.

And, today many take the flag for granted.

"Different people may feel different things about our flag," Cde Zvobgo says.

"It summarises who we are and encapsulates who we are. If you participated in the armed struggle you actually feel warmth in seeing our flag.

"It is important that people understand the flag. "It's a pity . . . I think not too many people derive inspiration from our flag or the national anthem through sheer ignorance."

He says more needs to be done to sensitise the masses on the importance of such symbols.

Cde Shamuyarira blamed the media for not publicising the flag and the national anthem.

A random survey in Harare showed that some Zimbabweans take the national flag for granted yet they know little about this important national symbol.

The meaning of the national flag, Mr Charamba, says, has been distorted.

The black colour at the centre of the flag signifies the identity of the owners of Zimbabwe, the black people.

"Red symbolises the liberation struggle, blood shed for this country, but more importantly the bravery, preparedness and readiness of Zimbabweans to defend, if need be, defend the sovereignty of this country," Mr Charamba said.

Besides standing for the vegetation, green also represents the greening of the country's revolution through agriculture, the dynamo of the nation's economy, says Mr Charamba.

Yellow represents the country's mineral wealth while the black ring around the white triangle reinforces the act that Zimbabwe belongs to the black people.

The white on the flag symbolises peace, the nation's quality of mercy, unity and reconciliation.

The red star symbolises the nation's ambitions, aspirations, promise and hope for greater things to come.

The Zimbabwe Bird on the star symbolises culture and national identity and reinforces the role of the star while showing that the country has a dynamic culture.

It was widely believed that the star linked the nation to communism.

The star was coined by founding fathers of African

nationalism to express unlimited prosperity for Africa as a continent.

Calls have been made for the Government to educate the population about the importance of national symbols, events and institutions.

"The national flag is an object that requires more love, admiration and we must accord it due respect," says Harare resident Rangarirai Machemedze.

It should be the role of the Government, he says, to provide the necessary education.

Olinda Mutisi said such teachings must start at the primary level of education.

Social commentator Tafataona Mahoso feels it was the responsibility of citizens to value and defend their sovereignty.

The apparent lack of respect for national symbols calls for Zimbabweans to form their own strong civic organisations and "to protect their national values, interests and leadership".

The problem at the moment, says Mahoso, is that the so-called civic society in Zimbabwe does not represent Zimbabwe's agenda but those of their sponsors such as Britain which is opposed to the nation's values and needs.

Of late it has become common for institutions not to hoist the national flag at their premises, while others fly tattered and ripped flags.

Cases abound of schools and institutions, even in Harare, that only fly the national flag after a public outcry.

But some schools, especially in the countryside and farms, have said they are willing to fly the national flag but are unable to buy it owing to financial constraints.

It is a punishable offence to ridicule the national flag.

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