By Eddie Cross
IT takes a village to raise a child.
The above is an African proverb, but in my experience, it is true for virtually all of humanity.
The role of community in society is very much underrated in our world today.
Nothing emphasises this more than the way in which minorities learn to subsist and thrive in Africa.
Recently I had a cup of coffee in a coffee shop owned by a member of the Greek community in Harare. I watched members of the community wander in and out, sitting at tables and eating together or simply conversing.
The Greek community in Harare has built its own Orthodox Churches as well as schools and evidence of their collaboration in the business world is everywhere.
Their influence in our economy far exceeds the size of their community.
The same could be said of the Jewish community.
When Cecil John Rhodes was busy securing his grip on the country that subsequently took on his name, he remarked to a colleague, as he walked down the Main Street of the new town of Bulawayo and he spotted a Jewish settler putting up his billboard over a small shop: “If the Jews are coming, we will succeed”.
Spurred on by the anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe and the pogrommes carried out by the Russian State, Jewish migrants emigrated to countries like Rhodesia in quite large numbers.
At one stage in my hometown of Bulawayo, they reached several hundred families.
But it was their enterprise and capacity to organise business that made them one of the most important elements of the business community.
I sat on a board of directors in one of the larger industrial firms owned by the Jewish community and was fascinated to watch how they worked.
Every city in the world that has a Jewish community living there, has the capacity and the social organisation to provide for its religious activities as well as education and financial support for families who don’t quite make it.
In this way, Jewish children faced few impediments to going as far as they could in the academic sphere, and many ended up running their own businesses.
If the company I was involved with needed funding, they often turned to the community rather than the banking system.
We now have small communities of people whose origins were in India or Pakistan.
These communities have followed the Greeks and the Jews in the way they meet the needs of the individuals and organisations which they establish in their host countries.
This has made these small minorities, disproportionately important in the business and social lives of the countries in which they have settled.
Settlers of European decent had the disadvantage when they came to Africa, that they found themselves in countries where they controlled the State.
Even if they were minorities, these settlers did not have anything like the same motivation that drove the activities of those communities who did not have political power.
When change inevitably came to those countries, the settler communities normally left in droves to return to their home countries and this, in many cases, left a huge gap in the available skills to run newly-independent States.
The minority communities of European origin, which remained in Africa after independence, have yet to learn the lessons which their Greek, Jewish and Indian colleagues have learned over many years of living in foreign lands.
This is a pity because it is only by collaborating that these minorities who, without political power, can provide for the collective security of the people that constitute their community.
Perhaps over time they will learn these skills and attributes and begin to work together as minorities in meeting the needs of their own communities.
An unhealthy aspect of the early post-independence era has been the tendency of racial minorities to seek new lives for themselves in semi-isolation from the communities in which they now live.
This is a mistake. The one thing that every village must learn is how to collaborate with their neighbours and to make sure that everybody benefits from their mutual activity.
It is vital that if you have decided to make Africa your home, you pursue the interests of Africa and a personal relationship with the people among whom you live and work.
Minorities in Africa cannot expect social safety nets or significant support from State institutions.
It is, therefore, incumbent on them to work together to service these needs for their own communities.
It is remarkable to witness this process taking place in Zimbabwe where the elderly and even the needs of children are being increasingly met by collaborative community action.
If we are going to continue to be able to make our contribution to the welfare and progress of the continent and to prosper and thrive ourselves, then we must work together.
- Eddie Cross is an economist and former Bulawayo South legislator. He writes here in his personal capacity