Christmas in a Conflict Zone

As we approach Christmas we need to reflect on what has gone on in the past year and think about the New Year that approaches; in doing so we need especially to think of those who live in conflict zones. Where people are shooting at each other it’s easy to identify the crisis and the consequences and the images of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are all heart breaking especially with the bitterly cold conditions that have prevailed there recently.

It’s also easy to identify the problem in the Congo and in the Central African Republic. You can see the images every day on television and hear the statements by the UN and others on the need for intervention and action to avoid a bloodbath or genocide. Other situations of conflict are less easy to identify, but still carry the seeds of suffering and grief, indeed even deaths on a large scale but somehow they slip through the media net and go unreported or misunderstood.

My heart goes out to the billions of people who live in dysfunctional families. There is little doubt in my mind that the family is the basic building block in society. It is not the product of evolution but of design and in terms of my own world view, it was designed as the best place to raise and nurture children. Having children and seeing them grow up in a secure, loving environment with discipline when necessary, is a basic human right and responsibility. Societies like South Africa where three quarters of all children are raised in single parent homes, or homes without a parent, are condemned to become dysfunctional societies where crime rates are abnormally high and violence a daily experience.

But this malady is not limited to a few countries; it is becoming a global scourge of epidemic proportions. Societies no longer espouse the values and norms of the past where marriage was a union for life between a man and a woman. It’s got nothing to do with poverty – successful families can be found in their millions in subsistence societies and their children often go on to succeed in their chosen vocations. It has everything to do with religion, culture and values.

The misery of a dysfunctional or unhappy marriage is hard to describe and can be a nightmare for those caught in its web, but it’s not inevitable or unavoidable in most cases. Commitment and dedication to each other is by far and away the best prescription for success in marriage. Let no one tell you the grass is greener on the other side, it’s not, and for both the man and the woman as well as the children, family is still the most fulfilling and satisfying way of life for humanity.

Let no one tell you that divorce does not affect the children – it does and children from a dysfunctional family are in most cases dysfunctional themselves and their societies suffer the collective consequences. What bothers me most about the debate on the family is that it is not happening and that people do not seem to understand that this is the most important issue in the world today. If we stopped having families and stopped bearing children we would be a one generation wonder. There simply would be no future for anyone and any hope of a better tomorrow can be totally discarded.

Then there is the scourge of absolute poverty and hunger. Half the world’s population lives in poverty; in Zimbabwe it’s 70 per cent with a majority in absolute poverty (not enough income to maintain life). The Millennium Development Goals seem a distant objective today – much more so than they were when they were first adopted. Worse still is the total insecurity of the majority who live in poverty today – they do not own the resources that they rely on for their incomes and do not have security of residence. If they do generate a surplus they cannot store it for leaner times and most often it goes bad and is lost.

Many of the other ills of modern society are a direct result of poverty – all forms of slavery and human trafficking for example. One might associate the ills of drug and alcohol abuse to the dysfunctional family, poverty and insecurity. But the causes go far beyond those ills in society and the solutions are often in our hands. If we as humanity took the collective decision to give the poor control and ownership, on a secure, legally binding basis, of the assets they controlled today, it would trigger a global revolution that would make the ongoing transformation of China and other Asian Tiger States look like they were standing still.

It would be like setting the slaves free – at one stage in world history, 70 per cent of many populations were slaves and the relationship between Feudal Lords and their serfs was not much better. Eliminating these practices not only gave millions their freedom but also empowered them and transformed the societies they lived in. The Enclosure Act in the UK heralded the industrial revolution and the free burgers of Europe formed the very foundations of the reformation and its subsequent benefits to society. If we took the slums of the world and divided them up into small household plots with tenure and title, I guarantee that they would no longer be slums in a decade or less and the homes the process would create would nurture families that would go on to make a success of their lives.

It is no accident that many of our present leaders in Zimbabwe – in every field of endeavor, came out of the families owning the small scale “Purchase Land Farms”. Not only did those small scale commercial farms have the highest standard of living of any community in Zimbabwe, but they raised their families and educated their children who have now gone on to take the lead in our society. Similar examples can be drawn from every country in the world. If we gave peasant farmers ownership of their land with secure title rights, we would not be able to manage the productivity and output. Such measures would cost us nothing but would unlock massive capital and empower billions.

If I were the President of Zimbabwe for a season, I would spend half my time giving ownership to the poor of the land they occupy. It would be Christmas every day for thousands and our society would never be the same. The other half of my time I would spend asking families what we need to do to make their families work for them. I would tell husbands to love their wives, wives to honor their husbands and children to obey their parents. Such simple rules are not just the stuff of folk lore; they actually work and are the keys to a fulfilled life and satisfaction.

God’s greatest gift to me has been my family – my wife, two children and five grandchildren. Watching them grow and mature into productive, decent human beings is the biggest reward that life has to offer – everything else is nuts by comparison.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo 15th December 2013