Fans in Bulawayo have been asked to join a peaceful protest during the second Test between Zimbabwe and New Zealand in Bulawayo as part of the #thisflag demonstrations that have been held throughout the country in recent weeks.
The movement, started by Pastor Evan Mawarire, encourages Zimbabweans to take ownership of their flag, and by implication their country, through mass action.
In a video posted on YouTube, Mawarire instructed supporters to stand at the start of the 36th over on day one – to coincide with the country’s 36th year of independence – and sing the national anthem in the hope of attracting global media attention to the cause.
Mawarire’s statement references the protests by Henry Olonga and Andy Flower in 2003 and says it wants to honour them for starting that first protest.
It calls on spectators to go to the ground on Saturday with their flags and, at the start of the 36th over, stand up and sing the national anthem. The 36 refers to the years since Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe came to power.
Mawarire is currently in South Africa, where he has been since he was released on bail after being arrested for leading last month’s stay-aways.
On July 6 and again on July 13 and 14, Zimbabweans did not go to work for peaceful protests. Following that, there have been several clashes between protestors and police as well as further demonstrations, mostly in Harare. Bulawayo, where both Tests against New Zealand are being played, has remained largely unaffected.
Should the action go ahead, this will be the second time that cricket would be used to send a political message. The black armband protests by Olonga and Flower to mark what they called the death of democracy resulted in both men leaving the country and marked the end of their playing careers.
Since then, Zimbabwean cricket itself has been fairly politicised with events such as the white-player walkout and moves to aggressively transform the national team, aligning it closer to the state.
However, interest in cricket has waned as poor results and the economic downturn caused self-imposed exile from Test cricket and fewer fixtures than any other ICC Full Member. Still, cricket remains one of Zimbabweans’ few connections to the outside world and is being used for political aims again, even though coverage of the current series is scant.
Television apart, the series has not received a high level of coverage within the local newspapers, often finding itself relegated below football, there are no traveling New Zealand writers and only two other journalists from outside Zimbabwe.
Attendance could also be an issue. The first match saw a crowd of a few hundred throughout the game, of which a large percentage was school children being bussed in.
With school holidays commencing on Friday, that is unlikely to be the case for the second Test. However, crowd numbers are likely to be bolstered by the weekend start and the fact that four of the five match days take place over a long weekend. Monday is Heroes’ Day and Tuesday National Armed Forces Day.
A police presence is also expected at the second Test, as was the case in the first, with no indication of whether the numbers will be greater than before. ESPN Sports