Moses had to hook up with his God by the burning bush resort and spa.
He couldn’t take his homies along - it was a solo mission.
The superpowers he ended up with were scary - the clan didn’t know if they could trust him - the loneliness was palpable. He didn’t have a Famous Five or a Secret Seven.
He saw the wonders by hisself, and even when he returned with a vision of what life could be like, a vision he struggled to believe in himself, and so struggled to sell to his fellow villagers, his mission was a lonely one.
Each time he had to have a performance appraisal, it was in one of those one-on-one closed session side rooms, where there’s no visitors’ chairs, no one tagging along for moral support - it’s just you and the boss. Then he’d get back to the factory and find the workforce had created a mess. It was hectic man.
That fella Moses, he got the worst deal, man. Forty years tryna keep a bunch of errant peeps on a path that would help them save themselves. Forty years of law enforcement, dealing with their misdemeanours, their grumbling and their drama. And after all of it, after all the scary, frank and open conversations with the most terrifying Board Chairman in history, Moses never got to see the retirement benefits that would have been due to any CEO. Heck, he didn’t even get to attend the big reveal party.
That’s what it looks like when you’re chosen. It’s helluva hard and helluva lonely.
So, if you feel like there are some chosen people that you want to bully into leading the charge, remember Moses, and rather lead yourself. Leave them folks alone.
Ask yourself, “Am I the modern day Moses? Can I withstand the alone-ness?”
Because being chosen means being set apart - standing alone.
You don’t get to choose who is chosen.
You only get to answer if you’re the one.
Zimbabweans are renowned for being patient and peace-loving people. And I am one who believes that this great asset is also our biggest downfall; But not perhaps in the way you think.
Our patience is a problem because it makes us long-suffering. It makes us willing to bear much and to only begin to speak when the roof is well and truly on fire. Our love of peace makes us passive aggressive in the beginning when we are avoiding small internal conflicts in our homes, and cowards at the end, when we are pointing, “Fire!” from the distance and safety that money and privilege avails us.
I want to believe that a leadership team, like a house, or a car, or any other complex structure needs ongoing preventative maintenance in order for it to function well. It needs a regular tune-up to check if it’s still fit for purpose. It needs tightening of joints that are loose, lubrication of spaces that are stiff, exchange of parts that are worn out, removal of bits that aren’t needed any more, and general cleaning and servicing of the whole to assure users that it is in good working order
So how are we doing in that respect? You will be quick to tell me stories about ZanuPF, you may even talk about amaShona, you will name names of politicians that are too obstinate to listen to their people, and leaders too greedy to let go of the reigns.
But let’s not be quick to go all the way up to the top of that hierarchy. Let’s talk about about how we apply this at our own level first. Because leaders come from among us. They are raised by our mothers and fathers, they are the playmates of our brothers and sisters, and are counseled (initially at least) by our own uncles and aunts. We as a collective are the mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts that create the people who lead our institutions today. We blame corruption, but we ourselves are corrupt. We cheat, steal, murder, abuse children, rape women, are mysogynist and then raise our voice in outrage saying the government is evil. How is our leadership renewal in churches? How are we speaking out against injustice in our schools? How do we take responsibility and hold each other accountable in our families?
Unless we are willing to take responsibility at community level we are in for a nasty shock should there be a change in leadership in Zimbabwe - nothing will change. It’s like we have forgotten the delirium we felt in 2017 when Mugabe left office; the hope that was palpable and the cries of joy that filled the air. But nothing changes unless we change.
There are three areas specifically that I believe we need to pay attention to:
The first is accountability. Holding one another accountable for what we ought to be doing and what we have committed to doing is critical if our institutions are too function. If you can't ask your sister-in-law why she hasn’t done what she said she would do, why should you ask your MP, or your Reserve Bank Governor? If we train ourselves to do this at a micro level it will become a culture that serves us well going forward.
The second is responsibility. Taking responsibility for the conditions of our lives and the lives of those around us requires strength of character and a willingness to stumble and fall and be wrong sometimes. If you feel so strongly about things that you have a lot to say on Twitter and Whatsapp, why have you not run for councillor? Are you a member of your residents association? Are you on the school SDC? Have you written a letter to your MP expressing your concerns? “It won’t change anything,” you will tell me. Well, we have tried keeping quiet and then suddenly erupting in protest and that hasn’t changed anything either. So why not try something new?
