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Making the case for federalism in Zimbabwe

By Freeman Chari

The challenge to any writer when faced with a concept as complex as Federalism is presenting it in a manner that makes it simple for the reader to understand but at the same time maintaining a certain level of depth that can withstand intellectual scrutiny. 

Map of ZimbabweThe decision to advocate for a federal system in Zimbabwe did not erupt out of me like a volcano, rather it was a culmination of serious thought-process which most of the time occurred when I was drinking Chibuku, herding cattle or guarding our fields against marauding baboons.

Thus, this article is a product of a layman’s thinking. It is therefore important that I also take the reader through the same wild thought-process I went through so that when we hopefully converge on federalism we both know the journey that we would have travelled.

In defense of the individual’s ability to choose

A human being is an animal capable of free moral choice. Thus if a man is left to make a decision on the fate of his environment he would not only decide on it based on the perceived total value that he may get from it but also based upon rules that he would have set for himself. 

In the presence of a hen, man can behave differently. One may decide to kill it and eat it, another may decide to take it, look after it knowing that it would one day provide him with eggs but another one may let it go because he is vegetarian. In all these instances he would have exercised his ability to make free choice based on his conscience.

Before there was society there was a man. This man knew that he is alive and he is what he is – a man. This man’s interaction with other man would determine how society would be shaped. If this man was huge, strong and violent he could subdue other men and they would be his slaves.  If this man viewed other men as equals, he would respect them so would the other man. In this state men would live at peace with each other.

John Locke in “A Letter Concerning Tolerance” though not strictly political work; for he dealt mainly on the separation of Church and State provides a basis of understanding moral truth that has strong political implications. Broadly put, he argues that it is impossible for the state to compel moral behavior. 

Rather it is only light and evidence that can work a change in men’s opinions. This meant that a person is able to build an independent opinion, view or understanding of a certain thing.  This perception cannot be changed through force but voluntary persuasion of the mind by reality.

Given that all human beings are capable of free moral choice political leaders are in no superior position to grasp the truth than any other men are, and therefore have no right to even attempt to force their opinions on others.

The freedom to associate and dissociate

Should it be a question to anybody that even if I was born in Zimbabwe, I choose not to be Zimbabwean? Or should I be a Zezuru because my father and mother prefer to recognize themselves as Zezuru? What if I want to be Ndebele? What if I don’t want to be anything?

It is my perception that since I am a human being capable of free moral choice then I should be able to choose a path that satisfies me as an individual. Thus I would not want to sustain a relationship that limits my desires and aspirations.

In other words I want to exist as a free human being with no collective obligations that limit my freedom. So whilst I have the freedom to associate, the association should exist only for as long as it serves my best interests, in the event that it ceases to then I should have the right to secede.

The freedom to associate and dissociate is however complicated by the notion that man is a product of environment; that, man develops himself on the basis of what he inherits (in the socio-historically context). This involves family, society and collective identity.

One is born in a family which becomes the primary group of association. Each family has its own ways and methods of accomplishing goals. The individual is then assigned responsibilities based upon gender and utility to achieve maximum perceived efficiency in the family.

In my family, as a boy I was tasked with looking after goats and cattle, ploughing and cutting firewood while my sisters did the household chores like cooking and washing. It is from my family that I first became involved in social life; where I absorbed its values and standards of behavior, its ways of thought, language and certain value orientations.

This primary group (family) gave way to the broader society. I began to be recognized as a Moyo who did not eat his totem – heart. I began to know that there is Chief Masunda whom whenever he passed by I had to squat and greet. I began to respect Wednesday as a sacred day that I wasn’t supposed to work in the fields. At the same time I also learnt a lot of survival skills from interaction with different people.

This interaction with groups though beneficial also limited my personal freedom. I could not choose to be different for it would be perceived as infringing on rules that society had imposed on me by virtue of association.

I have watched people who died as paupers because of societal restrictions. Some women were denied the chance to go to school because their society viewed them as child-bearing machines. Some children died of polio and measles because of restrictions on modern medicine. How can Daniel Chingoma break free from the chains of a retarded society that thinks he is incapable of making a helicopter?

Of what good will it be that I can think good but cannot do good because doing good is not good for this society?

Just to be me!

One Alexander Spirkin in Dialectal Materialism writes “The wealth and complexity of the individual’s social content are conditioned by the diversity of his links with the social whole, the degree to which the various spheres of the life of society have been assimilated and refracted in his consciousness and activity.

