Mr President, patriotism cannot be legislated

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

DEAR President Emmerson Mnangagwa,

Your Excellency, with the noise surrounding the “sanctions on Zimbabwe” narrative increasing — as we draw closer to the  October 25 “Sadc Anti Sanctions Day,“ whatever it is called — so have calls for the enactment of a law that compels Zimbabweans to be “patriotic”, or face imprisonment, or banning from holding public office, should this be violated.

What I find most distasteful, though, is the shoddy and disingenuous attempt by the authorities in Zimbabwe (and, their usual sycophants) in portraying such shameful measures, of legislating patriotism, as a common trend in democratic nations — going as far as citing the “USA PATRIOT Act” promulgated in the United States in 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist, and anthrax attacks in the country.

Your Excellency, well, for starters, there is a very good reason the name of this law is written in capital letters.

It is an acronym!

The long name of this Act is actually “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism — which in short reads, USA PATRIOT.

In other words, the law has absolutely nothing to do with enforcing some version of patriotism on Americans — but, purely intended to tighten national security, particularly against foreign terrorism by putting in place measures for “snooping” or surveillance on communications, strengthening counterterrorism efforts, and tightening terrorism penalties (including the setting up of the notorious Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, where suspected terrorists have been held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Your Excellency, as much as this law is undeniably problematic  in as far as protection of personal privacy is concerned, as well as the arresting and prolonged detention of suspected terrorists without charge — nonetheless, nowhere in that piece of legislation is there any defining of what constitutes “patriotism” for Americans, and what would be regarded as “unpatriotic”.

Thus, efforts by the Harare administration to justify its enactment of a “Patriotic Act,“ which criminalises what the regime characterises as “acts of unpatriotism”, on the pretext of following the American example — is the height of insincerity and deceit.

There are those who,  possibly, having noticed their misunderstanding of the “USA PATRIOT Act”, have gone for another US law... the “Logan Act”.

Your Excellency, surely, for any 21st century government, expecting to be taken seriously as a modern-day democracy, to resort to the enactment of an 18th century archaic law is a serious cause for concern, as the Logan Act was put into effect in 1799.

This law — which seeks to criminalise negotiation by unauthorised American citizens with foreign governments having a dispute with the US (intended to undermine the government's position) — has, understandably, not gone unchallenged.

This was witnessed in 1964 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, in Waldron v. British Petroleum Co — which asserted that the Act was likely unconstitutional due to its vagueness.

Why then would a government in 2022 be so keen on replicating questionable legislation as much as it may desire to protect its national interests and ensure patriotism?

In fact, patriotism can never be legislated.

Your Excellency, it is akin to a husband attempting to impose and define love within the marriage thereby forcing the wife to love him, only in a manner defined by him.

That would be preposterous, and the height of insanity.

Let us not forget that Zimbabweans by their very nature, love their country and only want what is best for the majority.

At least that is what motivates and drives people such as myself.

If there are those who have committed crimes against the country — why have they not been brought to book under current laws such as treason and subverting a constitutional government?

Your Excellency, does the conspicuous absence of any such convictions not tell a clear story that there is no one the government of Zimbabwe can genuinely accuse of having committed “unpatriotic acts” ?

Your Excellency, admittedly, we may differ on the most effective ways or policies for the achievement of a better Zimbabwe, whereby all citizens enjoy dignified and decent lives — and of course be viciously opposed to any acts of looting of national resources, mismanagement of our economy, as well as the brutal, barbaric repression of the citizenry — but, that can never be considered “unpatriotic”.

Your Excellency, we may even cry out to the international community for help, should we sincerely believe that our leaders are not listening to our calls for justice and the equitable distribution of our resources. That is natural when a people feel trapped and under siege from those who are supposed to protect them.

Did we not witness a similar trend during our 1960s and 70s liberation struggle against colonial rule — when nationalist embarked on massive globetrotting, in order to bring to the attention of the world the untold suffering of the people of Zimbabwe, under a racist system of subjugation and segregation?

Did our nationalist movements not call for more punitive measures against the Rhodesian regime for it to accept majority rule?

Your Excellency, as such,  labelling this “unpatriotism” is most unfortunate and misguided.

Crying out for fair treatment from those in authority, and a desire for a dignified and decent living can surely not be misconstrued  as being unpatriotic.

Legislating against our natural inclination towards justice and a better life can only be described as cold-hearted and evil.

In actual fact, those presiding over the demise of our once prosperous country — who have plundered nearly everything, leaving millions wallowing in destitution — are the ones who have displayed unpatriotism at its worst.

Those are the people who should be brought to book for their villainous crimes against humanity.

Love for one’s country runs deep in ordinary Zimbabweans’ blood — and, can neither be legislated nor imposed on us.

We actually understand what “patriotism” means — far better than those who have authored our poverty and suffering.

Your Excellency, instead of expending time, resources and energy in crafting laws that criminalise citizens from crying out in pain and hunger — would it not have made more sense for those in power to expand such energy on  ensuring Zimabweans are well catered for.

  • Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author and speaker. He writes here in his personal capacity.


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