Third, is a change in mindset towards positive possibility. Only today I have read statements like “Tiri pakaoma…things are tough”, and words used to describe leadership: “Evil…cruel…scared…” Now I am not saying things aren’t tough - they are. I am not saying we aren’t facing hard times - we are. But I am saying there is also a perspective that looks at and focuses on solutions. I am saying that our expectation of tough times will never fail to deliver. Our anticipation of the failings of our leaders will always be accurate. Our predictions of hardship will always be on point. Because these are the things we choose to focus on and this is where we decide to place our energy. It is almost as if we relish the hardship that we describe and discuss so much. When there is a cyclone, we quickly spread rumours about another bigger, scarier one just around the corner. If there is a coup we see seven more coup plots within the next three years.
Can we consider an alternative way of being Zimbabwean? A way that says we start out by bravely pouring our energy into changing ourselves so that our leaders can change - either because we require more of them, or because we start to produce a different type of leader. A way that starts with calling each other out instead of echoing each others' cries of woe? If we can’t pay our service bills, and license our cars, why should our councillors fix our potholes? I know this may seem simplistic, but think about how this could scale - everyone playing their part and constructively calling on his neighbour to play his.
What we are yet realise is that all we really have is each other - no one is coming: not Zanu-PF, not #thisflag, not MDC-A, or MDC-T or any MDC, or any other messianic movement will save us if we are not prepared to save ourselves, if we are not prepared to change.
Once the house is burning it’s all too easy to jump on a hashtag or circulate bad news of abductions and arrests, of beatings and bullets. These are serious and deeply troubling reports; but the actions are a result of a system being left too long without proper maintenance - and the system isn’t Zanu-PF. The system is the country, is the community, is you and me. The system is our way of thinking and abdicating responsibility. It’s easy to talk in the school car park about that racist teacher - much harder to walk into the office and state your concerns. It’s easy to gossip in our WhatsApp groups about money missing from the church coffers - much harder to ask our deacons to account for it. If we learn to do these hard things - and we can only learn by doing them, and doing them regularly and frequently - we can begin to build a better society.
We can become a people known, not for their patience and long-suffering but for their courage and conviction. We send a clear message throughout all of our institutions that leading anything in this country is not going to be a free ride. We improve the substance of our conversations and we elevate the quality of leadership and also the quality of citizenship.
Let’s not wait for anarchy before we call “Fire!” But rather put out the sparks and embers that threaten the rug in front of the fireplace. That way we never need to take to the streets in protest - we build a system in which safe, responsible and even gentle protest is a part of our culture and our character.
Today I am feeling many things. But mostly I feel grateful.
I feel grateful that once again, in my lifetime I am witnessing an historic event. There have been so many for my generation - each one different, some of them harrowing, others inspiring, but each one holding a measure of that “the-world-will-never-be-the-same-again” quality that we call history.
I have seen my country come to independence from colonial rule - stood next to my father as a child to watch one flag go up and another come down as our country changed its name.
I have been in the first group of students at my school to use computers at a time when no one had ever heard of Microsoft.
I have survived a genocide and a coup that was not a coup.
I have shed tears and held my breath as black women around the world have broken barriers, in sports, science, business, music, and demonstrated without question that this thing we call #blackgirlmagic is real.
It is a privilege to bear witness - even when the events are tough. You remain forever changed, and how you react to that change is what, in many ways determines your destiny.
In this season we have borne witness to a global pandemic and its effects on the world. We have borne witness to how countries and individuals have reacted, and had the opportunity to, in our own small way, be apart of the voices that impact the trajectory of global events: to decide whether we will be fear-mongers, spreading alarm, despondency cultural division and underscoring class divisions; or to take on the role of voices of reason, asking the right questions and making peace in our time.
To have been part of an MBA programme at ALU at this time has been challenging and exciting. From the first announcement that classes would be held online and not in person as we have been accustomed to doing every 3 or 4 months, to the actual experience of bonding over knowledge over the internet. There has been nothing like this in our past. And so there are no manuals to tell us how to do it best. But as a learning generation we are ready and willing to leap into the unknown and try new things, to fail and to try again anew.
I am so grateful to have been a part of this particular piece of history too. To have added my voice to the conversations, discussions arguments and yes, even fights around all of this. I am appreciating the complexities of life in the 21st century, and mindful fo how my one voice can change the tone of a conversation that is happening in our small groups, in our communities and in our world.
What a time to be alive. And I don’t use the word “alive” lightly.
I am grateful to be alive to witness it all.
Yes I know her.
