Zimbabwean weddings are a wonder to most aliens. They are surprised families of the newly-married couples invite everyone including enemies to celebrate the occasion. During the festivities, everyone forgets their little grudges and partakes of the abundant food and drink.
This hospitality does not end at weddings. When the family of the sworn enemy is starving because it did not get a good harvest, food will be provided. Often the offending family will be given enough food to last until the next harvest upon which they would pay back.
They also allow a bit of “thieving”. If one is starving and happens by another’s field, he or she is allowed to “steal” just enough food to fill up. What is forbidden is for him or her to take away anything.
The world is now aware of the word “Ubuntu” although a lot in the West wrongly think it was invented by Nelson Mandela. “I am because you are” has always been part of the African outlook. Tanzania’s founding father the late Julius Nyerere wrote extensively about this.
Many present-day African leaders talk about it at international forums touting it as the bedrock of their political philosophies. But they don’t practice it.
In Zimbabwe, the contradiction is now stark. While President Robert Mugabe was being unanimously elected to the chairmanship of the African Union and stood on the pedestal to pronounce his vision for Africa, an Africa in which natural resources would be exploited for the benefit of indigenous people, back home the practice in his party was the exact opposite. Reports from around the provinces (see NewsDay lead story yesterday) show that his party supporters were denying their rivals food aid.
The ruling Zanu PF party has used food as a political weapon to coerce people to support it. This goes back to the days even before the emergence of the stiff opposition at the turn of the millennium. Then, the denial of food aid was aimed at all those deemed to be supporters of the opposition parties, particularly the MDC.
But this practice has now expanded to include even members of Zanu PF itself thought to support former Vice-President Joice Mujuru. Not that anybody should shed a tear for these poor reprobates; often they were perpetrators of this practice when they held the reins of power.
What should daunt the imagination of even the most loyal supporter of Mugabe is why the President is silent about this when he preaches, and is admired on the continent for, his supposedly pro-people pronouncements. When one speaks about a Presidential Input Scheme, one would think this noble idea is above party politics. The President of a country is for everyone including those who do not vote for him.
Many Zimbabweans are surprised at the admiration Mugabe garners wherever he goes in Africa. It is now patently clear these Africans who cheer are not aware of the little things he allows to happen to his own people which disgust them. These things most of the time go against the people’s cultural beliefs. One of these is that in no circumstance should anyone be denied food. Ubuntu does not allow it.