Fundamentals for the Future – The Importance of Citizenship

Some time ago, an organisation called “The Great Zimbabwe Scenarios Project” called together a group of 64 Zimbabweans, each carefully selected from every segment of our society. Our task was to develop 4 possible scenarios that described the possible futures of this country. Inspiration for this came from the scenario planning model used by Clem Sunter to describe the possible futures for South Africa at the end of the apartheid era and which had such a profound impact on the people of that country.

In the second workshop we gathered at Troutbeck and tried to define the essential problems that confronted us as a country. I looked at this disparate group – war veterans, radicals, artists, political leaders, the military, CIO, business people and people of every possible ethnic and racial configuration, and I asked myself could we agree on anything?

When we left, I felt the experience had been one of the most profound in my life. We had worked long hours, listened to each other’s stories and shared experiences; we had identified and debated problems facing the country of bewildering complexity and diversity. But in the end we had consensus; the main problem facing us as a nation, was how we managed our diversity and dealt with the devils in our past.

I sat through the Obama election in the USA and listened to his speech marking his acceptance of a second term as President of a deeply divided country. For me and many millions of others, his statement that it did not matter “if you are black or white, Asian or Hispanic, wealthy or poor, we are all Americans and we can achieve whatever we set our minds to”. Here was a man who had a white mother, a Kenyan father, born in Hawaii and raised in the States, now a resident of Chicago and President of the most powerful country in the world. He is the living embodiment of what he was saying that night to the American people.

My son visited the States and when he returned he remarked to me that the Americans are so proud to be American, they fly the flag outside their homes, they cry when the national anthem is played and they fiercely defend their citizenship. He felt we knew nothing of those things here in Zimbabwe and I am afraid it is true. We have little sense of nationhood and any common identity and yet when we are outside the country we discover that we have so much in common.

In the past 1000 years of our history we have done terrible things to each other, we have treated the original people who lived here as primitive animals and hunted them down, we have ruthlessly subjugated and terrorized each other in tribal conflict and racial genocide. We have demeaned those different from us and regarded them as less than our equals. We have denied people their basic human rights on the basis that they were different. We all carry the scars of conflict and prejudice.

Now, in the twenty first century, we find ourselves living in a country created by foreigners without reference to our histories and backgrounds, languages and cultures. We speak 12 languages, our skin tone ranges from pink to dark brown, almost black. We have the physical characteristics of our ancestors and these all mark out our differences. Our cultures are drawn from northern Europe and Stone Age people who still live as hunters and gatherers. We come from all corners of Africa and our children are spread across the world, speaking languages that our fathers never even heard of. When they visit us they are almost strangers and their children have little understanding of the country and peoples from which they spring.

And that is why Citizenship is vital to any nation or State that wants to succeed. The great achievement of Nyerere in Tanzania was that when he died, all who lived in Tanzania regarded him as the father of the Nation and themselves as Tanzanians, first, before they were anything else. The image of Nelson Mandela walking onto the rugby field at Loftus in Johannesburg in a Springbok shirt was not just a dramatic gesture, but the beginning of the long task of building a nation out of the ruins of apartheid. His insistence that every South African learn and sing De Stem as an integral part of the National Anthem was for all white South Africans an indication that no matter what had happened in the past – they still belonged.

What the group at Troutbeck was saying to the people who live here and regard Zimbabwe as their home, was that we must move away from our past and start to look at each other, not as this or that, but as Zimbabweans whose first loyalty is the country and all its people and only then to our tribe, race, religion, color background and position.

This is why the citizenship proposals in the new Constitution are so important. What we are saying to the millions in our midst, who have been denied their Citizenship in the past 120 years, is that if you were born here, or want to make this your country and your home, then you can be a Citizen and you have the full support of the rule of law, full rights in every sense of the world and that these can never be taken away from you, no matter where you are in the world, when you come home, you will be swiftly embraced back into your home community as a full Citizen with all the rights and privileges that that entails.

Of course with that come responsibilities – the responsibility to respect each other, to accept our different cultures and way of life, to protect each other’s rights and to stand with each other in times of trial and suffering. But all of these things are just another aspect of Citizenship in its broadest sense. We are obliged to participate in national life and in a democracy, like the USA, to turn out and vote for those we think have our best interests at heart. In many respects, real democracy has citizenship as its foundation stone.

I think we have made a start, but there is a long way to go. When I sit in Parliament or in a Stadium filled with thousands of fellow Zimbabweans, one of the great gifts they give to me is acceptance as one of them. I no longer feel “white”, I no longer feel that I am a “Baas”, I am a Zimbabwean and an African and I hope I justify the acceptance that is given to me so freely by the ordinary men and women of this great little country.

When we all feel that way, we can start to rebuild and to reconstruct our country.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 8th November 2012