Are we helpless?

Zimbabwe is like a bus hurtling out of control on a rocky road, with the driver nodding asleep at the wheel. Most of the passengers have given up, because Zimbabweans are different from everyone else; once we were smarter than everybody else, now we are more helpless and hopeless.

Kwame Nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah

Those who complain about what is wrong are the first to declare that we can't do anything to put it right. The people who should be in control of the situation are robbing the rest and looking for their chance to jump off before the final crash.

Are we really so helpless? Is there nothing we can do?

Walking around Mbare, I see names on every corner, names of people who should have been more helpless than we are, people who were faced with a new kind of challenge which their parents had not known, but they were people who did what they could to make a bad situation a bit better.

They are remembered in modest monuments like Mai Musodzi Hall and in the street names. We walk those streets, we know the names, but we never ask ourselves about those forebears of ours, who came as scattered fragments of many peoples to live in the white man's town and created a community of their own.

Mai Musodzi was orphaned as a child and married to a foreigner. What could she do in the face of the forces that were destroying the world she had known and creating a new one for the profit of the intruders? She had a bit of land, so she grew what she could to sell. New skills were needed, so she started learning dressmaking and other simple skills, and teaching them to others. She was not alone. Women began to form their own organisations for self-help and mutual support.

There were men who helped people to organise to get their rights, like Mzingeli and Rakgajani. There were those who taught others, like Mushongandebvu and Muchenje. The white man had brought them into a new world, so the first thing to do was to help everyone understand that world. Making their own way in it had to be was first step. Learning to manage it and control it for themselves would come later.

That is a lesson that our political leaders don't seem to have learned yet. Maybe Kwame Nkrumah's “Seek first the political kingdom” was right for Ghana, but here there were many other tasks to be mastered before political power could be more than an empty shell.

The businessmen played a part. Some merely tried to enrich themselves, but others, like Marowa, the first to open a shop at Ardbennie, were known for their compassion and generosity to those less fortunate than themselves. Those opened the way for others to follow.

Some found resources in the churches to help them build the new kind of community that was needed in the new situation. The Salvation Army played an important role, perhaps because they promoted members faster to leadership positions, but I won't name others because someone would point out how many worthy names were missing from any list you could make.

Not all who worked for the administration were sell-outs. Sergeant Vito is remembered as a man who helped build that new community.

You may notice the number of foreign names, from Malawi, South Africa and elsewhere. This had to be a community that was built on new ways of supporting each other unimagined in rural communities. Separating yourself from “people without totems” would only help the oppressors to divide and rule.

Footballers and musicians helped to bring people together, entertained them in hard times and created new links between people.

Few of these people were politicians in the sense we understand now, but they did build a new sense of identity in a new community, empowering people whose dignity and self-confidence were threatened by the dominant settlers.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis
  1. Wilbert Mukori

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