By Dr Michelina Andreucci
EVER since homo sapiens learnt to stand up, one of the things he did was raise his fist; when provoked and in defence.
Anthropologically, the raised fist is a warning, combined with a gesture of self-defence.
An invariable symbol of resistance and unity, the clenched fist is part of the broader category of hand symbols that include the ‘V’ for victory or peace, the clenched fist on chest, the forward-thrust hand/fist, and the clasped hands that make up part of humanity’s non-verbal communication.
The clenched fist also implied possession of something precious that needed to be guarded vigilantly.
The protection of one’s patrimony was symbolised by the clenched fist
As an articulatory gesture, the clenched raised fist (chibhakera) is a symbol of strength, defiance, victory, an old universal symbol also used in combat or as a gesture of protest or raised to demonstrate and signify solidarity, unity, vigilance and completeness.
It is a well recognised symbol in visual communication that does not necessitate the spoken word to explain or interpret it.
In universal antiquarian political history, the fist became the adopted iconographic symbol of many political struggles and one that was adopted by ZANU-PF.
Over the past four decades the ‘raised fist’ has become President Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s signature gesture, synonymous with our liberation struggle and symbolic of the country and the ruling party ZANU-PF.
The fist is synonymous to Shona culture. ‘Mwana anozvarwa akapfumba chibhakera’ — a child is born with clenched fists that are said to hold the gifts of their ancestry.
This universal and pan-Africanist symbol was shared by the founding fathers of many African nations that endured the tribulations of struggles in their separate quests for their liberation from colonialism and independence.
It was then, and still is, a symbol that re-enforced solidarity, oneness and freedom that united the oppressed African people.
From President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, to Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa and its allies, they all used the symbol together with popular rallying cry ‘Amandla’, a word meaning power in Zulu, Ndebele and Xhosa languages.
It was used during the peak of resistance against the racist apartheid order.
The clenched fist was an expression of determination to bring the people of Zimbabwe and Africa closer together, amalgamate their ideas and strengths and ensure integration for sustained socio-economic and political development; virtues that can also be found in the tenets of hunhu/ubuntu.
These symbols embrace everything that is integral to the culture and dear to the people – summed up in the Shona word nhaka, one’s inheritance.
The clenched fist as a gesture has a long history as a symbol of defiance and solidarity, frequently associated with the struggles of many oppressed groups of people, as well as left-wing politics.
Usually articulated on posters and pamphlets, it has established itself as such a powerful and effective symbol, adopted by social protestors of disempowered groups such as students, anti-war activists, women’s movements and other socio-political activities and to communicate to their society that they are angry, active, unified and powerful.
Symbols are also specific to individuals, nations and cultures. Most celebrated politicians and leaders have a recognisable symbol that is uniquely theirs.
From the straight arm raised in a ‘Roman salute’ as displayed by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini’s fascists, to Winston Churchill’s fingers raised in ‘V’ for victory, during the Second World War, former President Kenneth Kaunda’s white handkerchief and President Jomo Kenyatta’s staff and flywhisk, all make visible symbols and trappings of power.
In most political contexts, especially those dealing with the decolonisation of Africa, the symbols begin as a symbol of protest and defiance, which later define one’s victory.
In a show of solidarity during the liberation struggle, the slogan ‘Pamberi ne Chimurenga, pamberi neZANU, pamberi nerusununguko!’ was accompanied by the raised fist.
Though our culture has its laws of decorum whereby a raised fist is a demonstration of antagonism, currently it has become a symbol of progress, solidarity, development and unity.
In one simple gesture, the iconic clenched fist encapsulates connotations of resistance, solidarity, pride and militancy that have been used in many countries; from Asia, Africa, Cuba, Europe, Latin America, the US and Russia.
In 1917, the logo was adopted as a propaganda cartoon by the Industrial Workers of the World, a revolutionary trade union group in the US.
The clenched fist was popularised again during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, used by the Popular Front as a greeting salute by Republican forces fighting General Franco’s nationalists.
During America’s civil rights struggle of the 1960s, a black clenched fist for activist groups like the Black Panther Party became the symbol of black power.
During the 1968 Olympics, two Afro-American athletes raised their fists from the podium in protest at US’ treatment of African-American people. American athlete O.J. Simpson re-created the moment from the infamous murder trial when a juror flashed the black power fist at Simpson in the courtroom.
Currently, the clenched fist holding a rose is the logo of the Socialist International, and a number of European socialist parties, including the UK Labour party and those in France and Spain who are affiliated to this day.
This iconographic gesture was also used by parties during the French and Soviet revolutions, the US Communist Party and the Black Panther Party.
More recently, with absurd inappropriateness, Donald Trump emerged from the Capitol Building on Inauguration Day, gave a thumbs-up and then raised his right fist in the air.
While decades earlier, the raised fist was a signal of resistance associated with Malcolm-X and the Black Power movement, during his campaign, Trump used the fist as an aggressive symbol of dominance; wielding it throughout his rallies, after speeches on stage, off stage and even on Christmas cards.
The next day the clenched fist was the focal point at Women’s marches, openly protesting Trump’s misogynistic behaviour and political platform.
There needs to be greater efforts made for every child to be taught these symbols, what they mean as national determination, walking in the spirit of their founding fathers and mothers.
Our liberation struggle and quest for self-determination is immortalised in the single human gesture; the raised fist — an authentic creative impulse and signature gesture of the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.
It is a tangible vision of what indigenisation, self-determination and freedom should mean.
Born out of the armed struggle, the symbol of the fist was raised in victory in 1980.
It chronicles the definitive events in our history, culture and the making of the free Zimbabwe we fought for; free, peaceful, self-governing, emancipated and sovereign.
Let us raise our fists together as we celebrate the 37th year of our independence, freedom, togetherness and sovereignty.
Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant, lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field.
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