November 28, 2016 / Theology
The Other Journal sits down with Thomas Nail to discuss his latest book, The Figure of the Migrant.
August 8, 2005
Aspects of African Liberation
Political Liberation: reflection on being true to ourselves
The term “liberation” tends to be used very loosely, these days, but it can also mean something specific and be crucial and relevant to our everyday life. In this regard, I have chosen to discuss political liberation in my own country of Zimbabwe although what is happening here is not necessarily peculiar to Zimbabwe—it is the African neo-colonial experience.
In this discussion, political liberation means much more than taking the means of power from another ruling body. With specific reference to Zimbabwe, the meaning of political liberation goes beyond ousting the white Regime which we did by any means necessary. Furthermore, it was more than hoisting a flag of our choice; naming the country what we wanted; shouting slogans of military victory; re-naming streets according to our heroes and heroines; building mansions, houses, huts, and shacks, depending on our economic means. This is but a very limited meaning of liberation. Liberation primarily is intellectual—it is in the mind and the heart. There was a time during our struggle when we thought that all we wanted was to rule ourselves.
The challenge now is that, 25 years into our political independence, it appears that most families are sinking deeper and deeper into not only material poverty but a spiritual and social pool of general misery in the midst of political sovereignty. Of course there is a five per cent (5%) for whom what I am saying here is “nonsense” because they have become very wealthy in the midst of nation-wide abject poverty, proving that they are exploiting the nation. [By the way, this is not because they work hard, but simply because they have harnessed the nation’s resources and made them their personal possessions.] The only positive function of this 5% is that it serves to prove the point that we need to create a new value-system. Liberation is getting rid of the harsh greed which has taken the form of neo-colonial greed which exports national assets offshore. Further, true liberation from a poverty mentality and all the “neo-isms” one can think of will happen when we recreate our true African identity. In Zimbabwe, there is a sense in which our political independence is simultaneously our self-imposed curse because we repeatedly vote back in power the few greedy, self-centered, corruption-oriented individuals because if we do not the ruling party will murder us. A case in point is the Gukurahundi in Matebele Land where over 20,000 Zimbabwe citizens were massacred by their own government just because they were suspected of not having voted for Robert Mugabe (see Dr. J. Dube’s dissertation). Even when we do not vote for them, they steal the vote with our permission, knowing that there are no reprisals at all. What is happening in Zimbabwe is a case of a chicken eating its own eggs. Its life span in terms of generations or posterity is cut short severely.
Here, on any given morning the few newspapers allowed and heavily censored by the government are full of articles discussing how our people are suffering at the hands of their own elected officials—people supposedly elected to office by the masses. Such an anomaly immediately suggests an evil that has crept into our society. Suffering, pain, poverty, oppression has become the character of our independence. There is no freedom of assembly or speech. So the question is: how free are we? In Zimbabwe it is as if “self-rule” synonymous with “self-ruin.” The tyrant has no regard for God’s word, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” [Amos 5:24]. What is stopping justice from flowing over the land? While most of what we have to deal with is the aftermath of colonialism, to put the blame on the long gone colonialists is really shirking responsibility. Nor is Mugabe an extension of colonial powers. He simply has no regard for the masses or the future of Zimbabwe.
Confronted by this misery in the midst of our independence, some people have still argued that it is better to be oppressed by one’s own people than by foreigners. This type of mentality generally manifests an un-liberated people even a quarter of a century after acquiring political independence. In terms of our discussion here, such an argument only carries weight in so far as it proves the absence of true liberation. Such people are operating in a survival mode. They cannot afford the luxury of aspiring to prosperity and meaningful liberation. We take the position that justice delayed is justice denied. Furthermore, there can be no oppression that is “preferred.”
