On the festival of ashes, roses and rights

But today is a very special rights Wednesday, because it has fallen at the intersection of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day

Dear Family, friends and citizens

Today is Rights Wednesday at the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), a day that we spotlight various aspects of human rights every week. 

But today is a very special rights Wednesday, because it has fallen at the intersection of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. These two days are celebrated globally by different communities. What we find at the intersection of these two special days, coinciding with our Rights Wednesday, is a common thread that we identify as the love. These two important feasts, though they appear different or even opposite of each other, they are actually both a celebration of love for God and humanity.

Millions of Christians today will be commemorating Ash Wednesday, a day that marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a period of solidarity with Jesus Christ in his painful way of the cross to the resurrection through crucifixion and death, as an expression of God’ redeeming love for the people. 

Millions of love pilgrims around the world will be celebrating love for each other in families and other places. At this intersection, we pay attention to the primacy of love in the human society and we, at ZimRights have chosen to spotlight what we believe in the right of rights – the right to love. Love is our source, our society, our path, and our destination. It defines who we are such that without it, we lose the essence of life. The beautiful colour of roses, their scent – all vanish, reduced to ashes. No colour. No life. No scent. Just dust which disappears at the slight whisper of the wind.

While there is no specific provision in the bill of rights that says, everyone has the right to love, the whole bill of rights is a love manifesto that guides how we as a people can live in love with each other. 

In the famous speech, The Struggles of Men (1948), Eleanor Roosevelt, said “Freedom for our peoples is not only a right, but also a tool. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of information, freedom of assembly—these are not just abstract ideals to us; they are tools with which we create a way of life, a way of life in which we can enjoy freedom.”

At ZimRights, we believe human rights are the world we live in. And the world our children will live in. They are the water we drink. The shelter we sleep in. The schools we go to. The news we read. The roads we drive in. The buses we ride. The bread we eat. The light we see in the dark. The hospitals we go to for healing. Without human rights, our world is nothing and humanity perishes. Without rights, there is no space to celebrate love in any of its forms. 

It is based on this wisdom, that Benedict XVI said, 'There is a poverty at the root of every serious human problem and that poverty is lack of love.'  

In acknowledgment of this reality, today we join millions of lovers and Christians for ashes and roses and invite you to reflect on the right to love as expressed in section 25 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe on Protection of the Family. 

In this section, the Constitution states, 

“The State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must protect and foster the institution of the family and in particular must endeavour, within the limits of the resources available to them, to adopt measures for— 

  • the provision of care and assistance to mothers, fathers and other family   

members who have charge of children; and 

  • the prevention of domestic violence.”

The family is the place where love must thrive. It is the source and summit of human love. So important, the Constitution creates an obligation on the state to protect the family support the care for its members, especially the most vulnerable.

We will receive roses and ashes today. From us, maybe not ashes but roses and human rights manifestoes. In all the major cities, you will meet our volunteers in the street. In Mutare we will be having a road show to honour this festival.

Roses are a celebration and expression of love. And ashes remind us that through the beauty and glamour that we celebrate, sacrifice, pain and death is among us and within us. We call to mind all the families that today, are unable to celebrate with is for various reasons. We are reminded of those who have fallen victim to the love that they sought to honour. Children who have fallen victim to abuse, even in the very place where they expected love and protection. We remember spouses who cannot celebrate because the very people from whom they expected love delivered violence and death. We remember bread winners who have to choose between bread and roses and embrace the shame of affording none. We recall the pain in families that have been torn apart by harsh economic realities of our country. 

Our response to this mixed festival of ashes and roses is to invite you, our friends to the festival rights that embodies the spirit of love in many practical ways. We present to you a gift of the People’s Human Rights Manifesto from the ZimRights family, inviting you to love truly and authentically. There is no better expression of love for our country than to defend and advance the 10 key asks in the People’s Human Rights Manifesto. 

We implore, in this moment, our leaders who signed the manifesto and made a commitment to uphold the Constitution, to honour this commitment and deliver on the key asks in this manifesto. As the day progress, our leaders will find themselves in different spaces celebrating love and compassion that is guaranteed by section 25 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. This is the same warmth that they must wish for every citizen, enjoying and celebrating their fundamental rights.

We implore too, our fellow citizens, to embrace the call to active citizenship that is the driving force behind the manifesto, to appreciate that human right are a struggle. They will usually not be given for free. And relegating this struggle to only a few will make the burden touch. This is why we are inviting you today at various platforms to show up and have a voice in spaces where decisions about our welfare are made.

If you have not yet met us today, look for us in your streets and join us. Our mission is not harmless. Human rights work is the labour of love. We are distributing roses and manifestos, a plea for you to care enough to step out of your comfort zone and demand respect for human rights. 

If a sufficient number of us do this, perhaps one day in the future, more of us will actually celebrate the warmth of family love on Valentines day, as envisioned by the bill of rights that wishes us a life of peace, justice, prosperity and happiness every day. 

Happy valentines Zimbabwe

And remember, there are as many who desired to receive roses today, to have a warm meal with their families but could not. Our society has failed them. Our collective commitment to human rights gives all of us hope that one day, roses will make sense, even for those living outside this festival of love. 

Warm regards, 

Dzikamai Bere National Director

For and on behalf of ZimRights Family

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