I think I know where Botswana’s lovable soccer team’s nickname came from.
It came from an esteemed “piece of cloth”, whose appearance and colours mirror national issues.
It is called the flag…the national flag!
The world over, flags are reminders and symbols of their nations’ uniqueness. Flags, with National Anthems, accompany the Head of State both at home and abroad.
Whenever the national anthem of a country is played, one is bound to see the national flag of that particular country flapping nearby.
And whenever a Head of State is welcomed outside his borders, or is about to start a speech, both the national flag and anthem are displayed and played at the start of the occasion.
The lyrics of a national anthem usually converge with the meaning of the colours that compose the national flag. With only three colours (black, white and blue), the flag of Botswana has a short but direct message that also appears in its national anthem.
Black and white stripes on the flag (like that of the zebra ÔÇô a popular and abundant animal in Botswana) represent racial unity and harmony, while the blue represents water.
The flag itself is a rallying point for all citizens in celebration or in acknowledging national disasters. It is a sign of personal pride of citizens to identify themselves as coming from their beloved nation.
As a result, you see proud citizens with their country’s flag pinned on the lapels of the coats, or wearing bandanas composed of national colours or miniature flags dangling on the rear view mirror of their cars.
Sadly, Zimbabweans, who, because of persistent decades-old self-inflicted economic and political misery, never thought much of their flag.
It was sickening to see the Zimbabwe flag flapping in the winds with Mugabe’s face super-imposed while a very unpopular national anthem played. Many times a day, we endured this with utter revulsion and hate until Mugabe decreed that it is a crime to criticize the president, the national anthem and the flag ÔÇô an unholy trinity that reminded people of their misery and intense dislike of their president.
Botswana’s flag has three colours and a precise, direct message.
In contrast, the Zimbabwe flag is multi-coloured and has, in addition, a yellow Zimbabwe Bird superimposed on the Communists’ five-point Red Star.
Zimbabwe flag’s colours are green, yellow, red, black and white, each with a meaning of its own.
The Zimbabwe Bird, ridiculously painted yellow on the flag, represents the “rich culture and long history of Zimbabwe”.
The colour white represents “peace and progress”, while the green symbolized “the agriculture of Zimbabwe”.
Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth is represented by the colour yellow, while the red “symbolizes the blood shed” in liberating the country.
Finally, as expected, the colour black “represents native Africans who form the ethnic majority of Zimbabwe”.
All the flag’s colours misfired because none of what they stand for was realized. Even the black colour misfired because Zimbabwe is home to more than one race.
On April 18th, 1980, we in Zimbabwe accepted and adopted our flag with pomp and ceremony just as you here in Botswana did when you adopted your flag on September 30th, 1966.
To this day, you in Botswana feel the pride in yourselves when the blue, black and white flaps in the winds above you, around you or when you are wearing T-shirts made from your national colours. I have seen it in many free countries where the national flag is more important than the president.
The US National Anthem is named the “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Old Glory” is the nickname of the US flag.
The US national anthem is so revered that a president, who performs many functions, had to have his own Presidential Anthem, Hail to The Chief, to be performed on occasions of lesser importance.
The point here is the significance attached to the national flag, which is why even in a country where a government and its leader are most hated, the flag remains as one rallying point of the nation.
This is what happened in Zimbabwe a few weeks ago when Evan Mawarire, a hardly known pastor’s Facebook posting of himself wrapped in the flag of Zimbabwe, reciting the meaning of each colour and symbol on it, ignited a passion in the Zimbabwean people to coalesce against the government of Robert Mugabe.
As a form of protest, thousands of people walked around wrapped in Zimbabwe flags or had the flag or its colours prominently showing on their person, car, bike, wheelbarrow or whatever else they were using.
His efforts caused a complete shutdown of the government in a very successful work boycott to jolt the government into addressing Zimbabwe’s worsening economic and political situation.
What is striking about it is that it was all done outside mainstream opposition parties and the people, for once, rallied behind an iconic symbol regardless of their political affiliation, tribe or religious affiliation in an emphatic demonstration against the government.
It was a simple thing: mobilise the people around the national flag in protest against the government and it worked.
For years, the national anthem and the flag were audio-visual reminders of our misery on both radio and television where Mugabe was also always seen in mortified attention swathed in ridiculous chains and a gold/green sash.
In a classic case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, the people seized on the flag as a rallying point against Mugabe.
The people not only found the flag to be a source of strength but discovered some pride in the flag that they had paid little attention to in decades of “independence”.
Like a husband jealous of his own wife’s wig, Mugabe, now just a toxic pile of decomposing political sludge, now seeks superiority over the national flag as his subalterns are furiously crafting a law “that would make it illegal for individual citizens to own or be found in possession of the country’s flag”.
Are you kidding me?
This is the man who is jealous of soccer teams because they attract more crowds than he does, causing him to bulldoze his way into stadiums to grab or share the limelight.
This is the man who is jealous of congregations because God attracts more crowds than himself, causing him to send his youth to disrupt church services for suspicion that something more than religion is brewing.
God have mercy!