Ubuntu — Zimbabwe’s Enduring Mainstay


AFRICANGLOBE – When the imperial juggernaut rode roughshod over Africa following the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, no heed was paid to the boundaries and values which antedated colonisation.

Africa, as it were, was convicted of backwardness and sentenced to arbitrary partition and subjugation at a trial to which she was not summoned.

As at 1994, 110 years after Berlin, Africa had been acquitted. It is pertinent, though, to observe that the continent is not as free as certified history would have us believe.

Imperialist tentacles are in vogue. The centre is still out of order.

Colonialism encompassed three principal conditions: displacement, dispossession and disorientation. The validity of our independence does not premise merely on self-government but the extent to which these conditions have been reversed.

Liberation dismantled displacement, while Black economic empowerment is reversing dispossession. However, isolated voices have dared the last surviving relic of disorientation.

Whereas discontent is fermenting against neo-colonialism, cultural imperialism is yet to provoke significant reaction.

It is a problem we are prone to shrug off in the spirit of globalisation.

Yet this global village is a skewed order with a centre and vassals. Chinweizu Ibekwe succinctly characterises it as the “West and the Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slavers and the African Elite”.

The village is a caste pyramid. Africa is located at the base of the pyramid; at the receiving end of top-down geopolitical dynamics.

We have been tagged along the dynamic possibilities of the Information Age but there is need for speed traps every step of the way.

TS Eliot’s choruses from “The Rock” urge us to consider the downside of an age where an endless cycle of action, invention and experiment generates the kind of knowledge that brings us closer to ignorance.

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” queries Eliot.

Much of it has been lost in the assumption that everything European is ideal while everything African is either primitive or retrogressive; an assumption which has subsisted even decades after liberation. This dangerous extreme  has short supplied us a wealth of wisdom. The opposite of this extreme deifies everything African and demonises everything European. Both extremes are wrong. Patrice Lumumba, that grand Pan-Africanist patriarch, proposes to touch base at the middle of the road and merge the best of both worlds.

“We have a culture of our own, unparalleled moral and artistic values, an art of living and patterns of life that are ours alone. All these African splendours must be jealously preserved and developed.

“We will borrow from Western civilisation what is good and beautiful and reject what is not suitable for us. This amalgam of African and European civilisation will give Africa a civilisation of a new type, an authentic civilisation corresponding to African realities,” Lumumba articulates.

Zimbabwean cultural anthropologist Taazara Nhemacena Munhumutema has joined this isolated crusade. He wades in with a tome of sorts entitled “Mhuri YeZimbabwe” translated “The Family of Zimbabwe.”

Munhumutema, an ardent proponent of indigenous languages, shows the way by relating his compendium of native history and culture in Shona.

The book draws liberally from the wealth of vernacular lore to correct some of the mistakes of recorded history and point to how much was lost in the imperial conquest.

It invokes some ethically potent relics discarded by colonial vandals and fends off moral reprisals being levelled against the continent.

Some of the claims made by Munhumutema are jaw-dropping and there is no mild inclination to conform to conventional revisionism.

The first gripe against settlers is their mass categorisation of different Zimbabwean ethnic groups. Munhumutema does not question the assumed homogeneity of the nation but argues that it has been ascribed to elastic demographics.

There are varied ethnic clusters which make up Zimbabwe, namely Abathwa, Barwe, Budya, Chirunda, Hlengwe, Kalanga, Karanga, Korekore, Manyika, Nambia, Nanzwa, Ndau, Ndebele, Tonga, Shangani, Shangwe, Sotho, Tavara, Venda and Zezuru.

To consign the homogeneity which begets nationhood to language and ethnic group is, therefore, a divisive and attritional formula.

Munhumutema argues that the homogeneity of Zimbabweans does not obtain in tribes, languages or religions, as these vary from region to another.

The missing dimension is unhu/ubuntu, that communal value system unique to our country and our continent. Whereas the West is being assailed by “njake njake,” that is, family dysfunction, moral bankruptcy and individualism, Africa’s enduring mainstay is unhu.

Africa is threatened by the growing dereliction of this mainstay.

“The troubles of Africa will abate only when Africans remaster their unhu instead of straying after people with norms and moral standards that have nothing to do with them as Africans,” contends Munhumutema.

“People observed as a unit constitute a family; a family of neighbourhood, home, community, values, language and nation.

“A person in his or her individual capacity does not have customs or language but a people as a family have customs and language. As such, unhu belongs to the people as a family as does customs, dialects and languages,” explains Munhumutema. Feuerbach observes the traditional stratification of materialism, the predominantly Western world view, as vices indulged in private for self-advancement and idealism, the predominantly African world view, as belief in virtue held before others for communal advancement.

Morality by geography is, however, a difficult case to establish at the moment. Africa has lost her primitive virginity and is frocked in rotten fibre like the rest of the world.

There is need to “be vigilant and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die” as the exhortation was to God’s people at Sardis.

Lust, arrogance, cupidity, miserliness, profit-making and stock exchange fraud, materialist conditions cited by George Kahari in “The Rise of the Shona Novel” have supplanted the primitive virtues of universal philanthropy.

Munhumutema invokes family values as the abiding strength of the continent. The traditional institution which is being dismantled promiscuity, sodomy, abortion, co-habiting, pornography, relational dysfunction and kindred vices, is one mainstay we must jealously guard to avert the moral extinction closing in on the West under the guise of superficial affluence.

“Mhuri YeZimbabwe”is also handy for young bachelors contemplating marriage as it elucidates the various rites involved and helpfully breaks down the bride price froma gross estimate of $2, 370 plus ten head of cattle of which the mother’s heifer is not negotiable. Variations to be allowed for from one region to another, with Masvingo topping the list.

“Kupururudzwa” (bridal party), “kuperekwa” (handover), “kutambirwa” (acceptance ceremony) and “kusungirwa” (the return of the wife to her parents during her first pregnancy) are also clarified.

Munhumutema also explains customs like “kuzvarira” (predetermined marriage), “guru” polygamy and “kuripwa kwengozi” (forced marriage to pacify avenging spirits) without taking a moral position on the customs.

Zimbabwe, on the whole, must critically regard globalisation and not be carried away by every wind of acculturation. We must stand guard for the progressive relics of our culture as embodied in unhu.


By: Stanely Mushava