The independence reflection: “I wish the heroes we read in class could have lived and led our country”

I extracted the quote in the title from a Facebook comment made in response to a post by a popular Facebook page that read: “Zimbabwe turns 40 in a few days’ time. What’s your comment about everything that happened since 1980?” I was provoked to introspection.

Many of us have attempted in various platforms to tackle the “national question”, inquire into prospects for dialogue, and so on. I have found myself fixated on an issue I think so central to the discourse, and that scares me greatly when I think of: values. After decades of many things gone wrong, it is a truism that we no longer place a premium on accountability, transparency, respect for each other and the collective good. The elusive values we struggle to hold dear cloud our attempt to construct a national vision and chart national discipline. And the questions of values and visions are inextricably linked to national identity. These questions seem too elementary and basic for us to be asking ourselves 40 years into independence. Some from the Western world would sound caution and say we must be patient with ourselves because the Western world has had centuries of self-determination and have refined answers to these questions over time. That is true. I’m just not sure we have the luxury to wait for centuries. After all, the wise learn from those who have been there.

So here are some 10 reflections on values.

1. Bad followership

Thus far we have largely focused on bad leaders. It is high time we focus on the enabler. Bad leadership and bad followership have a symbiotic relationship – the two feed into each other for survival, making the threat to good governance and prosperity profound. And by followership I mean citizenship. Bad followers abdicate their duties and give up their power. So leaders go largely unquestioned and unchecked. Some followers even go further and applaud the bad leaders, and some jump to defend the corrupt and incompetent when they are questioned. Still, some go a bit further and denigrate and attack those who seek to hold leaders to account. Bad followership is such that even if we get a Nelson Mandela today, or a Thomas Sankara, or a Kwame Nkrumah, it is doubtful our people be able to cooperate enough to get the country to work. We need to be better citizens.

2. Shunning personalities

The politics of personalities has manifested on both sides of the political fray. The other had Morgan Tsvangirai. The other had Robert Mugabe. The other has Nelson Chamisa. The other has Emmerson Mnangangwa. Both Chamisa and Mnangagwa ascended to power in ways that violate their own party Constitutions. In the case of Mnangagwa, even the courts were prepared to make bizarre rulings legitimizing a coup, paving way to national presidency. As my good friend Dr Justice Mavedzenge always cautions, it is always better to stand with principle than with a person. Zimbabweans know too well cultism and its sour dividends. Let’s shun personalities and befriend principle.

3. A culture of excellence

A bashed value system tells us that is it okay to subordinate talent and capacity, and choose the corrupt. We appoint those with histories of rape, domestics abuse, corruption, abuse of power and incompetence. Merit and excellence are virtues. We must give up mediocrity, and accepting the abnormal as norm.

4. Mutual respect

Zimbabwe is big enough to accommodate all of us in our difference. In fact, we open the Preamble to our Constitution by telling ourselves that that we are united in our diversity. We love our nation in different ways; the diversity is what makes a nation. Accommodating each other and being able to listen to divergence in matters of common interest is key. With mutual respect comes empathy. We must abhor intolerance and rejoicing at compatriots’ misfortune.

5. Country over politics

Our country is greater than the sum total of its political parties. Politicians and political parties come and go. Our nation remains. Patriotism and compatriotism know no politics. We must accept that we can love our country without loving the ruling party, or the opposition, or the country’s president.

6. The love for quality and beauty

The things we go for abroad – medical facilities, education, shopping – are a statement of our appreciation of what works. So is our love and appreciation of our neighbours’ airports, rail systems, roads and malls. The love for quality and beauty must translate into the love of all that is good and virtuous for our own country. That love must drive us to take lessons from those places we admire, and transpose that development home. This love of quality and beauty must resent mediocrity, and we must cease terming mediocrity “tenacity” or “resilience” to make ourselves feel better.

7. Collective over the individual

When indiscriminate challenges like COVID-19 strike, they know no class. The adage, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, rings true. Individualism breeds corruption and theft. It wears and tears the social fabric, and dilapidates our collective infrastructure. The input of everyone matters, and the collective good will serve our collective interests.

8. Works and religion

When we have churches that are telling people to pray and pray instead of teaching hard work, investment, saving money and accountability, then our churches are straddling in faith without works, which we know to be dead. The church must teach of our dominion over how we do governance. The answer to bad leadership is not the proclamation that “leaders are chosen by God”. Neither is the response to a bad economy the admonition to “have faith”. Reverend Kenneth Mtata, the General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches put it this way: freedom of religious and worship is “separate from and not exalted above logical thinking and scientific reason”. After all, we are given the spirit of power and of a sound mind. When religion is used to escape reality, it debases the value system.

9. Hard work

Zimbabweans – having long thronged the diaspora on account of trouble at home – have been exalted for hardworking. A little praise encourages us, and is good. But hard work eschews corruption and fruitless works. It resents entitlement, the spirit of grabbing resources, and compensatory tendencies. It directs judicious and fruitful distribution and use of resources, and resource-discipline. We must not be hard workers at misplaced things.

10. Democracy

Democracy as a value underlines our constitutional order. The constitutional architecture, the founding values of the nation, the principles of good governance, the Declaration of Rights, the distribution and regulation of State power, the responsibilities of the citizen, and the regulation of the social contract, as provided for in our Constitution, are all premised on the foundation of democracy. This system of society was not forced upon us, but we elected it unto ourselves, if not at independence, then in 2013 when we adopted a new constitutional order. It is morally, legally, politically and religiously repugnant to so readily breach a commitment we made to ourselves and to each other, with impunity and arrogance. When we disregard the rule of law, manipulate institutions and subvert due process, it speaks to strained values and moral decadence. We must be a better people.

So what now?

What were our values like at independence? Maybe we need to return to those. But others have questioned whether we had the right values at independence to start with. Were the leaders really fighting for democracy and majority rule, or simply for a seat among the elite? Maybe we had misplaced values at independence, and we still have misplaced values. Steve Bantu Bikos’ observation in 1972 may be apt: “If we have a mere change of face of those in governing positions, what is likely to happen is that black people will continue to be poor, and you will see a few blacks filtering through into the so-called bourgeoisie. Our society will be run almost as of yesterday.” Or maybe the values were okay, but we just lost the plot midway. After all, one of our foremost generals Josiah Tongogara famously remarked “What I, and some of us are fighting for, is to see that this oppressive system is crushed. I don’t even care whether I will be part of the top echelon in the ruling party; I’m not worried. But I’m dying to see a change in the system. I would like to see young children enjoying together. Black, white, enjoying together in a new Zimbabwe. That’s all.” Whether the value system was solid at independence is a point of debate. But whatever the outcome, I am sure we would all arrive at the point that somehow our values need surgery.

It is the very personal values that matter. In fact, personal values and national values cannot be separated, just as private morality cannot be divorced from public morality. It starts with the basic personal accountability such as desisting from dropping litter when we walk the streets, and holding each other to account when one of us throws litter to the ground. That way, we can hold each other to account when we engage in corruption, and we can hold our leadership to account.

Conversations in the faith gatherings, the political rallies, the schools, the beer gatherings and the family dinner fellowships must transform, and speak values. It is possible we may have lost the battle with a generation, but redemption is real, and we can certainly cultivate values in the young. We’re the heroes we wish could lead us. I’m convinced we can get independence to have meaning again.

Source: Musa Kika*

*Dr. Musa Kika is a human rights and constitutional lawyer. He serves as Programmes Coordinator of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, and writes is his personal capacity.

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