There is some ancient wisdom on this subject. Some 3 000 years ago the Prophet Isaiah wrote that the House of Jacob “day after day (sought God) out”, seemed “eager to know (God’s) ways”, and asked God “for just decisions”.
They were a religious people who grumbled that while they had fasted and humbled themselves, God “had not seen it”. Isaiah responded by pointing out that their “fasting (ended) in quarrelling and strife” and warned “you cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.
Isaiah explains that the remedy, if a nation wants God to listen, is to “loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free, break every yoke, do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk, share food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, clothe the naked and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood”.
If that is done Isaiah promises that “light will break forth like the dawn, healing will quickly appear, ancient ruins will be rebuilt” and a nation will “be like a well-watered garden”.
Zimbabwe is like the House of Jacob in many respects.
It is an intensely religious nation; millions of Zimbabweans attend church every weekend; our new constitution acknowledges “the supremacy of Almighty God, in whose hands our future lies” and implores “the guidance and support of Almighty God”. Our parliamentary standing orders mandate the saying of a prayer at the commencement of business — a prayer which explicitly recognises Jesus Christ.
Through the calamity of the last 15 years, there have been all-night prayer vigils, “Judgement nights” and fasts. Zimbabwe abounds in wealthy prophets, some of whom attract tens of thousands to their services, who proclaim a health, wealth and prosperity gospel.
Some prophesy that Zimbabwe will be awash in gold nuggets, oil and untold riches. And yet, still the economy collapses, many people are disillusioned, and others leave. Celebrated young Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo captures this sentiment, particularly felt by young Zimbabweans, when she wrote recently of “siblings, bleak-eyed with dreams unfulfilled, fathers forlorn and defeated”.
It seems as if the good Lord has turned His back on a benighted land. The same prophets and many others in the wider church do not speak about the yokes which still burden Zimbabweans. This has been a practice for decades.
Very few white churches and Christian leaders spoke out against the evil of racial discrimination and atrocities committed by Rhodesian forces during the war; few churches spoke out against Gukurahundi and Murambatsvina; black churches have tended to turn a blind eye to wholesale theft of white-owned commercial farms.
Herein lies the rub: can we expect a just God to respond to an outwardly religious nation whose “fasting ends in quarrelling and strife”?
Lest this be viewed as unreasonable religious dogma, it needs to be said that there are sound secular studies which establish a relationship between good governance and sustainable long-term development.
Indian Nobel prize winner, Amartya Sen, an atheist, in his book Development as Freedom establishes a “causal connection between democracy and the non-occurence of famine”. Pointing out that while there are droughts in democracies, the “penalty of famines” is so great in democracies that their rulers prevent any threatening famine.
A free press, he argues, “is the best early warning system a country threatened by famines can have”.
Ironically Sen, writing in 1999, lauded Zimbabwe, along with Botswana, as a democracy, but it is hard to imagine that he would still do so now.
Since 1999, Zimbabwe has turned from being a net exporter of food to a net importer. Since 1999, Zimbabweans have faced constant food shortages, if not famines, and hundreds of thousands have died through the deadly combination of lack of food, poverty, and Aids. Millions more have sought economic or political exile outside Zimbabwe during the same period.
The point is that there are serious current secular studies which support Isaiah’s remedy written thousands of years ago.
It would take another book to describe the current yokes that burden Zimbabweans and how they should be lifted. But at the core of Zimbabwe’s crisis of governance, in my opinion, is a phenomenon which has uniquely afflicted our nation since it became a modern nation state over a hundred years ago.
In 1997 I startled a group of judges I spoke to, including current Chief Justice Chidyausiku, at a meeting in Masvingo when I said, “Rhodes begat Smith and Smith begat Mugabe.”
Rhodes was once described as “a very Colossus, who stood astride a continent which was too small a pedestal for the imperial dimensions of the man”; he was given demigod status by white Rhodesians, who named the country after him. In many respects Smith assumed Rhodes’s mantle. He enjoyed unquestioned reverence by the vast majority of white Rhodesians.
