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The story behind Zimbabwe’s scarf

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Emmerson Munangagwa

An accidental fashion accessory is helping President Emmerson Munangagwa rebrand the country – and distance himself from his predecessor Robert Mugabe and his 37-year rule.

Since the Davos summit in January, Emmerson Munangagwa is hardly ever seen without a scarf in the colours of Zimbabwe’s flag around his neck – no matter the temperature.

It was perfect for the freezing Swiss mountain village in mid-winter – and the Mr Emmerson Munangagwa proudly wore it during a BBC interview, later tweeting a clip of it saying, “Zimbabwe is open for business.”

But the scarf now has a life of its own, beyond the World Economic Forum – and even has its own hashtag #EDscarf.

Mr Emmerson Munangagwa, popularly known by his initials ED, got his hands on the scarf by chance when a mother-and-daughter fashion start-up contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on a Saturday before the Zimbabwe delegation left for Davos.

‘Such a shock’

There had been much hype ahead of the summit with Zimbabwe’s new leader anxious to attract urgent investment to revive an economy that has been on its knees for the last decade.

“We called and were like, ‘We’ve got these products, we’re not sure how you can use them.’ And the next thing you know the president is wearing the scarf… It was really such a shock on our end,” Celia Rukato told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

She said it was one of the first products she and her mother, Hesphina Rukato, produced when they formed their company in 2014 – and it was sold, with little fanfare, at a curio shop at Zimbabwe’s Harare International Airport.

It was a way for Zimbabweans to show they were “proud to be Zimbabwean”

Pride in the scarf chimes with the #ThisFlag social media movement of 2016 that protested against Mr Mugabe’s rule and the dire economic situation.

It was launched by a pastor angered by the state of the nation. He posted a video on Facebook of himself wrapped in the Zimbabwean flag, explaining why the colours were significant.

“They tell me that the green is for the vegetation and for the crops. I don’t see any crops in my country,” Evan Mawarire said.

“The yellow is for all the minerals – diamonds, platinum, chrome – I don’t know how much of it is left; I don’t know who they sold it to and how much they got for it.

“The red they say that is the blood that was shed to secure freedom for me and I’m so thankful for that – I just don’t know that if they were here, they that shed their blood, and saw the way this country is that they would demand their blood be brought back.”

Before Mr Mugabe was ousted, vendors were even banned from selling flags without authorisation.

But during the unprecedented protest days before Mr Mugabe’s resignation, the flag was everywhere – around the necks of many Zimbabweans, no matter their political party.

‘National dress’

Following the scarf’s outing at Davos, it has become a must – near enough a uniform with slightly different designs – for those representing the country abroad.

For the Rukatos the success of the scarf feeds into their ambition to start a debate about creating a national dress for Zimbabwe.

“One of the things we’ve noticed over the years is that most nationalities have a national dress and Zimbabweans have not had anything.

So the scarf is just one of the things we’re beginning to put out there,” Hesphina Rukato told journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.

Creating a national dress is now a manifesto promise for the main opposition Movement Democratic Change Alliance, whose leader Nelson Chamisa is Mr Emmerson Munangagwa’s main rival in presidential elections later this month.

For the scarf, things have also got a little more political because of the president’s passion for it. At nearly every campaign rally for the ruling Zanu-PF party – whether or not it is cold – he is seen with it around his neck.

It has even got the head of the electoral commission into trouble, when a photo of her posing in the scarf with its creator, Celia Rukato, next to her began circulating on social media.

Priscilla Chigumba said the photo was taken before she was appointed in January to head the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).

“That scarf was designed by a brilliant young Zimbabwean girl who then approached a group of us when I was a high court judge to say, ‘Look I’ve designed this scarf in an effort to build national consciousness.’

And I did want to support her, and I was very grateful for the present that she gave me and I took a picture,” she told Zimbabwe’s Capitalk FM earlier this month.

It didn’t help that one of the Zec chair’s aides said last month it was must have been faked – not realising it was an old photo.

“He obviously thought in his mind it must be a Photoshop as he knew I’d never jeopardise the image of the commission,” Ms Chigumba said.

Despite the controversy, the scarf remains popular – and a bestseller for the Rukatos.

One young man returning to university in neighbouring South Africa last week wanted to buy one of the last ones for sale that day for $24 (£18) at Harare’s International Airport.

“Of course I wouldn’t wear it in Harare at home – but it looks cool in Port Elizabeth,” he said.
BBC

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BUSINESS

Zimbabwe agrees to pay $3.5 billion compensation to white farmers

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Zimbabwe White Farmers

Zimbabwe agreed on Wednesday to pay $3.5 billion in compensation to Zimbabwe white farmers whose land was expropriated by the government to resettle black families, moving a step closer to resolving one the most divisive policies of the Robert Mugabe era.

