Zimbabwe news February 7, 2013

Andy Flower recalls armband protest

Andy Flower, the former Zimbabwe captain and current England team director, has spoken openly about his black armband protest at the 2003 World Cup to mark 10 years since he and Henry Olonga stood against "the death of democracy" in Zimbabwe.

Flower reflected on the events of February 10, 2003, in Harare, when Zimbabwe played Namibia, in a BBC Radio 5 Live programme and spoke in detail for the first time about what prompted him to don the armband. He said that "given the same circumstances," he would "without a doubt," do it again.

During one of Zimbabwe's worst periods of oppression in the early 2000s, a friend of Flower's, Nigel Huff, took him to see the devastation on his farm caused by land reform. He also told Flower the national cricket team had a "moral obligation not to go about business as usual during the World Cup but to tell the world what was going on in Zimbabwe."

Flower approached Olonga for two reasons. He thought Olonga would have "the courage of his convictions to take a stand," and wanted to have two people of different races making the same protest. "I also thought the fact that it would be one white Zimbabwean and one black one operating together gave the message the most eloquent balance," Flower said.

Together with David Coltart, then a human rights lawyer and now the country's minister of sports, education, arts and culture, the idea of armbands was conceived. Nobody in the team or elsewhere knew what Flower and Olonga were going to do until the morning of their opening match against Namibia.

Before play, a statement was handed to the media containing details of the symbolism in their gesture. It contained an explanation: "Although we are just professional cricketers, we do have a conscience and feelings. We believe that if we remain silent that will be taken as a sign that either we do not care or we condone what is happening in Zimbabwe. We believe that it is important to stand up for what is right.

"In doing so we are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe."

A copy of the statement is framed and hangs in Flower's study where he occasionally re-reads it. "I love the way it was written - the meaning in some of those sentences is very sad because it is a reminder of what was happening in that country at that time and some of the people who went through agony and lost their lives," he said.

During his interview with Alison Mitchell, she asked him to read it aloud and he did. She recalled that he "struggled to keep his voice from cracking," and "the emotion was evident in his eyes."

Although Flower said he knew his international career would end and he would have to leave Zimbabwe, Olonga thought his life would go on in his homeland. "I had in my own naivety thought I could carry on in Zimbabwe - maybe my career would come to an end but I could still live there. But that all changed when I got death threats two or three weeks after the World Cup. I realised the game was up," Olonga said.

Olonga now lives in England where he works as a singer and public speaker. He would like to return to Zimbabwe with his wife and two daughters but would "need some guarantees that people who wanted to harm me a few years ago do not still want to harm me," he said.

Flower would also like to return and hopes to go back to a better place. "We can't all change the world, but if we all do little things along the way and make the most powerful decisions we can then I think we can bring about change," he said.

Andy's brother, Grant, is the current Zimbabwe's batting coach so the family connection with the national team remains. However, Grant he will not travel to West Indies on the forthcoming tour because of what ZC termed a "technical change" to their structure.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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