Olonga's song comes to pass

November 30, 2017
Zimbabwe's Henry Olonga.

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP):

When two Zimbabwe cricket players, one black and one white, staged a daring protest against the regime of Robert Mugabe at a World Cup game 14 years ago, they knew it would probably end their careers at home and maybe even put their lives in danger.

At the 2003 cricket World Cup, with TV cameras beaming the action live to the world, Henry Olonga and Andy Flower walked out at a stadium across the road from Mugabe's offices in Harare wearing black armbands taped over the sleeves of their red Zimbabwe shirts. It was to mourn what they called "the death of democracy" in their country under Mugabe.

The surprise act of rebellion at the first World Cup game in Zimbabwe even teammates had no idea what Olonga and Flower had secretly planned to do gave the hardships of ordinary Zimbabweans international exposure and publicly embarrassed Mugabe.

Olonga, the first black man to play for Zimbabwe, was ostracised by cricket officials loyal to Mugabe and hounded by death threats. He and Flower never played for Zimbabwe again after the World Cup and, fearing more serious repercussions, left their home country.

At the age of 26, Olonga's cricket career was over and he had to start again from scratch in a new country. He always knew that was probably going to happen.




What Olonga, a cricketer by day and singer by night, couldn't have known is that a patriotic song he first recorded in a small bedroom, and which was banned on TV and radio after his protest, would become the soundtrack of change in Zimbabwe when Mugabe was finally forced out more than a decade later.

Olonga's song Our Zimbabwe has been playing regularly on national television, once the mouthpiece of Mugabe, over the last two weeks, both in the days leading up to and since Mugabe's resignation last Tuesday. Calling for Zimbabweans to unite and stand up for their country, it's become a kind of unofficial national anthem embraced by joyous Zimbabweans at the end of Mugabe's 37-year rule.

It's taken nearly 15 years, but Zimbabwe is listening to Olonga's song again.

"I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the people of Zimbabwe have embraced the song and that ZBC (the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation) has been playing it as events unfolded in Zimbabwe," Olonga told The Associated Press in an interview from Australia, where he's been living in exile. "It is very humbling for all of us involved.

"It stands as a challenge to each and every Zimbabwean to embrace their part in making a stand for their country. Judging by events that occurred recently, I think Zimbabweans are finding their voice and have done just that."

The song's lyrics reflect the current mood of Zimbabweans, yearning for change from repression and desperate economic struggles under Mugabe: "We've been through it all, we've had our days, we've had our falls," sings Olonga in the 2001 music video as he looks over the Zimbabwean countryside from the top of a hill. "Now the time has come for us to stand, to stand as one."

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