HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsReclaiming Unhu, Ubuntu

Reclaiming Unhu, Ubuntu


Guest Column: Grace Chirenje

I am enjoying reading The Primacy of Regime Survival: State Fragility and Economic Destruction in Zimbabwe. It is a masterpiece authored by Mark Simpson and Tony Hawkins. It traces the history of Zimbabwe from post-independence to the present. It is a 2018 publication, so it is fresh, new and quite relevant.

What had my belly on fire is the whole aspect of how a group of men, with a handful of their women counterparts, could love power to such levels of destruction.

Taking a country that was once ranked second best in infrastructure to the current narrative — what a shame! It is sad how we have turned out and become, yet the circus continues unabated, especially with the recent acceptance of the RTGS dollar as a pseudo currency. Well, mine is not an exposé of what is real or fake. Mine is the unpacking of what ubuntu has become.

Our past four decades

Ever noticed how impolite we have become? I swear there was a time when we woke up to warm greetings, where every member of the household’s heart was warmed by the gracious morning greetings. It was not within households only, neighbours could also be heard shouting warm pleasantries as they walked in neighbourhoods or just at the glimpse of their neighbour’s face.

Life was pleasant and most of us have heard of the many amazing stories of good neighbourliness that was shared by very many of our people. However, as I have sadly come to accept and as alluded to in the book I mentioned earlier, the harshness partly emanates from the ever-deteriorating socio-economic and political situation that has resulted in people’s hearts being wounded.

I can imagine the heart of those who dedicated their lives to liberate Zimbabwe and now they must live through all this drama and chaos. Unthinkable! Somehow, our interactions have become abrupt, unfriendly and uncaring.

We seem to be reflecting the very dire nature of our toxic political and socio-economic narrative. We have slowly let the poison of the daily struggles fork out a living from us and define who we are and how we interact with each other.

We have lost ourselves, sense of community, belonging and being as a result of years of protracted struggle for survival. We have let ourselves become corrupted to the core such that we take selfies of a mother and child being swept away by a flooded river during Cyclone Idai and even have the nerve to share that on social media.

Surely, we cannot blame loneliness and boredom as a reason for that. We can decide and choose to be better for the sake of our children and their children too. Zimbabweans are way better than that. I have hope and faith that we will prevail. We just need to explore possibilities as much as we can.

How far government?

The government is responsible for people’s basic human rights and ensuring that they are met.

Zimbabwe has a Constitution that we so bravely advocated for and celebrated when it was passed by Parliament a few years back. How much of that Constitution does the government respect? Just last week, a brother of mine had his office teargassed and his team harassed by the very people who are supposed to protect his rights. It seems those who celebrated November 17, 2017 are desperate for the ground to up and swallow them as they regret the truth of what they celebrated. Like the biblical Jesus’ triumphant entry — the very people who shouted “hosanna” and “bae” are the ones who are baying for the new leadership’s blood today. Well, what can we say? Life is a paradox. Back to the government — it is essential that government becomes more serious and focused on ensuring that our basic human rights are respected.

I do not know about you, but I am getting exhausted, wishing and wanting that things become better. For so long, we have hoped, wanted, wished, prayed and chanted — now is no longer the time. This is when you and I clutch hands, stand up and hold government to account. This notion of thinking the current currency is fake or improper and the leaders seem to say so is just something we cannot stand by and tolerate.

We need to ask critical questions. We cannot just smile and wave like we are part of a Penguins of Madagascar cartoon. Something needs to give. I recall when leaders felt remorse and were desperate to ensure that the very people they lead are happy about their leadership. Leadership had a passion for those they led and the opinions of those being led had to be positive for leaders to be comfortable with their leadership.

I am so convinced that this history of socio-economic and political mayhem has resulted in leaders who also need healing for their wounded hearts.

Honestly, after that screaming, fighting, firing episode with the previous political administration, surely no one would remain sane. However, government needs to do what they have to so we are healed. What we need is a fully functioning and healed government.

A government that cares about the rights of its citizens and not abuse the very rights that they ought to be respecting. Enough is enough. Something must give.

Renowned Zimbabweean historiographer, Stanlake Samkange in 1980 wrote insightfully about unhu. One of the tenets about unhu that he wrote about spoke to the notion that a leader who has unhu is selfless, consults widely and listens to his subjects. He further explained that the lifestyle of this leader is not very different from those he or she leads, and that the leader allows people to lead themselves and does not impose his or her will on the people. This is pretty feminist if you asked me, but let me just leave it here and ask: Is this what the leaders in government are exuding or they have lost unhu and thus this is reflected on society? Food for thought.

Looking ahead

Zimbabwe’s narrative can change. We can tweak something and make it work. It is not difficult for leaders to choose unhu to become better. Testimonies of country after country seem to confirm this. At one point, Zimbabwe thrived a lot under sanctions — with the country even supporting other countries. So, what is our excuse? We are blessed with the gift of unhu. We understand what it means to be a part of the community.

We know what it is like to suffer – we have been there and back. The last thing we can become is better.Yes? Under no circumstances should we allow ourselves to be taken back to the doldrums. Zimbabwe has amazing humans, and I believe if we choose to become better in the little things, this country will be transformed. It is in the small acts that we win and exude unhu.

Good driving, a smile, greeting and caring for the next person — we cannot afford to become what Fanon (1975) talks about; taking the worst characteristics of the oppressor.

We choose to be better. We embrace our core being, which is uncorrupted and seeks to do more good than harm. We have it within us. That book by Simpsons and Hawkins has shown me our narrative as Zimbabwe over four decades. It has supported my understanding of our present understanding that history informs the present.

What it has also shown me is that, as Zimbabwe, have the capacity. We cannot let ourselves continue to perpetuate the same unhealthy cycle of toxicity. In our families, our homes, our workplaces, in government, this is the time we refused mediocrity and step into the excellence of unhu — one tiny act of goodness at a time.

Yes, we can as Zimbabwe. Nothing will and can stop us. I am because you are and you are because I am. We know a collective way of life. We love each other and hold hands to make things work. This is who we are as Zimbabweans.

We challenge the status quo and we demand the return of unhu. The time is now or never, Zimbabwe is not a holiday destination; it is our home and we treat it as such. No one is coming to save us from ourselves; we are the ones Zimbabwe has been waiting for. Let’s do it!

Grace Chirenje is a feminist activist with vast experience in feminist leadership and youth empowerment acquired from diverse contexts across the African continent. She writes in her personal capacity.

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