Principles for a truly African democracy in Zimbabwe

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RECENTLY, there was this exchange on Twitter between political analyst Vince Musewe and Zimbabweans United for Democracy (ZUNDE)
Musewe:     We must stop being masterminded by the West. It is their socio-economic paradigm which underdeveloped Africa in the first place.
ZUNDE:     “We believe that in the long run the special contribution to the world by Africa will be in the field of human relationships. The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa—giving the world a more human face.” (Steve Biko 1970)
That put me in mind of Michael Auret’s account of his 1979 discussion with Jesuit anthropologist Father Patrick Galvan who had spent 40 years studying the people he ministered to in Zimbabwe.
Auret:        I asked him what he thought would happen when the war was over, when the majority had taken over the government.
Galvan:      “In time they will destroy everything white and rebuild it in their own way.”
Auret:         I pooh-poohed that thought as it was clear that no-one would ever destroy so developed an infrastructure or economy.
Galvan:      “I’m not talking about infrastructure or buildings, I’m talking about white thinking, white attitudes and white domination. They will certainly attempt to rid themselves of that.” [Auret, M 2009, From Liberator to Dictator, pp vii-viii]
The destruction foreseen by Father Galvan has come to pass. Now we have to set about bringing into effect the vision of Steve Biko. We have to think our way out of the situation we are in and develop sound strategies for the restoration of freedom, human rights and good governance to ensure that Zimbabwe rises again. It is incumbent on us to develop a set of principles for building a truly African democracy in the new Zimbabwe.
We could well begin with the principles expounded by another visionary, Professor Stanlake Samkange, a Zimbabwean historiographer, educator, journalist, author, and African nationalist who, in 1980, published Hunhuism or Ubuntuism: A Zimbabwe Indigenous Political Philosophy. (Unhu is the Shona equivalent of the Nguni Ubuntu.)Advertisement

Samkange highlighted three principles that underpin the philosophy of unhuism/ubuntuism:

To be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish respectful human relations with them.
If and when one is faced with a decisive choice between wealth and the preservation of the life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of life.
The king owes his status, including all the powers associated with it, to the will of the people under him. According to Samkange, this is a principle deeply embedded in traditional African political philosophy.

Steve Biko’s vision of the great gift still to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face -is encapsulated in the first of these principles.
The second principle points to maintaining the harmony and spirit of sharing among the members of our society that are embodied in unhu/ubuntu and are diametrically opposed to the socio-economic paradigm of the West eschewed by Vince Musewe.
Samkange’s third principle defines unhu/ubuntu as a permanent, essential, and characteristic attribute of a truly indigenous democracy in Zimbabwe.
We would do well to examine our national Constitution and political custom and practice through the lens of Samkange’s erudite exposition of a Zimbabwean indigenous political philosophy with a view to publishing a substantive work expounding the principles and a code of practice for good governance in the new Zimbabwe.
A new kind of parliament
We have inherited the parliamentary system from the British and it serves people well in nations where it operates properly. Zimbabwe needs to adapt the parliament in a truly African way if it is to serve our country to the best advantage.
For example, there is no need for parliament to be an adversarial forum where government is pitted against the opposition. Southern Africa has the venerable tradition of the dare/indaba where issues are thrashed out until a consensus is reached and then all unite to support that consensus. This will not hinder robust debate but it will require resolution and humility once a majority decision has been made.
Political parties would continue to contest elections to win the privilege of representing their constituents but, in order to get the benefit of the best talent available, Ministers would be chosen from various parties. Politicians do not have to be adversaries – they can collaborate to achieve a common purpose. This is the kind of political maturity that is lacking in Zimbabwean politics. This is what we need.
Unhu/ubuntu requires that our politicians put national interest ahead of self-interest and work together for the common good. This is how Zimbabwe can build a truly indigenous democracy.
A new kind of politician
The plunder of Zimbabwe’s resources and the brutal means by which Zimbabwe’s current political elite have accumulated their ostentatious wealth is clearly at odds with Samkange’s second principle. In time, they will be called to account for failing to maintain the harmony and spirit of sharing among the members of our society that are embodied in unhu/ubuntu.
Unhu/ubuntu requires national leaders who understand that election to public office is a vocation to public service, a call to work selflessly and tirelessly for the freedom, equality and wellbeing of all Zimbabweans.
Politicians who have unhu/ubuntu will build a Zimbabwe characterised by the rule of law, integrity, transparency and accountability in government, sound economic management, and a prosperous and peaceful populace.
This is not an impossible dream. A commitment to unhuism/ubuntuism would have to be backed by legislation with teeth and the establishment of an effective national anti-corruption organisation, an independent parliamentary integrity commissioner with investigative powers, and a multi-party parliamentary committee to penalise those who use public office for personal or political gain.
No panacea
Professor Samkange’s political philosophy is no panace,a but it does provide us with a clear perspective to view the Zimbabwe situation and language in which to express our vision for a truly African democracy. We have to look for new ways to express the traditional values of unhu/ubuntu and apply them as Zimbabwe takes its place in the world as a 21st Century democracy.
ZUNDE strongly supports establishing the principles for an African democracy in Zimbabwe and is committed to working with like-minded parties and movements to bring it about.
Now is the time to spell out the vision and values to underlie a strategy to rebuild Zimbabwe. Now is the time to fire the imagination of the populace with a vision of what Zimbabwe can be.
Hidden in the seeming disaster that is Zimbabwe today, unhu/ubuntu is the spark of rebirth, renewal and hope. We must work to build a new Zimbabwe in the spirit of unhu/ubuntu.
Munhu munhu nekuda kwevanhu.