HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsLocal Drummer: The lessons of the healed femur

Local Drummer: The lessons of the healed femur


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

You’ve probably heard or seen this quotation before. It comes from the same woman who said: “I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings.”

That woman was Margaret Mead, a famous anthropologist, who was an interesting and controversial figure, but highly respected in the field of cultural anthropology.

One of the most memorable anecdotes I have heard about Mead is when she was asked about the first and most important signs she looks for when studying an ancient civilisation.

Instead of responding with an answer about artifacts or tools, Mead said she looked out for a healed femur. The femur is the thigh bone which joins the hip to the knee. It is one of the largest and strongest bones in the body and can take tremendous strain.

To fracture the femur would take a lot of force and for the bone to heal would take about six or more weeks. In a civilisation that survives on hunting and gathering, a fractured femur would mean you cannot hunt, fish or escape predators.

You would have to depend on someone else.
A healed femur in an archeological find indicates a helping society.

It means that rather than abandoning the injured person and helping themselves, someone took the trouble to share, nurture and tend to the injured until they were well enough to continue.

A healed femur is the beginning of philanthropy.
The question I have been asking myself this week is: What makes some people take that trouble while others walk away?

Why are some people givers and others takers? Why do some people build while others break?

What causes some to be endowed with empathy and to translate this empathy to compassion, while others are left completely cold?

I’ve been wondering about compassion and volunteerism, about intrinsic interest and motivation and about how all of this is played out in communities all over our country.

As Africans we talk a lot about the concept of ubuntu/hunhu (humanness). The ideal of community and sharing, of bearing one another’s burdens.

However, the ills in our society suggest that the opportunities for demonstrating these values are largely underutilised.

In Zimbabwe we have so conditioned ourselves to blame everything on either politics or the economy. Yet many of the choices we make each day are not directly related to either.

I sometimes think of this when I go into a public toilet. Why would someone deliberately urinate on the floor, or spread faeces on the wall? Is it the economy? Is it the politics? Surely not!

Would the dire straits that people find themselves in economically and politically really destroy self-respect to such an extent? I don’t know the answer. I wish I did.

What I do know is that in spite of the social, moral, economic and political challenges we face, there are ordinary Zimbabweans among us who are taking responsibility and making it their business to help.

They are bridging the gaps between hunger and nutrition, between wellness and disease, between hope and despair.

They are doing this for no monetary or any other gain. They are doing it simply because something in them says, “Help”.

NewsDay is about to launch its flagship community project.

It’s called Shaina — the People’s Choice Awards, and it allows readers to nominate people in their communities who are doing great things for others.

This includes areas as diverse as social welfare and infrastructure, agriculture and the arts.

I’ve had the most exciting time working on this with our team here, and I can’t wait to see how readers will respond.

There are lots of great things about this project: It gives our readers a chance to choose their own heroes, it highlights all the constructive things that are being done by ordinary people, and it creates a positive rallying point around which energy can flow.

But for me, the best thing about it is that it gives us a chance to publicly recognise people who usually don’t get much recognition.

It allows us to say: “We see you. We see what you are doing and we appreciate it.” Beyond whatever material reward you give them, recognition is one of the biggest motivators for both adults and young people. While it is generally not the goal when it concerns community builders, it can provide a means of re-energising individuals who are often drained by the burdens of caring about others.

Over a couple of beers at the Quill Club this week, a group of journalists and other media practitioners discussed the plight of the Somalis and were so moved to help that they decided to set up a Zimbabwe Somalia Solidarity Fund.

They set up a group on Facebook and started mobilising others in the profession to contribute. The funds will be paid to Unicef.

One post from the page reads “. . . I know some of you might be sceptical and understandably so. But even though we have the hungry and malnourished in our own country, we at least have a government and we are not at war. The comrades in Somalia, especially the young comrades, need our help . . .”

So if you thought journalists were all about drinking beer and arguing about politics, here is proof positive that they have a heart!

So many people want to see change in Zimbabwe, but so few of us want to do anything about it.

Volunteerism expert Susan J Ellis says: “All activism is volunteering in that it’s done above and beyond earning a living and deals with what people really care passionately about. Remember, no one gets paid to rebel. All revolutions start with volunteers.”

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to

localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer

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