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Courage under fire: A selection of champions

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Leadership is not a position, it’s a decision.

This was the prevailing message I took out of the Steve Covey Leadership conference last week.

Even if one has not been appointed to a position of leadership, one becomes a leader simply by virtue of the sequence of decisions one makes in a particular situation.

I share this with you because as I was trying to decide which heroes to highlight for this column, I noticed that the underlying theme in most cases where courage is demonstrated was one of taking difficult decisions and being prepared to face the consequences.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to choose which heroes to highlight; they chose me.

In the 1996 film Courage Under Fire, starring Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan, the main character faces a host of difficulties and moral dilemmas in his quest to establish the truth.

In the end it leads him to face his own shortcomings and he redeems himself through an act of tremendous moral courage, telling a mother and father the truth about his role in their son’s death.

What is moral courage? As with most definitions, the specifics differ, but the general consensus seems to highlight the following elements:

recognising that something is wrong or unfair and opposing it;

acting according to values of right and wrong when dominant values decree otherwise (when most people think something different to you);

being brave enough to stand up to people who have more power than you;

defending others who cannot defend themselve;

considering and understanding the possible

consequences and still making the choice to take the action (bbc.co.uk)

In Zimbabwe, moral courage is perhaps best defined by the innumerable opportunities that are available to demonstrate it.

Last week an interesting flyer was dropped in my mail box.

It was headlined Our Action Our Future and was an appeal by Miracle Missions to encourage residents to participate in a clean-up operation along Borrowdale Road.

As a result of this appeal, 97 drains were cleared, with 81 still to go. Approximately 80 residents turned up, though I am ashamed to say, I was not one of them!

You may wonder why this kind of project qualified as an example of moral courage, and to answer your question, I would charge you to consider the reasons why you haven’t initiated such a project yourself.

There are reasons why this meet the criteria for courage.

A few days ago, NewsDay published a report on Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s reminiscences about his political career.

He highlighted the suffering he underwent when he was arrested and beaten by the police till he passed out.

Taking the tough decision to return to the cause after this incident demonstrates both moral and physical courage.

Whatever your thoughts about him now, President Robert Mugabe demonstrated the same sort of moral courage in the early years of his political career.

Freed from political imprisonment, he continued his struggle against white minority rule, only to be arrested again.

We enjoy the freedoms we have today because of many acts of courage such as these.

The Anne Frank Trust draws on the power of Anne Frank’s life and diary to challenge prejudice and reduce hatred, encouraging people to embrace positive attitudes, responsibility and respect for others.

In 2003 the Trust introduced the Anne Frank Award to be given to young people and educators whose exemplary values and moral courage have made a difference in the lives of others.(www.annefrank.org.uk)

In case you are too young to know this, Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who went into hiding with her family in the Second World War.

During this time she kept a journal which was later published in many languages worldwide.

She died in a concentration camp at the age of 15 and has become a symbol of the lost promise of childhood of children who are affected by war.

“One way to stop the next war is to continue to tell the truth about this one.” These are the words of Kathy Kelly, American anti-war activist and co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, a peace group she co-founded to highlight the suffering of Iraqi civilians in the “war against terror”.

She is constantly looking for new ways to get the powerful to listen to the weak, to bear witness to suffering, and to get people off the sidelines to do something about it. (Chicago Tribune)

Many will argue that Zimbabwe is not at war.

You may or may not agree, but one way to contribute to the prevention of a war is to tell the truth about what is happening today, and this is what journalism strives to do.

Speaking truth to power by creating a platform through which the weak can talk and the powerful listen, providing an opportunity for all to bear witness to suffering and encouraging ordinary men and women to take responsibility by getting involved. It’s moral courage in a class all of its own.

On Thursday Nqobani Ndlovu was finally released from prison.

A journalist, for The Standard newspaper, was charged with criminal defamation and spent more than a week in remand prison.

I have been wondering what was going through his mind as he sat in the cells, contemplating his fate.

Was he longing for the raucous laughter and rigorous workload of the newsroom?

In the time that I have been priviledged to interact with newrooms, I have found them to be places of gut-busting humour, tremendous courage and surprising grace.

I bet Nqobani couldn’t wait to be back in this atmosphere; among the unassuming heroes who take their chances every day to realise our rights, actualise our democracy and secure our freedoms.

Welcome home, my brother.

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity.

Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw

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