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Charles Moyo: The true meaning of patriotism in Zimbabwe

By Charles Moyo

Patriotism is a word used to describe the great love for one’s country. It is prudent for each citizen to love his or her country. Kenneth Kaunda in his work, The Future of African Nationalism, was concerned about how nationalism was going to be transformed into patriotism in post colonial African states.

Protests against President Mugabe's government are mounting in Zimbabwe
Protests against President Mugabe’s government are mounting in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, the term “patriotism” has not only been abused but also manipulated to achieve parochial and selfish goals.

The ruling party ZANU PF’s version of patriotism is the love for President Mugabe and his ruling party. This article seeks a departure from this factually and intellectually bankrupt narrative by discussing what patriotism is and what it is not in relation to Zimbabwe.

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After independence, instead of transforming nationalism into patriotism, the Zimbabwean state instead committed atrocities in the name of patriotism and national interest. In The Pitfalls of National Consciousness, Frantz Fanon noted that: “From nationalism we have passed to ultra-nationalism, to chauvinism…”

The Gukurahundi massacres which left around 20 000 in Matebeleland and Midlands provinces dead, was committed in the name of patriotism and national gain. From the year 2000 up to date, opposition leaders and their supporters have been physically and verbally attacked by the ruling party as unpatriotic puppets of the West. Their only “sin” to warrant such kinds of attacks is their opposition to corruption, nepotism and cronyism in Zimbabwe.

In his article, Making Sense of Mubageism in Local and Global Politics: “Blair Keep your England and I will keep my Zimbabwe,” Sabelo Gatsheni Ndlovu propounds what he terms “Mugabeism” which is a summation of a constellation of political controversies, political behaviour, political ideas, utterances, rhetoric and actions that have crystallised around Mugabe’s political life. He further mentions that President Mugabe’s supporters view “Mugabeism as a spirit of patriotism.”

To his supporters, President Mugabe is the only person who can patriotically preserve Zimbabwe’s national sovereignty, hence the justification for him to cling onto power (like an octopus) despite his advanced age and ill-health.

The failure by President Mugabe to hand power to a successor is not only worrying but also a national security threat. Kenneth Kaunda starkly warned of the dangers of failing to solve the succession question by African leaders in the post colonial period.

A.T. Jones argued that patriotism lies in love of the principles and institutions which make a country what it is in all respects; the loyalty to those specific principles and institutions. Hence, he argued that a patriot is “any defender of liberty, civil or religious.”

African leaders who cling onto power by abusing laws and public institutions like President Robert Mugabe, Paul Kagame, Joseph Kabila, Paul Biya, Yoweri Museveni, Pierre Nkurunziza and Eduardo Dos Santos, among others, are not patriots but the true traitors of Africa. They are selling out to the worst enemy of Africa: political power.

Such leaders are not patriots but are guilty of treason against their citizens. Cory Booker argued that as a leader, you cannot call yourself a patriot if you do not love your citizens: “Patriotism is love of country. But you can’t love your country without loving your countrymen and countrywomen,” he noted.

If Jonathan Moyo truly loved Zimbabwe, he would not have stolen $430 000 from ZIMDEF. If President Mugabe truly loved Zimbabwe and was patriotic, he would not have presided over the Gukurahundi massacres. He would not be glob trotting and holidaying in the East whilst the country is “burning.”

If Obert Mpofu and Ignatious Chombo truly loved the country, they would not have amassed wealth in a country where the majority is staggering in the winds of abject poverty. A patriotic leader stands with his people; he suffers with them and enjoys prosperity with them. He or she lives uprightly and abhors corruption and injustice like Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and Jose Mujica of Uruguay. Clarence Darrow teaches us that true patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.

President Mugabe, his ministers and senior ZANU PF members are known for their penchant for luxurious life: posh cars, seven star mansions, Cuban cigars, fine wine, designer suits, and jewellery, among others.

Such an extravagant life is sustained through the abuse of public funds. This is directly the opposite of what patriotism is. Such mischief must stop forthwith. ZANU PF is also disconnected from the grassroots yet development scholars and experience teaches us that development should come from below (citizens) not above (leaders).

In relation to Zimbabwe and elsewhere, a true sense of patriotism is when the grassroots fully participate in the development and programmes of their country. It is when they feel that they own the development process, are put of it and are proud of it.

It is when they freely express their opinion without fear of repression. True patriotism is the defence of a country not only against external threats but also against a rapacious click of greedy and power hungry politicians like President Mugabe and his grossly incompetent, oligarchic, crony-capitalistic and kleptocratic regime.

True patriotism is when women, youth, men and the elderly unite to demand accountability from their leaders and reject the imposition of a 93 year old President to run their affairs. It is the standing up for a people’s rights and what is right for the country despite one’s political, religious, and regional affiliation.

Patriotism is bigger than political parties and civic society organisations. It is important to sum up by underlining the fact that contrary to the erroneous narrative peddled by ZANU PF that patriotism is the love for ZANU PF and its President; genuine and the highest level of patriotism is instead loving Zimbabwe and protecting it from bad governance and state capture by the ruling elite.

Charles Moyo is a PhD Fellow in Media and Political Studies at Bayreuth University in Germany. His views are personal and do not represent any institution.