But the southern African nation does not have the money and will issue long term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding, according to the compensation agreement.

Two decades ago Mugabe’s government carried out at times violent evictions of 4,500 Zimbabwe white farmers and redistributed the land to around 300,000 Black families, arguing it was redressing colonial land imbalances.

The agreement signed at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s State House offices in Harare showed white farmers would be compensated for infrastructure on the farms and not the land itself, as per the national constitution.

Details of how much money each farmer, or their descendants, given the time elapsed since the farms were seized, was likely to get were not yet clear, but the government has said it would prioritise the elderly when making the settlements.

Farmers would receive 50% of the compensation after a year and the balance within five years. Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube and acting Agriculture Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri signed on behalf of the government, while farmers unions and a foreign consortium that undertook valuations also penned the agreement.

“As Zimbabweans, we have chosen to resolve this long-outstanding issue,” said Andrew Pascoe, head of the Commercial Farmers Union representing  Zimbabwe white farmers.

The land seizures were one of Mugabe’s signature policies that soured ties with the West. Mugabe, who was ousted in a coup in 2017 and died last year, accused the West of imposing sanctions on his government as punishment.

The programme still divides public opinion in Zimbabwe as opponents see it as a partisan process that left the country struggling to feed itself. But its supporters say it has empowered landless Black people. Mnangagwa said the land reform could not be reversed but paying of compensation was key to mending ties with the West. Reuters

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NEWS

Chinamasa calls U.S. ambassador ‘thug’ as anti-government protests loom

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Chinamasa

Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party on Monday called the United States ambassador a “thug” and accused him of funding the opposition ahead of this week’s planned anti-government protests that authorities say are meant to overthrow the government.

Without providing evidence, ZANU-PF spokesman Patrick Chinamasa told reporters that U.S. ambassador to Harare, Brian Nichols, was involved in subversive activities to topple President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

Chinamasa’s comments echo the Robert Mugabe era, where the ZANU-PF government regularly accused the United States and Britain of seeking to dislodge it from power.

“He (Nichols) continues to engage in acts of undermining this republic and if he does so, if he continues engaging in acts of mobilising and funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training insurgents, our leadership will not hesitate to give him marching orders,” Chinamasa said.
“Diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug.”

The U.S. embassy in Harare did not immediately respond to Chinamasa’s comments. Political tensions are rising fast in the southern African nation after activists called for demonstrations on July 31 against government corruption, which they blame for deepening the worst economic crisis in more than a decade.

Last month, the government summoned Nichols after a senior White House official said Zimbabwe was among “foreign adversaries” using the civil unrest in the United States following the death of George Floyd to interfere in U.S. affairs.

The U.S., Britain, E.U. embassies and the United Nations have all criticised Zimbabwe for the arrest of journalists and political challengers.
Relations between Zimbabwe and the West were promising when Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe after a coup in 2017, but have soured over the government’s human rights record.

Patrick Chinamasa urged party supporters to defend themselves from protesters and avoid a repeat of the deadly violence that followed post-election demonstrations in August 2018 and the January 2019 protests over a steep fuel price hike.“No, this time no. Use any means at your disposal to defend yourselves,” Chinamasa said. Organisers say this week’s protests will be peaceful. Reuters

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HEALTH

Perence Shiri, Zimbabwe Agriculture Minister Dies

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Perrence-Shiri-Dead

Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister Perence Shiri, a retired general who helped plot the ouster of Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup, has died, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Wednesday.

Perence Shiri, who commanded the air force for 25 years until he joined the government in 2017, was admitted to hospital on Tuesday, two government sources said. He died in the early hours of Wednesday.

“Shiri was a true patriot, who devoted his life to the liberation, independence and service of his country,” Mnangagwa said in a statement. He did not say how Shiri died.

But domestic media said Shiri, 65, succumbed to complications from the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, which has infected 2,817 and killed 40 in Zimbabwe.

A liberation war veteran,Perrence Shiri had a chequered past. He commanded the army’s Fifth Brigade unit that carried out the 1980s massacres of thousands of civilians in western Zimbabwe as the government sought to quell an insurgency.

The army massacres, known as ‘Gukurahundi’, a Shona term meaning the ‘early rain that washes away the chaff’, remain a sore point for the people of the Matabeleland region, many of whom demand justice and reparations.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change accused Perence Shiri of being among the security chiefs who organised violence against its members after Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential vote in 2008.Reuters

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