By Seewell Mashizha
A pertinent question with regard to the current electoral matrix in Zimbabwe has to do with the question of who the voters will give a mandate to, come the impending 2018 harmonised elections.
This question is particularly vexing because for the first time in years there appears to be a perfect alignment of time, desire and opportunity in Zimbabwe. The country appears to be in a now-or-never situation and citizens would hate to miss the boat once again. Now, more than ever before, the pithy classic words of Brutus have urgent currency:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
We do indeed seem to be traversing a rich vein at this moment in time. The possibilities in all directions are mind-boggling: politics and governance as well as social and economic well-being. It is possible to begin to witness during the lives of many of our senior citizens, the unmistakable awakening of a dream and the satisfaction of some of our yearnings. But we must all put our hand to the plough regardless of who we prefer at the helm or what we stand for, ultimately.
It follows that voters will initially be driven by their political leanings, but given the envisaged openness of the coming elections, it will also matter how well a party has organized its voter constituency. These things together with the reasons for voting in one candidate rather than the other, will determine the outcome of the elections. People want hope that is sustainable. They also want observable progress on the ground. Thus, no party can afford to be seen to be in any way anti-people. Nor can it afford to be seen as a proxy for outside interests. Zimbabwe’s interests must reign supreme. Naturally, clear articulation of policies and programmes as well as consistency in their enunciation will be of paramount importance. For this reason, this week I have chosen to have recourse to a folktale to illustrate what is at stake and suggest a way forward.
While surfing the net I came across a Zambian website called the Good Shepherd Zambian Project. It is an advocacy website that uses stories to inculcate ethical values. The story that caught my eye was the one that showed how consistent honesty is rewarded in the end. I present an adaptation of the story below:
The honest woodcutter
A woodcutter and his wife and two children lived in a forest far from the nearest town. He built their home with his own hands and from the logs that he cut himself. The house was neither big nor luxurious, but was warm and dry, and although the family was not rich, it was happy and comfortable.
At breakfast one morning, the family built wonderful pictures about what their lives would be like if they had lots of money. The woodcutter’s dream was for a bigger house. All his wife wanted to do was eat her food from splendid china plates; in their flights of fancy the children had a surfeit of wonderful toys and their days were filled with endless joy and laughter.
But such dreams dissipate in time and reality takes over. So, after breakfast, the woodcutter put on his hat, grabbed his faithful axe, and was off to his daily chores in the forest. From the porch, the family watched him walk deeper into the forest as it waved good-bye.
The woodcutter worked in the oldest part of the forest where the trees grew tallest and thickest. These trees were also the hardest to chop down. Yet they were no problem to the woodcutter. All he had to do was sharpen the blade of his old but trusted axe.
Soon, the wood chips were flying through the air, and the forest echoed with the loud sound of the woodcutter’s axe. As the day wore on the pile of neatly-stacked logs grew ever higher. The woodcutter’s greatest wish was to cut enough wood to give his family the good things of life. On this day the woodcutter worked until noon, and then took a short break. As always, he walked to the edge of the river where he chose a comfortable place and sat down to lunch. He drank his fill from the cool clear water.
One day the woodcutter was so thirsty that he walked too quickly to the river. In his haste, he did not see the rock jutting out of the ground. He tripped and fell. The axe slipped from his hand and landed in the river. Frantically, the woodcutter searched the water, but his axe was nowhere in sight. Without the axe, the woodcutter could not chop wood and buy things for his family. “What am I going to do?” he cried.
Suddenly the river began to make noise. The woodcutter looked up and saw the water rising. And there before his eyes, the water grew arms and a head, and started to talk to him.
“I am a water sprite. Why are you so sad?”
After the woodcutter had explained what his problem was, the water sprite said, “Don’t worry. I can help you. I’ll go down to the bottom of the river and find your axe.”
In an instant the sprite was gone. The river began to swirl and foam. A few moments later, the water sprite appeared again.
“Is this your axe?” he asked the woodcutter. The woodcutter looked closely at the axe. It was made of pure silver! The woodcutter thought about taking it, but the axe did not belong to him. He knew it would be wrong to say it was his.
“I cannot take this axe. It is not mine,” said the woodcutter.
The water sprite went down to the bottom of the river again. He returned after a few moments with a magnificent axe of pure solid gold.
“This must be yours,” said the sprite. The woodcutter held the amazing gold axe for a moment. It could make him very rich. With it he could afford to spoil his family. But he gave the axe back to the sprite. “This is a fine axe,” he explained. “But it is not mine either.”
The water sprite smiled and said, “Let me look for it once more.” For the third time the sprite disappeared. He returned with an axe whose old handle was worn from use.
The woodcutter smiled and said, “Ah yes! This is my axe.”
The water sprite shook his head. “Are you sure you want this axe?”
“Yes,” said the woodcutter. “The other axes are not mine.
The water sprite smiled. “Your axe is not worth much, but your honesty is. Take the silver and gold axes as a gift for telling the truth.”
With glee and excitement, the woodcutter thanked the water sprite and immediately left the forest. With his new-found treasure, he went shopping in town. Once there he went straight to the rich owner of a big store and showed him the fine axes.
“These are the best axes that I have ever seen,” said the store-owner.”
He paid the woodcutter with a large sack of gold coins.
Now that he was rich, the woodcutter bought a bouquet of beautiful flowers for his wife and a set of fine china plates. He also bought a big collection of toys for the children. The woodcutter still had lots of gold left over.
When he arrived back home, his wife and children were surprised to see him home so early. But, when the woodcutter’s wife saw the china plates and the flowers, she was so happy that tears came to her eyes. And when the children saw the big bag filled with toys, they squealed with joy. Never before had the woodcutter’s family been so happy and excited.
Back inside the house, the woodcutter told his family about the water sprite and what had happened to him during the day. The family was amazed.
That night, as he was putting the children to bed, his son looked up and asked, “Why did the water sprite give you all three axes?”
With a giggle, the woodcutter’s daughter said, “Because Father told the truth.”
“That’s right,” said the woodcutter. “It was because I told the truth.”
Different conclusions about the meaning and relevance of this folktale are possible. My take is that the party that will carry the day is the party that exhibits the most consistency and is able to self-correct as did the Chinese after the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. The people of Zimbabwe expect concrete development, not mere rhetoric. The winner will be the one with the welfare of the people at heart, and who does not sell them dummies.