Mugabe is undoubtedly in that mould as well. He is the very soul of Zanu PF and despite the devastation he has wrought on Zimbabwe, stands astride the African continent as a man who brought white minority rule to an end.
The tragedy is that this hero worship has become deeply ingrained in Zimbabwean political culture. The word of an individual means more than the constitution, more than age-old wisdom. This culture may well outlive Mugabe.
We remain a people constantly searching for the next messiah, be that person Tsvangirai, Mnangagwa or Mujuru. And for so long as personality means more than policy or principle, Zimbabweans will not see “light break forth like the dawn”.
Having identified one key yoke, one crucial method in lifting that yoke must be mentioned. Many foreigners have wondered why Zimbabweans have not long since overthrown the Zanu PF regime.
The reason for this is, I believe, because common Zimbabweans have learnt the lessons of war; having experienced two in their lifetimes, they have no desire to start another.
Although politicians have threatened wars and destruction, those thoughts have never gained traction among the vast majority of Zimbabweans. Thank goodness Zimbabwe has no strategic interest and has avoided the devastation the world has witnessed in the last decade in
Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Through all these years of struggle, I remain more convinced than ever that only the pursuit of non-violence will result in national healing and the “reconstruction of ancient ruins”. We do not want or need the interference of the West or, for that matter, other African states to complete our journey towards a more democratic order.
But that does not give licence to the West, the Commonwealth and Africa to turn a blind eye to the yokes that still bind Zimbabwe. While the West spoke out about the attacks on white farmers, it has tended to ignore the much graver assaults on the human rights of black Zimbabweans. Most African leaders, no doubt blinded by the planks in their own eyes, have consistently ignored the serious human rights violations committed in the 36 years of Zanu PF rule.
While Zimbabweans must remain steadfastly committed to using non-violent methods to achieve change, this must be supported by the West, the Commonwealth and Africa — indeed, all democracies throughout the world, who must hold whoever rules Zimbabwe to respect the letter and spirit of our own constitution.
Zimbabwe has the potential to become the jewel of Africa — a beacon of hope for the entire continent. Her people are her most valuable asset. Zimbabweans are hardworking, literate, determined and considerate.
She is endowed with varied and spectacular countryside — from the Zambezi River and Victoria Falls in the west to majestic mountains in the east, interspersed with sweeping savannah plains, verdant forests, rich, well-watered farmlands.
There are valuable minerals galore: for a relatively small country, she has remarkable wealth in her soil — diamonds, gold, platinum, to name but a few. Unlike so many former African colonies, successive white minority governments were determined to stay so the original infrastructure is superb; while our cities, roads, railways and dams are in a bad state of repair, they were well built.
Our location is also an important asset. We are slap bang in the middle of Southern Africa and all the major communication routes go through us. In short, Zimbabwe is abundantly blessed with nearly everything required to develop a vibrant state.
It lacks just one critical ingredient — democracy. If we instil and root democracy, the country will boom. Our nation has never experienced real democracy; although there was a period in the 1950s when the first tentative steps were made towards a more democratic order, most of our history is a litany of oppressive rule.
The vast majority of Zimbabweans long for freedom. This desire was illustrated in the massive vote in favour of the new constitution in 2013, which, although flawed, resulted in a document which marks an important step forward.
While by no means perfect — as I have written, it contains some serious flaws — it provides a useful foundation upon which to build. My hope is not for wholesale amendments but, in time, for considered amendments which are debated and which enjoy broad support among an overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans.
Many years ago Zanu PF copied Frelimo’s old battle cry “a luta continua” — “the struggle continues” — to which they added “until final victory”. In the pursuit of democracy there is never a final victory because democracy is a process, not an event.
Even countries that have had democratic constitutions for over a century experience the evolution, refinement and, on occasion, reversal of democracy. Zimbabwe, as a young emerging democracy, is no different. The struggle continues — yes, it does indeed.