Insight into half-mast tradition in national funerals


“I SEE that the half-mast for Dr Timothy Stamps continues. How long should the nation mourn a great man or woman? Is there a rule?”
The critical observation was made by a colleague on a social media platform.
The nation had, on November 26 2017, been plunged into mourning after the departure of a dedicated son of the soil whose contributions left an indelible mark on the history of the health sector in Zimbabwe.
The remark was made on December 8 as some flags continued to fly at half-mast.
In fact, quite a number of flags were still at half-mast when I took a drive down Samora Machel Avenue on December 12. Back to the questions raised by my colleague, there was no shared understanding; three official days of mourning, until burial or on burial day were the common reactions.
For many, the official funeral service for Dr Stamps and subsequent cremation held on December 6 marked the end of the mourning, but many others waited for a National Heroes Acre function that is yet to be.
I found the issue quite intriguing.
There has not been much of precedence to fall on.
Perhaps the funeral of National Hero Khantabai Patel is instructive.
He died on September 10 2011 and was declared a National Hero on September 14 with flags ordered to fly at half-mast until September 16 when he was cremated.
My Unyetu experience, as is often the case, was not helpful in matters of such stately importance.
Flashing back to village school days, my memory fails me on whether the school hoisted the Rhodesian national flag.
My brother is certain we had a flag and that the smart and sharp senior of ours, Right Zvavamwe, was the flag boy.
I think he is telescoping events with later experience in Dangamvura.
I remember Zvavamwe, in the equally envious position of school bell boy, religiously ringing the bell to announce end of lessons.
My view remains.
Unyetu never hoisted the Rhodesian flag, full or half-mast.
Later in high school and after independence, the flag and its attendant military drill rituals is what I recall.
And the wind was always ready to blow it gloriously.
It was also around this time that I came across the half-mast concept.
George Silundika had died April 9 1981 and was declared a National Hero by the then Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe on the 10th.
Flags were ordered to fly at half-mast countrywide until burial the next day at the new heroes’ acre.
Perhaps the flag had also flown at half-mast during reburials of Josiah Tongogara and Jason Moyo the previous August, I can not recall.
With Silundika, there was a presence of death and its cruelty made, an impressionable youthful a flag-in-mourning a fitting tribute.
The flag was among the earliest freedom heritage symbols created in time for Independence Day on April 18 1980.
The National Flag consists of seven even horizontal stripes of green, gold, red and black with a white triangle containing a red five-pointed star with a Zimbabwe Bird.
The colours are partly based on the colours of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front, which themselves were heavily influenced by Pan-African colours (green, red and yellow) of Ethiopian inspiration.
The golden Zimbabwe Bird is the national symbol of Zimbabwe, a representation of the African fish eagle, hungwe.
Years later Solomon Mutsvairo gifted us a National Anthem that extolled the virtues of the same flag that I had witnessed mourning Silundika.
“O lift high the banner, the flag of Zimbabwe
The symbol of freedom proclaiming victory;
We praise our heros’ sacrifice,
And vow to keep our land from foes;
And may the Almighty protect and bless our land.”
Without fail, the wind always generously blows the flag as if in victory celebration.
Guidelines for the use, display and disposal of the National Flag of Zimbabwe include the following: The flag should never be allowed to come into contact with the ground and should be raised, lowered and folded with respect and dignity.
Should the flag reach a stage where it is no longer deemed worthy of the public eye, such as when it is torn and tattered, it should be ‘destroyed in a dignified way’ with ‘all due care and respect’.
After which, the disposed flag should be replaced with a new one.
The global tradition of flying the flag at half-mast began in the 17th Century, though in Zimbabwe, I associate it with Silundika and National Heroes Acre burials.
According to some sources, the flag is lowered to make room for an ‘invisible flag of death’ flying above.
However, depending with jurisdiction, there are varying views about where on a flagpole a flag should be when it is at half-mast.
One view is that a flag at half-mast should be lowered only as much as the hoist, or width, of the flag.
Another view says a flag at half-mast should be flown no less than two-thirds of the way up the flagpole, with at least the height of the flag between the top of the flag and the top of the pole.
Yet other views take half-mast literally to mean to be flown only halfway up a flagpole.
Generally, when hoisting a flag that is to be displayed at half-mast, it should be raised to the end of the pole for an instant, and then lowered to half-mast.
Likewise, when the flag is lowered at the end of the day, it should be hoisted to the end of the pole for an instant, and then lowered.
Never having been a flag boy at school, let alone bell boy, like our senior at Unyetu, Zvavamwe, I missed on our flag hoisting protocols, but I am sure a lot I have picked above from different sources apply.
Perhaps we need regular communication on this, in particular, the half-mast issue.
We come from different cultural and religious backgrounds making the after determination on when half-mast ends problematic.
Our flag should always be lifted high in celebration of the heroics of our fore bearers.
Half-mast should be rare and of very limited duration lest the omens and messengers of death set permanent camp on the land.


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