Student activism in Zimbabwe is not a new phenomenon. Starting during the Second Chimurenga, student activism continued after the Independence, with student protests of note in the 1990s and early 2000s.
By nature, universities encourage young bright minds to see the realities of their society. As a student, you are being prepared to enter the wide world, and you’re told to go out there and make a change, to serve the greater good, to be the difference. That impetus to make your mark, coupled with the tenacity of youth, means that students have created their own form of activism, a mix of protest action and intellectual debate, which pushes for immediate change while laying foundation for long-lasting reform.
2016 has seen activism in Zimbabwe come to the forefront, with campaigns such as #OccupyAfricaSquare, #ThisFlag, #Tajamuka, and #BeatThePot. I followed each of these protests with keen interest and after I left home to come back to school, the question of student activism came to mind. Particularly, I asked myself how Zimbabwean students outside the country could contribute to social movements back home. In South Africa, many universities have ZimSocs (short for Zimbabwean Societies), and these organisations have helped steer the student activism movement in South Africa. Here, a student speaks on why she has decided to lend her voice to the chorus of student activism:
“My decision to stand in solidarity with #ThisFlag is something that was inspired by my experiences as a Zimbabwean. The situation in Zimbabwe has affected people beyond an economic perspective. The social issues in Zimbabwe certainly drove me to speak up and take ownership of #ThisFlag as my movement and a space to fight my personal struggles. As a result of the situation back home, many people have been forced to relocate in search of job opportunities and as a result the nuclear family has been affected.
Growing up I’ve never been a part of a nuclear family and because of this, family has always been important to me. The deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe forced most of my family to relocate to the UK, Australia and the USA. The fact that the situation in Zimbabwe has broken up families is highly problematic. Families are forced to depend on mobile devices to keep in touch, young Zimbabweans have been robbed of the opportunity to grow up surrounded by family like our parents did.
Recently I was in the US visiting my family members who i had not seen since 1999, family that last saw me when I 3 years old. The more time I spent catching up with people who, because of the troubles back home, have become strangers to me, I was motivated to invest in #ThisFlag. It was during this time that #ThisFlag protests were picking up, and I made a promise that when I returned I would participate in the movement to the best of my abilities.
“Going back home for me means I must shrink myself because Zimbabwe’s society is highly patriarchal.”
Beyond this the other social problem that I believe has pushed me to stand in solidarity with #ThisFlag is the empowerment of women in Zimbabwe. I believe that the only way we can target the main issues that plague us economically and politically is by investing in social reforms. As a young African feminist, Zimbabwe is one animal I fear. Going back home for me means I must shrink myself because Zimbabwe’s society is highly patriarchal and problematic. I stand with #ThisFlag because I believe that in addition to the politics and economics of it all, this is our platform as Zimbabwean women to finally speak up and stand up for our rights. Even within the movement I believe as women that it’s imperative to make our voices heard. Here at UCT, one of the main things we have pushed for is for the men to create a safe space for us women, because the absence of a safe space is what will demotivate some women from participating in #ThisFlag. In a recent chat with Pastor Evan we mentioned to him how important it is for the broader movement to acknowledge the social issues that have been hindering our success as a nation, such as patriarchy and tribalism.
“The only way we can target the main issues that plague us economically and politically is by investing in social reforms.”
I believe that #ThisFlag is as much my movement as it is the next person’s. I believe we have enough consent to alter this movement to suit our personal narrative. I stand in solidarity with #ThisFlag because it is my platform to stand for the changes I want to see in my own life.”
Header image sourced from insightintodiversity.com