Yes, regarding rule, one would rather be ruled by one’s own, provided that the principle of the rule of law prevails. “The rule of law” is always noble, especially when such law is based on justice and equality across the board. The Shona of Zimbabwe have a saying that states “murawu ndiShe,” meaning the law is supreme or no one is above the law. However, the assumption here is that our own are in a better position culturally to understand our needs. So our own would be our first preference. Unfortunately, if they fail to deliver good governance, we ought to reserve the right to replace them with “our own” who are willing to create a political environment that is conducive to national prosperity, peace, freedom, and justice for all. Any government that does not take cognizance of the needs of the governed is not good for the people. Unfortunately in Zimbabwe, “rule of law’ has long been usurped by a few who have unilaterally placed themselves above the law and the whole justice system, to the point where quite a few judges and numerous lawyers have absconded. These guardians of the law have discovered a sad observation that the ruling party’s mentality is other than liberated. A liberated person, whether military or civil, normally appreciates freedom and human dignity, in addition to respecting fellow human beings. What is born of liberation is liberation, but oppression yields repression [John3:6].
Apart from a false sense of racial superiority, we believe that one of the reasons why the colonial oppressors failed to appreciate majority rule is precisely because their mindset was repressive. They needed to be “born again” in political terms in order to create, if not at least be receptive to the new order. Lack of this in them led to their military defeat. Similarly, any oppressive African governments will have to be reborn as liberated minds—new values—before they can understand that the true fruits of liberation, indeed the true nature of liberation, is genuine freedom, not a recriminatory ideology. Because a positive value-system does not come out of a retaliatory mindset, any mode of political independence that seeks vengeance is self-defeating since its fruits are negative, not conducive to prosperity.
Pursuant to the creation of a new value-system, the first matter of business for those seeking true liberation is a humanizing definition of human dignity. Have we as African people redefined “human dignity” following decades of untold human rights abuse both at the hands of colonialists and now our own people? It seems to me this ought to be necessary since there has been a negative characterization of what it is to be “African.” The first order of business is to construct an ideology that portrays the worth or dignity in being African, based on a theology that affirms our cultural concept of “being human.” The majority of the Zimbabwe politicians, especially party leadership, (the ruling party) have demonized the definition of what it is to be human by designating themselves as “Chefs” while the masses are described as the povho, an adulterated form of “proletariat,” to demean the ordinary working people who do not matter at all even if they are exploited, masses who do not have a claim to any human rights. In my opinion, such a societal bifurcation has seriously diluted the meaning and importance of liberation among the African people of Zimbabwe. Furthermore, this schism in society has been used to shield the “Chefs” against any form of accountability, even when they commit sadistic crimes or any degree of corruption. No one pays any attention to the wealth of meaning and wisdom in the African proverb which says: Murombo munhu, (meaning, a human being is not to be defined by his or her material possessions, rather everybody is entitled to full human rights). In conjunction with the “I am because we are” dictum, which essentially means “being in relation,” this philosophy of what it is to be human is also reflected in the Bible, where truly liberated people are commended for having treated all human beings—even “the least of these my brothers and sisters”—with dignity, respect, care and justice [Matthew 25:31–46]. In a truly liberated society, the new value-system will accord every human being with a sense of worth which in turn will empower the people. This would be a true rendering of the liberation slogan so often loosely uttered: all power to the people. What is meant is power to be “me,” power to be “us,” power to live a purposeful life and contributing to society. Liberation must be true in word and in deed. More than theory, liberation is praxis.
The oppressive regime in Zimbabwe has reduced to nothing the meaning of “the rule of law.” Instead, the ruling party has created a state of affairs where “the rule of terror” has become its definition of liberation. Anyone who does not support or belong to the “ruling party” is treated as an enemy of the state. More than that, he/she may be actually executed by the President’s special killer squad. This practice has instilled in many Zimbabwe youth the view that human life is worthless unless one supports vain “party slogans” such as “pamberi nezanu,” when in fact everything, in terms of the quality of life, the economy, morality, culture, justice system, health facilities, quality of education, has pitifully degenerated—in a word, life is miserable.
Our view is that political leadership should create an environment which is conducive to national prosperity, advancement and a heightened sense of human worth. Since every human being is created for a purpose, and being “worthy” is prerequisite to that, our political liberation ought to create a sense of human worth and purpose. Rather, the ruling party has created a dehumanizing socio-political atmosphere, one that has obviously undermined the potential for true liberation.
In Zimbabwe today, in addition to the toll taken by the AIDS pandemic, the political pandemic of terror has devastated the nation. The surrounding nations of Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and even Malawi are having to provide political asylum to thousands who are seeking a haven anywhere. Overseas: Australia, Europe in general and the UK in particular, as well as the USA, are currently hosting, not thousands but millions of Zimbabweans who managed to escape with their lives. [Statistics estimate at between five or six million out of national population of 12 million]. Our independence has gone sour because the government of the people has turned into a political vampire while the nation which was once the “bread basket of Southern Africa,” has become the poorest of the poor.
