HomeOpinionHow not to do it

How not to do it

By Magari Mandebvu

AT our local post office one Saturday morning you would not have believed that we were in the country with the highest average IQ in the world —

IQ for sugar, IQ for soap, IQ for matches, IQ for upfu, IQ for bread, IQ for milk, IQ for cash and IQ because this queue is probably for something I will need.

There was no queue. In fact, there were so few customers that I was able to discuss this phenomenon with the cashier for some time before another customer came along. My main point in the discussion was that we were seeing a demonstration that whoever planned this did not have a very high IQ in the sense that we used to use that term.

It is not very intelligent to raise your prices when they are already so high that you are losing customers. The average post office salesperson could have told the bosses when we reached that level, and remind them that you will not get more customers by a move like that.

On a newsstand, I saw a headline saying that “tough new traffic laws” were being introduced. Apparently, the motive for this is to reduce the number of road accidents.

Now, I am as appalled as anyone by the extraordinarily large number of road accidents we see in this country, and by the large number of deaths from these accidents. But is it intelligent to counter lawless attitudes by making more laws?

I don’t see how you will persuade people who do not keep the rules of the road that we have already to drive more carefully by making more and tougher rules for road users.

So may we remind ourselves of a few simple truths?

* You don’t increase sales by raising prices when customers are already drifting away because your prices are high.

* You don’t persuade people to obey the law by making more laws.

* You don’t move forward by looking backward.

If you want to move forward, you need to look forward, not sideways or to the back. Ask any child learning to ride a bicycle. If you look where you don’t want to fall, you most certainly will fall there. If you concentrate on where you want to go, you will get there.

If you want to create an independent nation, you need to keep your gaze fixed on the ideals of independence and on what will give real power to the people. If you prefer to keep looking back at the evils of racism and colonialism you will re-create the evils of racism and colonialism.

However, we should not forget entirely where we came from. “Just look forward” can sound like the false “reconciliation” we had in the 1980s. The government announced a policy of reconciliation and the white farmers embraced it enthusiastically. Both were enthusiastic about it because they did not understand that real reconciliation makes heavy demands on both sides.

Our trouble in 1980 was that the white farmers were allowed to carry on their business and their social life as they always had, while the government were content to allow this and even to help them keep their workers in line, as long as they made sufficient donations to “Zany PF” and didn’t support any other party.

Neither seemed to realise that such an approach just sweeps the real problems under the carpet, where they will fester and eventually break out as they did in 2000. Such outbreaks are often as disastrous as we saw then.

Real reconciliation requires each side to examine and admit their own crimes and to make what reparations they can. You can’t bring the dead back to life. You can’t undo torture. You can’t give victims back lost limbs or destroyed manhood.

But there are things you can restore, and, when you can’t, there are ways of finding an agreement with the victim and making amends that can be accepted.

If you ignore these requirements, some will continue giving the old offence, as they did, and others will nurse their memory of grievances, increasing their hatred of the old system until, as so often happens, they hate it so intensely that they become like it.

So now we have our ruling party telling us daily of the evils we suffered in 1965, until it really looks as if we are still living in 1965, with state control and censorship of the media, arbitrary arrest and torture of political opponents, eviction of the poor from their pathetic shelters, destruction of their livelihood and legislation such as the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act, alias Posa.

We can see that is not the way to freedom, democracy and dignity, but somehow up there none of the chefs see it.

And more simple truth:

* You don’t house people by destroying their shelter.

Giving them better housing would be a noble aim, but the better houses should be built before destroying the old. People should be moved respectfully to something better than they had. Otherwise you seem to be condemning them because they can’t build mansions for themselves.

We all know they were just thrown out in the cold and rain. As for the houses built, apparently as an afterthought to the so-called “clean-up” — have you seen any of these Garikai dwellings?

What I have seen are not as good as the lean-tos and extensions that many people I know were living in before May last year. In some cases, they may be more solid, but in their old places the evicted people usually had better access to water and sanitation. These seem to have been completely ignored by the builders of the Garikai houses I have seen.

No wonder those houses are ignored by the people who squat around them. Often their shelters are less solid, but more spacious, which means they have room to dig themselves latrines and they don’t have to light a cooking fire in their bedroom.

* You don’t liberate people by undermining their dignity.

Why call poor oppressed people “people without totems” or rubbish (tsvina)?

Have you seen the film Hotel Rwanda? There, people were called “cockroaches” on state radio and by the police and soldiers so that they could be more easily killed. They were not considered human.

Here, there is less violence, but people are dying of hunger, cold and disease and they don’t count because they “don’t have totems” or are “rubbish”.

I could add to the list of attacks on the dignity of the povo. The police use forms of torture that do more to debase people than to hurt them physically.

Poor people are denied the most basic sanitary needs. I really can’t see how national security is threatened if poor women are allowed to feel clean.

That leaves me with a big question: if they go the wrong way about freeing people, creating democracy and even housing people, do they really want to free the people, to create democracy or to house the people?

Magari Mandebvu is a Harare-based writer.

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