I know her pretty well actually…(quiet)
Well, yeah.. we’ve done some stuff together.
We’ve become friends actually… over the years.(nodding)
What? Yeah. Well, of course. Yes, very accomplished. Insanely driven. Hard working, but so chilled when you get to know her…
Yes. I know, looks and a banging body too… Issa full-on package right there! (laughing)
Well, of course it looks like that on the outside, but she has her share of troubles.
No really…. You don’t know….
OK well I can tell you some really horrible stuff has happened to her.
Like crushing stuff, you know….things that would break you.
And yeah, she breaks.
She breaks. Breaks like a little girl, as they say.
I’ve seen her crouched on the floor, clutching her belly, wailing.
I’ve seen her cry for hours, seen her not get out of bed, seen her eat nothing but chocolate and wine for…I don’t know how long,
I've seen her when her eyes are red and her whole face is swollen and covered in snot and tears.
I’ve watched the crumpled tissues pile up by her bed - and not because she has a flu.
Oh she breaks. Yeah. (sighs)
I have seen her broken.
But then… then its like something happens.
You know that meme that has the quote “She remembered who she was, and the game changed”? That one?
Yeah. Its like something happens… like she remembers who she is. And then she kind of just gets up - slowly. I mean I'm not saying it's like some kind of high or anything.
Just gets up, you know. Washes her face, and starts again.
I’ve seen her start over …. So often…. Too many times actually.
Yeah I mean start over in all kinds of ways - I’ve seen her start over in business, in love, in friendships with other women. Just starting from scratch, you know? With a new project, a new man, or new people. That's gotta be hard. Especially when you’ve lost a lot of money, or your reputation has been tarnished, ego bruised, you know the deal... And the pride right? Like you have this epic massive fail and it’s like everyone is watching, and you just want to move to another country, you know?
But she doesn't flinch. Never let’s herself and the rest of us get away with it. She’ll look straight into the camera lens and start again. Take two, or seven or nineteen…whatever.
I know… I sound like I’m some kind of groupie….. I mean it’s hard not to have enough respect for a woman like that. She’s ….well… she’s something.
Sure there’s haters. Yeah… I've heard the stories…But her? I don’t think she ever even notices them, she’s so frickin focused (laughs).
I don’t know - maybe she does hear it and just ignores it all.
And you kinda have to feel sorry for those people… I mean they don’t really know what they’re talking about. Coz… her…?
She’s seen some things man.
Yeah. That’s her.
Photo by Ramez E. Nassif on Unsplash
As for me and my house, we will encourage courage.
We will be brave with our lives.
We will be brave with our choices.
We will dare greatly and go boldly.
We will walk all the way to the edge of our fears
We will try new things and constantly challenge old ones.
We will interrogate our beliefs and update our habits.
We will do the things that no one else wants to do
so that we can enjoy the rewards that no one else can enjoy.
We will work hard, and we will love hard. We will rest.
We will look to one another.
We will honour each other.
We will allow ourselves to lean on others -
even when we know they might let us down.
We will love wholeheartedly,
even when we fear our hearts might break.
We will eat with gusto. And laugh with abandon.
We will sing just as loud as we like
And dance - even when we're not sure how!
We will raise our voices. And also our eyebrows :-)
We will pursue our passions.
We will fail and try again and fail and try again
We will nurture our gifts and talents
We will forever be learning
We will travel far and read widely
We will argue fiercely and forgive graciously
We will trust a God that is bigger than ourselves
Even when he doesn’t seem to agree with us
We will chase dreams
We will believe in each other
We will be brave.
And be brave
And be brave.
It is difficult if not impossible to be a person of influence or even a person of substance without making an error of judgement. And of course one does not know that one is making an error until after the event.
It is also impossible to be a person of influence or substance without taking risks. So one looks at the job to be done and the potential impact of one’s involvement. As a servant leader one always wants to err on the side of doing too much rather than too little I think. And then one assesses the risk - potential reputational damage being the greatest.
The thing is, you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t really know another person’s intent or agenda in co-opting you to a project. You don’t know how deep their sincerity lies when they say they need your help. But worst of all - you don’t know what they don’t know which could potentially place you both on a path you could never have foreseen. All of this not knowing puts you in harm's way.
However, if we made our choices with a prevailing sense of not knowing, our lives would come to a grinding halt. No one would get married, or have children, or enter into business partnerships or even start anything new. Not knowing cannot therefore be a reason not to do.
