Thursday, April 21, 2011

Matabeleland separatists burn flag

Matabeleland separatists burn flag
by Thabo Kunene I Radio Netherlands
21/04/2011 00:00:00

MORE than 500 Zimbabwean exiles in South Africa marched for an independent Zimbabwean state on Wednesday. The protest was organised by the Matabeleland-based secessionist organisation, Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF). In the past few months, the MLF’s increasingly popular campaign has led to the arrest of three of the movement's senior leaders.

Separatists from Matabeleland province say the people of the region have suffered from marginalisation and discrimination under Zimbabwe’s unitary system since the 1980’s. They demand an independent state which they want to name Mthwakazi.

President Robert Mugabe has said Zimbabwe will never be divided into two ethnic based states. The arrested MLF leaders Paul Siwela, John Gazi and Charles Thomas are currently facing charges of treason. They could face the death sentence if convicted.

During the march, protesters sang struggle songs which brought business to a standstill along Johannesburg's Sauer and Bree Streets.

“Our march was very successful and attracted many Zimbabweans living in South Africa,” said MLF spokesman, Sabelo Mavikinduku Ngwenya, a lawyer by profession.

Although the police closely monitored the march, protesters managed to burn a Zimbabwean flag, which they said was a symbol of oppression and discrimination against ethnic groups in Matabeleland province.

This act was received with mixed feelings. Some Zimbabweans, even those from Matabeleland, said while they supported the group’s campaign for a free Matabeleland, they opposed the burning of the flag.

“The burning of the flag by the secessionists could increase repression against our people by Mugabe’s government. The same people who burnt the flag are still using Zimbabwe government passports - why did they not burn their passports too?” said Dumisani Moyo, a Zimbabwean living in Johannesburg.

But Professor Sabelo Gatsheni Ndlovu, a political analyst and a history lecturer at Johannesburg’s Wits University, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that the burning of the Zimbabwean flag was a clear signal by the secessionists that they don’t want to be part of Zimbabwe anymore.

“The burning of the flag has symbolic significance. It means they are indicating their separation from that country. The flag is not just a piece of cloth. It represents the spirit of the country and identity. It’s a statement by the protesters.”

The organisers of the march also sent a delegation to the Zimbabwe Embassy in Pretoria to deliver the group's document outlining how the state of Mthwakazi would be created and which districts in Zimbabwe would be part of that country.

Ambassador Phelekezela Mphoko, who also comes from Matabeleland, has openly opposed the campaign of secession. He was not available for comment. One official at the embassy said they did not receive any document from MLF.

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