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Africa 2012: Meeting of minds the rights of man


At the core of the struggle for independence was a realisation the principle of individual rights was an indispensable foundational construct of any viable and sustainable nation state.

The post-colonial experience was expected to bring to life the universality of the principle of mans individual rights as an extension of morality into the social system by limiting the power of the State and in so doing act as a protection of man against the brute force of the collective entity.

Regrettably, the experience has not produced a moral, cohesive and inclusive Africa.

The colonial order had regarded the majority of Africans as sacrificial means to ends of the minority and invariably society as an end in itself.

The construction of post-colonial Africa had its own fault lines that were evident in the minds and expression of the elites that assumed power at independence.

Influenced by socialist, humanist and communist thinking, they regarded society as an end in itself and individuals belonging solely to society and that society through the instrument of the State could dispose of a person in any way State actors pleased and more significantly, any freedom man enjoyed was only his by favour, by the permission of self-created super human State actors, which could be revoked at any time.

In the case of Zimbabwe, my country of birth, after 32 years of independence, we are compelled to pause and reflect on the post-colonial experience to establish whether in truth and fact, the rights denied to so many by the colonial regime have been respected and honoured.

The decolonisation project was in part inspired by the French and American models.

One of the founding principles of the American idea is the notion that mans life is his by right and that a right is the property of an individual, that society whether through the instrument of the State or otherwise, as such has, no rights and that only moral purpose, therefore, of a government is the protection of individual rights.

The concept of individual rights plays an important role in the enterprise of nation building. It is a moral principle that defines and sanctions a mans freedom of action in a moral context.

The right to life is the only critical and fundamental one as it confers on the living indivisible sovereign bundle of rights.

It pertains only to freedom of action which the individual can exercise discretionarily without requiring the permission or assistance of others.

The right to life that we often take for granted is the fountain of all rights and the right to property is the only mechanism of their implementation, for without property rights, no other rights are possible since man has no choice, but to sustain his life by his own effort.

A man who depends on the State and not on his effort is not free and equally the man who has no right to the fruits of his labour has no means to sustain life.

The past has not been kind to people of colour as it has allowed the majority of people of African descent to produce while others appropriate to themselves the right to dispose of their production.

The right to property should not be misconstrued as a right to an object, rather it must be correctly framed as the right to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object.

It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values because it guarantees to the party that earns the property, a right to own it.

The thinking that informed the American Declaration of Independence was based on a simple construction that a rational human being cannot function successfully under coercion and that rights are a necessary condition for survival and prosperity.

Irrespective of the origin of man, the source of his rights must necessarily be located in the recognition and acceptance that men are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights and, therefore, the rights that he/she should enjoy are not a consequence of divine or legislative laws, but the law of identity.

Even the most powerful being on earth is after all a human being and in as much as a state president, for example, has the right to use his mind, the weakest member of society has the same right to act in his own free judgment and to work for his or her values and to keep fruits of his labour.

When the State or its actors compel citizens to act against their own judgment or to expropriate the values created by citizens, then one must know the wheels of progress are off and the centre can no longer hold.

Criminals and State actors, therefore, represent the only two sources of rights violations. The role of the State in many developing nations has made it impossible for criminals dressed as State actors to be stopped by citizens from using the instruments and organs of State to do what criminals do without witnesses watching.

The Declaration of Independence was right on the mark in stating that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men and hence provided the only valid justification of a government whose function was meant to secure the rights of citizens against criminals and the constitution was then solely written to protect man from the government.

It must be self evident that the Bill of Rights could not have been directed against private citizens, but against State actors because sovereignty is vested with the individual whose rights must surely supersede any public or social power.

The holders of State power are really custodians of the power that life confers on individuals and, therefore, must exercise such power for on behalf of the people, yet we see too often examples of state actors who behave as if borrowed power can be transformed into permanent power using the medium of rigged elections and intimidation.

The harvest from the labour of State actors is difficult to measure and, therefore, the credit often assumed by State actors for economic progress does not in the majority of cases reflect reality.

The legitimacy of the State and its actors taking the minimalist view, must be located in the silence and ignorance of the majority. Often we trust blindly and look up to people from whom no solutions are available to the challenges of daily life.

I close this instalment borrowing from Section 4 of the Reconstruction of State-Indebted Insolvent Companies Act from which Honourable Obert Mpofu, who recently celebrated his birthday in style, derives the authority to claim that he is now the custodian of Shabani Mashava Mines Holdings (Pvt) Ltd having been assigned the responsibility to administer the Act by President Robert Mugabe.

All that is required for the Act to have life is for an appearance to exist in the ministers mind that by reason of fraud, mismanagement or for any other cause, a private company can be arbitrarily and unilaterally placed under reconstruction.

The minds that sat down to craft this law that places a minister with knowledge above the affairs of a company, must be exposed, so that when people are thinking about the future of the country, they would know the black spots and their impact on welfare and development.

Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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