Visiting government offices is nobody’s favourite occupation. The young woman to whom I had to submit some official documents the other day did not even respond to my “Good morning”.
When she rejected one document she did not explain what was wrong with it. Representing state power, she seemed to feel there was no need to observe common courtesies.
Who has not seen an official tell an old grandmother from Mutoko seeking a birth certificate for her orphaned grandchild “to come back tomorrow”?
The idea of her sleeping in the open at Mbare bus terminus does not worry him.
We made a first attempt at building a new Zimbabwe, a state respecting the ‘rule of law’ and the rights and dignity of its citizens.
It was a failure. We have to try again.
We have to set up a new legal framework and constitution. But this will remain mere paper unless we get new minds and new hearts and become new people altogether first.
The people who took over in 1980 wanted to create the “new man and new woman”.
But when they settled down in the comfortable chairs of their predecessors they must have been possessed by generations of ghosts of past bureaucrats and therefore behaved no differently from them, if not worse.
Recently when our people applied for permission to hold a religious procession they received a strange letter in reply. After granting the permission, the letter said more or less that everything was forbidden unless allowed by the police.
What this amounts to is that we have clearly given the state an excess of power.
Many people are afraid of the state and its agents. But why should this be so? Are we, the citizens, not the owners of the state? Was this not what the war of liberation was all about? Did we not refuse to live any longer in a state not our own? But now we are afraid of our own children when they dress up as “green bombers”.
The state should never be almighty. The state does not exist for its own sake.
The state serves a purpose. The state has a job to do. Which is to act in the common interest of all its citizens.
Our state failed to do this. It was hijacked by a minority, the “ruling elite”. It did not do its job of working for the welfare of all. If they had done their job our young people would not be walking the streets, unemployed.
And the servants of this state are rarely “civil”. They desperately hold on to their positions so as to receive their (often meagre) salaries and stay alive.
They are not interested in the people they are supposed to serve.
They are rude and contemptuous of the public.
Or exploit the people as do police officers who stop drivers, accuse them of some imagined offence and then let them off for payment of a “fine” which is really a bribe going into their own private pockets. Why else would they fail to give you a receipt?
Here is a tremendous task for Christians. They may not know it, but they do not worship an “almighty God”.
Jesus made it plain to his ambitious friends and disciples who wanted posts in his cabinet that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10: 45). God did not come as the “almighty” to us, but as a servant.
Self employed parking attendants often address me as “boss”. It makes me cross. I am not a boss. As “Baba Fata” I am on call 24 hours a day, I may say with only slight exaggeration – as is a servant without fixed working hours.
If there are church people who behave like bosses – ministers or lay leaders – they do not know their “lord and master” yet.
He was so preoccupied with the people who came to him, his family called him “mad” (Mark 3: 21).
We need some of this “madness” too. Maybe that would give the country the new spirit it so desperately needs.
State workers who served the public civilly, with courtesy, generosity, humour, and especially honesty, now that would be the “new men” and “new women” for a new Zimbabwe.
l Fr Oskar Wermter SJ