Why Mnangagwa never takes off his scarf


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Zimbabwe’s national flag has come back into political fashion recently – this time as a scarf.

Since President Emmerson Mnangagwa rose to power last November, he has donned the colourful accessory emblazoned in green, yellow, red, black and white on countless occasions.

He has draped the flag-scarf around his neck while giving public speeches, in high-level forums, when meeting foreign leaders, and even over protective overalls on a tour of a factory.

But it’s not just the new President.

Other ministers have worn the scarf too in carrying out their national duties.

The UK’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing, wore it on a visit to Downing Street.

And the symbol has generated its own Twitter hashtag (#ThisScarf) and derisory handle (@ThatStupidScarf).

In fact, Zimbabwe’s flag-scarf has become so ubiquitous in the past few months that it has effectively become a symbol of the country’s new post-Mugabe era.

President Mnangagwa has not commented publicly on whether there are hidden meanings behind the fashion statement.

However, old photographs of former President Robert Mugabe and others wearing a very similar scarf in the 1980s have led some to wonder whether it is an old ZANU-PF ornament.

If so, is Mnangagwa reviving it as a reminder of the party’s history of unity or perhaps as a coded message of defiance directed at his predecessor?

Other possible theories point towards a more recent episode when Zimbabwe’s flag took on a deep political meaning.

In April 2016, days after Zimbabwe’s 36th Independence Day, Evan Mawarire, a little-known pastor, felt compelled to express his frustration with the state of the country.

He turned on his camera, hung a flag around his shoulders and delivered an impassioned, sorrowful and inspiring sermon to it.

“Sometimes when I look at the flag it’s not a reminder of my pride and inspiration, it feels as if I just want to belong to another country”, he said, noting food shortages, corruption and repression.

“[But] I must look at it again with courage and try to remind myself that it is my country”, he continued, before imploring viewers to take change into their own hands.

“This flag. Every day that it flies it’s begging for you to get involved.”

Soon, the video went viral and, with that, the #ThisFlag movement was born.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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