When it comes to helping; when it comes to effecting change; when it comes to contributing to a vision you believe in, unless one has a solid reason not to, one must take the chance and offer the gifts one has. Because whether you are a singer or a strategist, your input is valid and valuable.
So I would rather you didn’t pretend to know for sure. I’d rather you didn’t quote scripture or best selling books at me to justify your involvement. If you simply said, “To be honest with you, I don’t know. I’m not sure; but I’d like to try and help if I can....” If you said this, I would understand you, because haven’t we all been in an awkward spot at some point? A spot where we really can’t be sure of what’s going on, or if our team-mates are sincere? So if you said this to me, and if your choice turned out to be a bad one, me and maybe 13 million other people would find it easy to forgive you. If you just acknowledged that you too, are not too sure.
Kindness is gold.
When you say you want a partner who is kind, many people immediately think you mean a person who will give you gifts, create opportunities or offer you a leg up on the ladder of success. While all that may be good, that isn’t what we mean by kindness.
Because kindness is not the same thing as generosity.
Kindness isn’t about things. It’s more about thoughts.
Kindness will make you a cup of tea before you’re awake. Or reverse your car out of the garage because you are prone to attracting palm trees and pillars. Kindness will forfeit sleep to listen to you muddle through a problem that is keeping you awake, not because there is a reward at the end of it, but because its important to you. Kindness carries your problem as if it is not yours alone.
Kindness remembers to burn your favourite essential oil in your room on the day you come back from a trip. So that you come home to the smell of home.
Kindness will run you a bubble bath and rub your feet, even if you are not pregnant.
Kindness is not the same as sympathy.
It is much more alike to empathy.
Kindness will never put you in a position to be humiliated or embarrassed. Kindness will protect you and advocate on your behalf. Kindness wont play games to leave you bewildered and unsure. Kindness makes it clear who you are in a person’s life, and never leaves you wondering. It behaves consistently with what it says. Kindness gives you a place at the table and never lets anyone threaten that place.
Kindness is a quality that recognises the preciousness of others alongside the preciousness of self. It is an input that negates the usual transactional exchange of value and seeks the good of another for its own sake.
Kindness is thoughtful and tender.
Kindness in fact, is true friendship.
If your partner is a your friend, then you my dear, have gold.
Some of us are singers and some of us are strategists.
Some, like Martin Luther King Jnr, write speeches that will set your soul on fire; while others walk and wield a gun to win your freedom.
It is not the same man who pays the bill for the meals of the activists as the one who braves the gunfire to take on combat. One man marches ahead with his machete and clears a path for the soldier behind him. Another takes photographs, captures the story and broadcasts it far and wide to evoke global support for a movement. One main paints a placard, another watches over the children of those who work.
Some of us a singers.
Some of us are strategists.
The one who sings may so invoke the feelings of a nation that transformation is made not just possible, but even inevitable, in large part through his song. A song to motivate or fortify. His words give courage in the face of fear or uncertainty.
The one who builds a strategy may do so over weeks and months and years of planning. Observing, adjusting and redrawing his plans once more. And again. And then again. His effort is no less valuable than that of the man who swings the sickle in the bush.
Perhaps my part is not your part.
Perhaps I am a singer.
Perhaps you are a strategist.
What if Zimbabwe was a woman?
What if she was a divorced mother of two precocious girls ?
What if she was physically able, mentally astute and spiritually aware?
She would be a woman with a good eduction, a profession even, a means of earning her own living, a decent group of friends and deep capacity to love and be loved.
And yet she one day found herself alone, on the side of the road, her car broken down, her well-laid plans rendered shambolic.
What would l tell this woman? This Zimbabwe with everything to offer, and yet not enough to show for it; what would I say to her.
I would say, this. I would say, Zimbabwe, no one is coming. I would say, You have parked your car here on the side of the road on a hot November day. You have sat here for six hours. You are waiting. Waiting for what? No one is coming. No one is making this go away for you.
I would say, You are sitting here getting hotter and hotter. You are getting hungry. The battery on your one cellphone has died and the other is fading fast. You have laid your “Zambia” (a piece of fabric you name after another country, after children of another mother) down in the shade of a tree and lain on it because the heat inside the car is too much. You have tried to drink your bottles of mineral water, but they are tasting more and more like tea because of the heat. You are thinking in fact that if you employ your fertile imagination, you can really taste a little Tanganda at the end of every sip. Zimbabwe. No one is coming. No one will make this go away.
