Africa | Showing Mugabe the red card proves a difficult trick

Harare, Zimbabwe | For nearly 10 years political opponents have tried to send off President Robert Mugabe, but he still has not left the pitch.

Drawing on the range of football metaphor in the Zimbabwean political process, the Movement for Democratic Change shortly after its founding in 1999 initiated a red-card campaign to retire the 84-year-old strongman, who has led the state since independence in 1980. Voters have another opportunity to reject Mugabe on Saturday at parliamentary and presidential elections.

Supporters of Movement for Democratic Change candidate Tsvangirai flash the omnipresent red cards at a stadium rally. (© 2008 MDC)

At stadium rallies over the past month, backers of MDC presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai have waved the palm-sized cards, reading “Send Mugabe and Zanu PF Off!” in reference to the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front. Since the run-up to 2000 elections, when the party surprised Mugabe by winning 57 of 120 parliamentary seats, former union leader Tsvangirai and other MDC speakers have riffed on the red-card idea. Tsvangirai invokes the “red sand of Africa” as part of his rhetorical flourishes. Red is the color of MDC—a reference to the pan-ethnic, multilingual state envisioned following long periods of tribal division.

At Rufaro Stadium in Harare on 18 Jun 2000—the site of Mugabe’s independence declaration—Tsvangirai offered supporters the open-handed “change” salute, a mimicking of the match referee’s gesture when sending a player to the showers. He told 45,000 at the stadium:

The MDC has the people of Zimbabwe behind it—we are knocking on the doors of parliament. We are walking up its corridors. We are saying away with corruption—away.

No more petrol or paraffin queues—no more.

No more hunger or crying—no more.

No more beatings and house burnings—no more.

The spirit of democratic resistance lives in our hearts.

Chinonzi regedza ndechirimumaoka chirimumoyo chirimuninga.

The people of Zimbabwe say to Robert Mugabe—we showed you the yellow card at the time of the referendum, and now today Robert Mugabe we are showing you the red card.

Get off the field Robert Mugabe—your time is over.

Get off the field ZanuPF—your time has gone.

Come liberation—come.

Come freedom—come.

Later that day, he expanded the metaphor:

The MDC is a non-racial party. Zimbabweans are a collective, we have a common history—we share the future. Our strength comes from our cultural and ethnic diversity. The red sand of Africa flows through our veins. Every group is part of the national team—every goal we score is a goal for the nation. No team has only one kind of player—it has many different kinds of players, together those differences make them powerful. Together. We are tired of sitting on the sidelines; of being expelled to the bin. We are tired of the world laughing at the old team as they fall over the ball.

We are Zimbabwe. One people. One nation. One team.

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