On Tuesday this week we celebrated Unity Day and tomorrow we celebrate Christmas; the essences of the two holidays could not be more diverse. Unity Day is a political holiday while Christmas is religious (or used to be).
But first about Christmas! Majority Zimbabweans believe in Jesus Christ, hence they are called Christians. Zimbabwe has a sprinkling of other religions such as Judaism and Islam, but it also has a huge number of people who believe in traditional religion; unfortunately this has been desecrated by more than a hundred year onslaught from the foreign religions mentioned above.
And, traditional religion is mostly undocumented which makes it difficult to pass on to the next generations. Be that as it may, almost 100% of us believe in the importance of the spirits of our forefathers.
But over the years, Christmas has morphed into something else; it now transcends all the religions practiced in Zimbabwe. Talk of Christmas and everyone’s face lights up; whatever their conception of God is. The fact that December, the Christmas month, is now more appropriately called the festive season is telling.
Zimbabweans have a unique way of celebrating Christmas; they travel mostly to their communal homes to be with their loved ones — this applies to those who have rural homes; those who don’t replicate the same type of celebration in their urban homesteads. Extended families get together and celebrate their diverse experiences over the past year. Members of the extended family descend on the rural or urban homesteads from literally all over the place.
The whole celebration is now made even more diverse, and interesting, by another dimension that has been added — the Diaspora. Now almost every family has a member living in the Zimbabwean Diaspora. The point is, besides being originally a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas is now a unifying force that brings together people living different lives in different places.
Unity Day is fairly new compared to Christmas, which is about two millennia old. Unity Day came up as a result of two rival political parties forging a relationship after years of fighting; the fighting didn’t start with the period called Gukurahundi. It had been on and off since the breakup of Zapu in 1963; some argue the fighting could be traced even further into the mists of history, but that’s for historians to say.
One of the weaknesses of Unity Day is that it was a bipartite agreement; there were other political parties outside the two main warring ones. We all remember that former President Robert Mugabe was hell bent on establishing a one-party state; so he hoped by swallowing Zapu, his dream would be achieved and the smaller political groupings would fade away.
They didn’t and that’s very important. Political thought is like the Hydra, the mythological serpent that had several heads and if an enemy chopped off one, four would sprout in its place. It’s telling that slightly over 10 years after the Unity Accord was signed, a political party emerged that was strong enough to challenge the establishment. And, several other little political parties have also continued to throw their hats in the ring every five years although most are simply of nuisance value.
But that is as it should be; we are a diverse country and that diversity should be celebrated. Attempts have been, and are continually being made, to have something like the Inquisition, in which different thinking is labelled heresy. This is what makes Unity Day, in its present form, fallacious.
Unity in diversity is now a political cliché, but in our case an important one. Someone has to build bridges and make Unity Day a truly national holiday. But who?