Ironically, Zimbabwe got its political independence from Britain about 25 years ago, but over 1.7 million Zimbabweans have followed the British, believing they will, at least be treated with a degree of human dignity. To be sure, these Zimbabweans would rather live and earn a living in their own country, but faced with the political vampire which has caused literally thousands to disappear permanently, and millions to abscond, they have opted to accept any menial jobs abroad. What will turn everything around is when the meaning of true liberation begins to dawn.
There is Hope
To conclude this discussion on political liberation, suffice it to say, Zimbabweans are in turmoil because they have not created a new value-system which would have laid down the parameters of human worth as well as purposeful living. There is hope in the very near future because there is nothing that can stop the creation of new strategies of equality, a new ethos that truly reflects our African-ness or simply, our humanity. All that is required is to construct a socio-political environment that allows the reorientation of our African values. Of course this cannot be legislated from outside or by any act of parliament. When the kairos time is ripe, the nation will spontaneously demand indigenous life style characterized by cultural values which will carry us into the 21st century. But this can only happen when we make ourselves the agents of our own history, architects of our own destiny, rather than disinterested spectators. Throughout this discussion, we have tried to present a call for a true African humanity which will transform the political, social, and cultural disoriented African into an agent of change. Not only will true liberation dismantle the European cultural hegemony, replacing it with a genuinely African value-system but it will also transform the oppressive environment, resulting in a prosperous nation. But there is one proviso.
These desirables will not develop in Zimbabwe where the Head-of-State, for instance, has no sense of statesmanship; neither does he have a sense of being the national leader who should be responsible for the livelihood of the Nation, not to talk of a sense of Servanthood. In an African community, the elders set the pace for statesmanship and the rest of the family, village, tribe or in this case, nation, follow suit. Unfortunately, the majority of the Zimbabwe elders who are in government [and have been there for the last twenty-five years], have completely abdicated their socio-political nation building responsibility. In fact, they have actually moved to the other extreme: they steal, rob, exploit, oppress, repress, murder, and downright destroy their own people—the people who should be looking up to them for not only humanizing values but leadership.
There is hope because, as long as there is still one prophet—true prophet—left, God will make a new thing [Revelation 21:5]. As I am writing this article, I hear these words ringing:
Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.
And the one sitting on the throne said, Look, I am making all things new [Revelation 21:3–5].
In spite of, or, rather because of the suffering of so many African people on the continent today [due not only to disease, but oppression and famine because their tyrants will not allow them to receive food from well-wishers], there is every reason to believe that the God who said in Exodus, “You can be sure I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries for delivery from their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I have come to rescue them…” [Exodus 3:7—8a] is speaking to those men, women and their children [most of whom are orphans] as they are responding to the word of God in the millions these days.
There is hope because “man does not live by bread alone” but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord [Matthew 4:3-4]. No matter how much the masses are being impoverished by the rampant corruption on the continent and specifically in Zimbabwe, God will sustain His people until they overcome these political vampires. If David knocked Goliath down and chopped off his head “by faith,” there is hope among the faithful that God will empower them to use any means at their disposal to deliver themselves from the tyrant. To say God will use “any means,” should never be construed to imply violence because God’s means is the most constructive, imaginative, and progressive method believers can conceive and will rely on. Nor should this theology be conceived as pacifism, either, because that will not succeed in the face of a dictator who enjoys the protection of the national army. Zimbabwe’s socio-economic atmosphere now requires a major socio-economic, as well as, political surgery. And the need for the surgery is to liberate the nation from the current cancerous state, which is in desperate need for new values.
Prof. Gwinyai Muzorewa of Zimbabwe is a Systematic and Liberation theologian who is both published and practicing in the field. He is committed to the true liberation of the “independent” African nations including his own, which is now in a state of economic ruin, due in part, to gross economic mismanagement and political egocentrism disguised in pseudo-nationalism and neo-colonialism. His most recent publication is KNOW THYSELF: Ideologies of Black liberation, 2005.