The send off event was a moment of joy for many Zimbabwean sport lovers, patriots and other progressive citizens. It had all the trappings of a national event, what with Minister Coventry and members of the team clad in scarves bearing colours of the nation's flag. The scarf has been popularised by President Mnangagwa since January this year when he wore it during a visit to the Swiss resort town of Davos for the World Economic Forum meeting. Since then he has worn the scarf almost everywhere. It has become the symbol of his love for his country and its great people as well as a badge of his sworn dedication to serving them and improving their livelihoods.
The send-off event was not without the unnecessary attendant controversy which detractors of Zimbabwe and their willing foot soldiers cook up at the slightest of opportunity. Instead of rallying behind the minister and the team like any patriotic Zimbabwean, journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu took issue with the team wearing scarves bearing national flag colours. Put differently, they were draped in a different form and version of the national flag as representatives of the nation destined for duty in a foreign land. But Mathuthu and others such as the itinerant MDC-T Khupe faction spokesperson, Linda Masarira, for want of anything material to accuse the minister of, charged her of treachery by using the scarf.
"(Minister) Kirsty Coventry, wrapping our athletes in (President) Emmerson Mnangagwa's gear is a treacherous move that unnecessarily politics in sport. Kirsty, you're an eagle. Fly higher otherwise we'll mistake for an owl and stone you," tweeted Mathuthu. Masarira also took to twitter querying: "Is the scarf now national gear?"
For months now the opposition and other detractors have been driving the misguided narrative that the scarf, which was popularised by the President, is part of the ZANU PF party regalia simply because he belongs to that party. They vainly attempted to find constitutional fault with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba wearing the same scarf by baselessly claiming that she was biased towards ZANU PF.
Society may not expect much from Masarira but journalists such as Mathuthu have the duty to explain issues such as the relationship among the national flag, the scarf and ZANU PF instead of using society's ignorance just to score cheap political points.
Let us delve a bit into the history of the national flag in order to demonstrate how conflicted some of the scarf critics are. The national flag was adopted and hoisted for the first time during the midnight of 17and 18 April 1980, but who had decided on the colours and the design? The basic colours of the national banner, green, yellow/gold, red and black were derived from the ZANU PF flag which was in place before the national one. The party's colours, in turn, had been inspired by pan-African colours used by pioneers of political independence on the African continent such as Ghana and others, which had never been colonised, such as Ethiopia. Although the national flag colours were borrowed from the ZANU PF flag, the two are totally different in terms of the design and legal status. The national flag belongs to all Zimbabweans while the ZANU PF banner only belongs to ZANU PF members. As indicated earlier on, the national flag is in place by law while the ZANU PF one is not.
Some may wish to use this background to support their claim that the scarf belongs to ZANU PF but this would paradoxically expose their dishonesty. No one can take away ZANU PF's pivotal role in bringing about Zimbabwe's independence. One may not be particularly fond of the revolutionary party but they cannot take away that role. A Kenyan national may not like the late Kenyan founding father, Jomo Kenyatta but s/he cannot wish away his role in the attainment of that country's independence. He or she cannot say that I am not Kenyan because I do not like Kenyatta after whom the country was named.
Similarly one may not support ZANU PF but they cannot undo its historical role in shaping this great country including the choice of its national flag colours. If one is bound by the national flag whose colour origins are in ZANU PF but doggedly refuses to recognise a scarf originating from the national flag as an apolitical item of apparel, it exposes their mischief and double standards.
Going back to the Minister Coventry issue, it is abundantly clear that if anyone is trying to smuggle politics into sport, it is Mathuthu who attempted to make frantic efforts to politicise a simple scarf. It is people such as Masarira, who are trying to wring some non-existent political mileage out of a mere scarf by attempting to politicise it. One wonders what kind of a journalist it is who threatens Cabinet ministers with stoning just to score a political point for his opposition handlers. Sport has always been used to promote peace and one is really shocked that a Zimbabwean in the 21st century threatens a minister with physical harm because he differs with her.
Former presidents, the late Canaan Banana and Robert Mugabe, wore the same national flag-inspired scarf in the 1980s and 1990s at public events and it was never an issue. This only demonstrates the calibre of people we have as opposition politicians and other influential persons such as journalists.
The reason why the scarf was never made a source of political contestation at that time is because journalists then were seized with real bread and butter issues affecting the people such as development and did not major in pettiness as is the case now. They used their influence positively for nation building and the development of the country rather than narrow personal interests.
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