Getting it right

zim_map_flagAt the launch of a new history of the country, Becoming Zimbabwe, at the Book Caf in Harare on 17 November, a questioner asked about the value of history. I forget his point but his throwaway line at the end of his question was, if the academics dont get it right what chance have the politicians? This left me pondering.


Is it really true that the academics are the ones who make history, not the politicians? If we answer yes we fly in the face of the assumptions we are fed on daily; it is the present politicians who made, and continue to make, Zimbabwe what it is.

Academics do a lot of reflecting. Sometimes they carry their prejudices into their work but normally they try to think freely and fairly. So at the launch we heard about Zanu (PF)s selective approach to our history, making this subject an extension of their own propaganda. But we also heard of the MDCs failure to think broadly concerning the history of this country. It was challenging to hear the speakers consensus that Zimbabwe is still becoming. Perhaps we unthinkingly believe it has already arrived. Whereas in fact all we have is a first mould, an opening draft, which we are far from satisfied with.

So, back to the academics! Their task and they are doing it is to ponder the whole story reaching back to pre-colonial times. They set themselves to examine not just the obvious landmark events of the past but all the evidence of how people live and thought and celebrated. Yes, music and song will prove to be a resource together with local social conditions in every corner of the country. As time goes on people will own the whole social and political fabric as it will represent and reflect each ones own sense of who he/she is and who we are as a society.

A lesson from history can help. In the making of the modern world it was not the kings and chancellors of Europe who set the tone. They just blundered along reacting to events that overtook them. No, it was the academics who laid down the markers. Thinkers influenced one another in an astonishing rush from the time of the Renaissance (the rebirth of learning) 6-700 years ago to the present. First, there was the Reformation suggesting things could be different than they are. Then the philosophers of the Enlightenment asked all sorts of questions about science and society. Finally we reached the age of revolution which, despite setting up some horrendous tyrannies for a time, tried to create new systems of social cohesion based on real, not just notional (as we have it in this country at the moment) democracy.

What we are moving towards, and lets be encouraged by this, is a society which represents the hopes of all people. It continues to be a struggle to get anywhere near this as those enjoying the present set up have no intention of sharing their space with others. They will yield unwillingly to change. And change will come, if the academics get it right.

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