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.
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.