In Summary
  • In recent times, the hat has been dusted from history, at least in Africa, and marched out into the streets and inferno of struggle.
  • It first made waves when South African politician Julius Malema, a fiery man cut in the cloth of the old guard, stormed into the scene wearing the red beret.

  • Ugandan music star and politician Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, is credited with the revival of the red beret in the region.

The beret is perhaps the most iconic of all sartorial symbols of resistance and revolution. Think Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s staring out from a graffiti mural; the combative Fidel Castro marching triumphantly into Havana; Burkinabe Thomas Sankara at the height of his youthful, liberating cameo in African politics; think the Black Panthers.

STRUGGLE

It has been a while since the signature round hat with the flat top, usually worn with the top sloping to the side, or perched on the wearer’s head like a crown, has been in circulation. But in recent months, the beret has been dusted from history, in Africa at least, and marched on outside, into the streets, out into the inferno of struggle.

REVOLUTIONARIES

It first made waves when South African politician Julius Malema, a fiery man cut in the cloth of the old guard, stormed into the scene wearing the red beret.

“We are inspired by these revolutionaries,” Malema was quoted in the South African Sunday Times newspaper. “We’re inspired by Thomas Sankara (the Burkina Faso leader and Pan-Africanist who was assassinated in 1987) who used to wear a beret as well.”

UNIFORM

Malema’s political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), has incorporated the red beret as part of its uniform.

In the immediate neighbourhood, Ugandan music star and politician Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, is credited with the revival of the red beret in the region. Kyagulanyi, 36, has received massive acreage of media space as he spars with President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986.

TREASON

In nearly every political rally, Wine wore the iconic red beret and soon his followers, mostly disgruntled youth, began sporting the cap in solidarity with Wine, the Kyadondo East Member of Parliament.

After Wine’s sensational trial on charges of illegal possession of firearms and treason, and subsequent incarceration, the hat became a rallying point in Uganda and elsewhere. His supporters wore the red beret during a demonstration in Nairobi demanding the politician’s release, and when Kyagulanyi visited Kenya for a solidarity rally in Kibera, Nairobi, in October, the hat sprouted like toadstools.

ACTIVIST

During the rally, Kyagulanyi was joined by his Kenyan counterpart, activist Boniface Mwangi, who wore a green beret to Bobi Wine’s red.

Asked about the beret, Mr Mwangi said: “Whenever I wear a beret, it gives me a feeling of comradeship; that I am in a struggle bigger than me, a battle previously waged by people like Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Thomas Sankara.

POLITICAL

In modern times, it gives you identity. For instance in South Africa, anyone wearing a red beret is easily recognised as supporting Julius Malema and his political movement, same as people allied to Uganda’s Robert Kyagulanyi who easily show their allegiance through their berets despite the fact that Mr Kyagulanyi does not have a political party.”

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