This is why the level of individual development is an indicator of the level of development of society, and vice versa. But the individual does not dissolve into society. He retains his unique and independent individuality and makes his contribution to the social whole: just as society itself shapes human beings, so human beings shape society.”

In this regard Spirkin seems to suggest the relationship between an individual and society is reciprocal where society influences the man and the man in turn influences society. Each society has its culture, that is according to Edward Tyler ; “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. 

If I had not been exposed to other cultures how would I have known that heart meat is rich in nutrients like Coenzyme Q10 which helps improve cardiac function?

To me a man who has a blind and brittle allegiance to a society (jingoism) and its culture is an undoing to it. He slows down its evolution.  I would love to think of a society that allows me to blossom outside of its paradigm. Where I can be allowed to flourish in my own sphere of influence, own the product of my enterprise and have all man respect what I own in as much as I respect what they gain through enterprising engagement with other man.

I am not a proponent of selfishness but as Hugo Grotius wrote “It is not against the nature of human society to work for one’s own interest, provided that one does so without wounding the rights of others.”

Making the case for federalism in Zimbabwe

I have tried to take the reader into the realm of the individual and then man in the presence of other man.  We are primarily conscious of ourselves as individuals with the unique ability to choose.  We however grow up in a family that usually has its ways that may not necessarily be in tandem with our desire to be independent.

This exposure coupled to the group relationship shapes the way we hold those in our families. Usually they show us affection and care thus we develop a social bond that makes us love them as our parents, sisters and brothers. This bond is the one that compels us to defend our brothers when attacked. Thus we develop a patriotism that is local to the family.

Through interaction with other families, we learn of other relationships. We develop another bond which in most cases is not as strong as the primary bond of family. I remember the days when we used to herd cattle, I used to fight with my cousin over an insult on his mother’s or my mother’s breast. After the fight we would then team up for soccer against others from another clan.

The strength of the bond amongst people weakens as we move out of the family epicenter. Thus we may have a hierarchy of loyalties; where one is most loyal to himself, then family, clan, tribe and ultimately nation or kingdom. In cases of geographical loyalties we may have village, ward, district, provincial and national loyalties. The vigor with which one defends his clan is usually more than the one when defending his country unless one chooses to be a pure nationalist.

Your family knows how much you invested into your business, they know of the countless nights your spent working to make it a success. They respect you for that. Your village knows your general history. They saw you growing up and they saw how you started by selling mangoes on the roadside until you grew to own a shop of your own. They put a good name for you.

They know how efficiently you manage your personal affairs and they begin to grow some faith that you can manage even their affairs in a better manner than they can do. Sometimes they ask you for advice, sometimes they ask you to keep their savings in trust. Eventually they may decide to make you their representative in government.

You also know these people. You know how much they trust you. You also know how much they value a tarred road. You know that you used to walk 15 kilometers to school and your people would be grateful to have a school nearer to them. This background, coupled to man’s inclination towards morality usually compels you not to disappoint them. We know the desires of our people and when opportunity avails itself for us to help we rarely think twice about doing it.

The man and women who make money with Marange Diamonds do not know the people of Marange. They don’t care about them. So does Mines and Minerals Minister, Obert Mpofu. It is easy for Joice Mujuru and Obert Mpofu to sign papers authorizing Emmerson Mnangagwa to use the army to forcibly relocate these people with no compensation for they do not have sentimental or historical attachment to these people.

It was easy again to displace Mwenezi people without compensation for structures to allow the erection of Manyuchi Dam. It was easy for Perence Shiri to lead an army from Harare to massacre people in Kezi because he knows nobody there. Would he have done that if his family was from Kezi? Even the looting of Ziscosteel which was a pride of the people of Midlands is evidence of lack regional patriotism.

Despite claims of sins against the liberation struggle Ndabaningi Sithole never let down his community. Even when the Mugabe regime wanted so much to portray Roy Bennett as a racist his relationship with the people of Chimanimani proves otherwise.

Nkomo was labeled a dissident but not a single soul ever fingered him for any blood and the people of Matebeleland loved him. To make a point the relationship between Mr Mugabe and his nephew James Chikerema was not as solid as we would expect.

I have touched on loyalty and local patriotism as drivers of responsibility. I assumed mainly that the individual and society are at peace with each other and that the individual finds freedom and satisfaction in exercising himself within his society.

This is just one angle of justifying the need for a federal state in a multi-tribal, multicultural and multilingual country like Zimbabwe. I hope my next installment will be on political and economic justice in a federal state.