Cathy Buckle: The Zimbabwean unthinkable – fighting with ‘button’ sticks

It’s difficult to pick up the real atmosphere of what’s happening on the ground in Zimbabwe, but there seems to be an air of optimism. It’s born from an extremely desperate economic situation. And is being fanned from sectors of the population previously unheard of. #ThisFlag pastor Evan Mawarire got things off the ground but with war veterans joining the chorus, the disobedience must be cutting deep to Zimbabwe’s President-for-life Robert Mugabe. His team have also come out fighting, threatening land reclaims from those who’ve turned against him. And while Cathy Buckle is seeing all walks of life get behind the green, black, yellow, red and white flag, she knows it’s going to be ‘Hard’ fight. But we’ve already seen one ‘unthinkable’ maybe more lie in wait. – Stuart Lowman

By Cathy Buckle*

While everyone has been watching ordinary Zimbabweans protesting, demonstrating and trying to free themselves from joblessness, poverty, corruption and oppression, our government have reacted in the same predictable way they always react: arrests, tear gas, threats, intimidation and angry voices. Of course the usual rubber truncheons have also been ever present; they are called baton sticks here but were famously mis-spelt as “button sticks” on a recent police search warrant adding humour to even the darkest of times in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean protesters wait outside the Harare Magistrates court before the arrival of arrested Pastor Evan Mawarire, in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Zimbabwean protesters wait outside the Harare Magistrates court before the arrival of arrested Pastor Evan Mawarire, in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Green, black, yellow, red, white. Those are the colours of our national flag and it is this one simple, obvious, symbol that has started a massive citizen groundswell calling for change in Zimbabwe. As each week passes Zimbabweans are taking to the streets: banging pots, holding placards, singing, praying, sitting down, walking. No single clear organizer but just ordinary people united by green, black, yellow, red white: the flag that belongs to all of us. In countries around the world Zimbabweans have been gathering and demonstrating, adding their voices to ours; voices from afar giving courage to us at home. Wow! Thank you! What else can we say to Zims in South Africa, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, America! We haven’t forgotten you and you haven’t forgotten us!

While ordinary Zimbabweans voices grow louder and louder at home and abroad, the unthinkable happened back in Harare. It all started last week when war veterans held a meeting to discuss: “The state of Zimbabwe’s economy, the ZANU PF leadership and the way forward.” After the meeting the war veterans issued a lengthy and damning communiqué which concluded: “We the veterans of Zimbabwe’s war of liberation together with our toiling masses, hereby declare that henceforth in any forthcoming election will not support such a leader who has presided over untold suffering of the general population for his own personal aggrandizement and that of his cronies.”

Read also: Zimbabwe history being re-written. A flag for, not against, ordinary citizens.

The dust had hardly settled on the communiqué when the lashback started. Initial reports came of “crisis indabas,” and “closed door meetings,” and we heard phrases such as: “errant war veterans,” “reckless statements,” and “treasonous documents.” Then higher authorities joined in. Speaking in Rusape the Minister of Local Government, Mr Kasukuwere, said war veterans linked to the communiqué would have their farms repossessed (the same ones that were forcibly seized from commercial farmers over the last 16 years). Kasukuwere said the farms would be taken away from war veterans, subdivided into residential stands and given to “loyal youths”.

Pastor Evan Mawarire. Twitter profile pic.
Pastor Evan Mawarire

The Minister went on to threaten government employees saying they too would have “their farms” repossessed by the state. “There are also civil servants who want to go on strike, but you want to go on strike while you know you have a farm.” Minister Kasukuwere said he had a list of farms they were targeting and would stop at nothing to repossess them.

Read also: #ThisFlag: Zimbabwe’s social media ninja tackles Mugabe’s traditional brute

The Minister’s threats come at a time when food insecurity amongst ordinary Zimbabweans is at 42%; four million people are already in need of food aid (that is a third of our population).

The irony behind the Minister’s threats begs the questions we’ve been asking for 16 years: What on earth are civil servants doing on seized farms anyway? Are they farmers? Do they know how to grow crops?

It’s not hard to answer the questions because in the last 16 years, droughts or not, the forcible seizure of 9.4 million hectares of agricultural land from farmers by the government of Zimbabwe and re-distribution to non-farmers has left us hungry, dependent on world food aid and importing over 80% of our food needs. It still doesn’t seem to have sunk in that if you’re not a farmer you’re not a farmer regardless of whether you are green, black, yellow, red or white.

The fall out resulting from the war veterans communiqué continues as I write and ordinary people are left wondering if the veterans will now also join the #ThisFlag movement calling for a new Zimbabwe. These aren’t easy times for Zimbabwe but as President Obama said to Zimbabwean Strive Masiyiwa recently: “Hard things are Hard.”

  • Cathy Buckle is the author of four children books. She has also written the non-fictional African Tears, the Zimbabwe Land Invasions, Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe’s tragedy, Innocent Victims: Rescuing the Stranded Animals of Zimbabwe’s Farm Invasions and Sleeping Like a Hare. The article was first published at
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