I would tell Zimbabwe to look to herself. I would remind her of the two children awaiting her at home. Children who are believers in her capacity to provide, to defend, and even to make pleasant and pleasure out of everything in their lives. I would ask Zimbabwe to think about the other trials she has been through. The parts in her path that seemed to be insurmountable - the birthing of a baby. The obtaining of a degree and writing final exams while 8 months pregnant. I would say remember the October heat in that exam room. Remember how you wanted to take off all your clothes and pour cold water on your distended belly. I would say, you got through that. I would remind Zimbabwe of the other baby - the one born while waiting for the gynae in the hospital. The one where the midwife insisted on issuing instructions in deep Shona because she thought you were being a “salad” and playing at not understanding when she said "gomera" and you didn’t know it meant push and your baby just remained parked in your pelvis while she had her little moment of power-playing. I would say your baby could have died but she lived and here we all are.
I would say Zimbabwe - that was Chimurenga one, and two, and we can even find Chimurenga three, This here….this is not a war. There is no life that needs to be lost here. This is a broken down car on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I would say Zimbabwe, get some perspective. Is this unpleasant? Yes. Is this inconvenient? Sure. But it is not the end of the world or even the end of the road. It is fixable and the one who can fix it is you.
I would say Zimbabwe listen carefully: There is nothing you need to fix this situation that you don’t already have. Everything you need is already here - with you; inside you; around you. You have everything you need. Make a move, or a call, or a plan.
Be what you need because no one is coming to be that for you. Look to yourself because you are your own responsibility. That is what adulting means Zimbabwe. It mean you are no longer your father’s responsibility, nor are you your spouse’s responsibility, and even if you had a blesser, you would soon discover that you are not his responsibility either. You are the one in charge of yourself. Fix it. Fix yourself. No one is coming to carry the responsibility for you.
No. One. Is. Coming.
Having been a Twitter follower of an organization called Akili Dada for some time now, I only recently discovered, (with much delight, I might add) what the name actually means. In Ndebele the equivalent would be Cabanga Dade! In other words, use your brain, sister!
I was tickled by the cheeky tone of this expression, as well as the fact that it is a ‘woman to woman’ expression of encouragement and exhortation. But more than this, I was moved by the focused approach to helping young women develop leadership skills through education. The education of girls is something that is recognised the world over as one of the most important requirements for promoting sustainable development and economic progress.
Education gives girls options that would otherwise not be available to them, it raises their sense of self worth and empowers them with knowledge about the world around them. Educating girls is the first step in helping women become part of the larger decision making process, equipping them with social and intellectual skills that will enable them to particulate fully as citizens of the world and to protect themselves from harm.
Educating girls leads to higher wages, lower birth rates, reduced maternal and child mortality and better health and education for the next generation. It has been demonstrated that when education for girls is improved the country enjoys greater health and economic prosperity. Research shows the every extra year of schooling for girls cuts the risk of infant mortality by 5-10% and increases their lifetime income by 15%. Women invest more in their families and communities than men do, so the dollars spent educating girls are more certain to come back. Studies have shown a direct correlation between increased rates of girls school enrolment and increased GDP.
Yet in spite of all the well documented benefits that can accrue not just to individuals but to communities and countries as a whole, the education of girls remains a contentious issue in the developing world. Ita has long been reported that as many as a third of Zimbabwe’s girl children are failing to attend school because of reasons such as poverty, abuse and cultural practice.
Grants made by organisations such as DFID have increased the opportunities for girls in Zimbabwe enabling tens of thousands of girls in the poorest rural communities to enroll in and complete secondary school.
But while this seems generous and is certainly helpful, it made me wonder whether we really need to wait for the DFIDs, the UNICEFs and the Camfeds to help us educate our girls.
Akili Dada started off as a local initiative, created by a local woman who understood the local problems and local needs. While the NGO directory does list some organisations in Zimbabwe that address the education of girls, I believe more can be done by us as ordinary citizens. Whether it’s that difficult conversation with the male head of your family, that monthly sacrifice for a niece, a cousin or a sister, or a commitment to demonstrating the benefits that will accrue to your family because of your own education as a woman, we can all play a bigger part, and achieve our own individual versions of “akili dada” right here at home.
SOUTHERN SISTER- SUNDAY 15 SEPTEMBER 2013
I write to lend you my courage, to help you find the words for the things you feel, but are not yet ready to say. I write to tell the stories of our time, and to edify those whose stories I tell and their audiences.