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When a Nation lacks self-belief

14 May 2016 at 09:16hrs | Views
I AM conflicted. I would have wanted to deal with David Coltart's book or, better still, deal with the whole debate around bond notes, both of them quite urgent and substantive. But I find myself having to deal with a matter that by now should have been taken for granted, a matter that comes so late in our evolution as a people, as a Nation. We are paying the price of deferring key yet obvious things in nation building, paying the price of not doing first things first, by taking full advantage of early consensual politics of the 1980s. I am talking about the issue of the National Pledge which is being furiously debated nowadays, a good thirty-eleventeen years after our Independence, being debated, in my view, for want of real, purposeful national mental direction and application.

With so many problems vakomana? And here I am, giving decency to such a misapplied, time-burning inanity through this instalment. Yet I must do so, for the sake of history, and of course for the sake of helping those who might find themselves in the vortex of a whirlpool recklessly created by serial, anti-establishment confusionists. And there are many such in our midst, some with holy collars.

The trouble with Zimbabwe

What makes this issue such a "needful" waste of time is that the National Pledge is being recited in most schools already, in any case in Government schools, including in those schools where my own brood go for instruction. Nobody can stop it now, what with such abounding fair-mindedness all around us. There is really no sensible argument raised against the National Pledge.

Only empty emotionalism. A Government that has been trusted to teach so many of our children — generation after generation — to such outstanding levels since Independence, cannot suddenly wake up with a devilish plan meant to ruin our children, surely? I am very happy, nay satisfied about the recitation on the National Pledge, wondering why the living God I pray to endured our tardy and desultory adoption of this needful, otherwise taken-for-granted human practice, in the process suffering us to lose so many generations of students, including some who have since become questioning grown-ups requiring convincing on the same matter now.

Maybe that is part of the trouble with Zimbabwe: failure to deploy a full ensemble of instruments for nation-building and in time.

Lessons from the great Caucasian state

Secondly, googling "National Pledge" on the net spews mountains and mountains of definitions and examples of such pledges across nations on the globe: superpowers and underpowers; subcontinents and island states; old and new; Asian, Western and African, African states with which Zimbabwe enjoys multiple affinities. What is a rarity on the net are countries like Zimbabwe which have not been reciting such pledges.

If this rampancy does not make the debate on the matter superfluous, one wonders what does. If it is so bad, so godless, so unconstitutional, so conscienceless, why have good, godly nations adopted it, one after another? And why now differ with the rest, we who are daily fed on the staple argument that little nations like Zimbabwe should benchmark themselves on 'international best practices", a disguised reference to Caucasian practices?

Well, America, that Caucasian leader and our universal model, does insist that it's young ones recite its National Pledge every morning on school assembly. The pledge is there for anyone who cares to see or read. Why should we now not follow the leader, one daily thrust upon us by our enlightened democrats as the shibboleth? She has taught us human rights, rule of law, democracy and transparency. Why not National Oath? Chaipa chii nhasi and paneiyiyi nyaya? Hinga zvimwe zvose tinongonzi tikope wani?

Thrown out by the courts
Thirdly, the urgent action by our indefatigable, idle human rights centurions has been thrown out by our courts, themselves the only arbiters as far as human rights observance and enforcement is concerned. So what is the issue? Or if our centurions want to take the matter further, why don't they do so when they are ready?

In the meantime allowing our children to recite this most poetic piece of earthly prose ever to come out of our usually staid bureaucrats? I mean, I am always challenged not to debate a matter which is before the courts by the same constituency. Why were they shouting shrill about it before determination by our courts? And anyway, do courts arbitrate matters divine? Please!

God made a latecomer
A few light-hearted but instructive anecdotes. The consensually recited American pledge was composed by one Francis Bellamy, and please take note, a Baptist minister's son from upstate New York back in 1892, to, again note, coincide with Columbus Day! Christopher Columbus the explorer, not a saint. Since then, that pledge has been revised to enjoy nine variations, making it one of the significantly revised ritualistic document ever to remain on the lips of pale men.

And hey, until 1943, this much-recited composition was oblivious of God our Almighty, never mind the religious parentage of the hand that composed it. Or godly protestations of Americans. It took a successful court challenge by a Jehovah's Witness religious sect of the same to convince that much-revered document to find room for our God the Almighty.

God was thus a latecomer, He who starts everything! Does this eventful American experience not put paid to arguments from some spouting religious charlatans that pledges need to meet a holy measure; or that they are inherently averse to holiness, hard to adapt to Christian messages? Or that constitutional challenges to them need necessarily spell doom for their eventual adoption or retention, albeit in revised form? It should not be viewed as sacrilegious that some churches or church leaders stand opposed to the National Pledge. It happened in great, mighty America, stupid! What the fuss?

Give it a God
I recall a big debate which church leaders in this country were wont to raise with President Mugabe, then as Prime Minister, in the early 1980s, the argument that these church leaders found Zanu-PF's socialist ideology offensive because socialism was godless. To which the then Prime Minister retorted: Give it a God then! Of course our clergymen, inured to the provincial Rhodesian exegetical ethos, had not realised that the Rhodesian Church to which they found themselves at the helm at Independence, had missed a Damascene hour that had visited and transformed the Church in Latin America in the late 1960s, and more especially in the 1970s, by way of Liberation Theology.

Through Liberation Theology, the Latino church had long given socialism a God, throwing a major challenge to the hitherto conservative Vatican which responded through numerous, self-defeating ex-communications given the rise to key figures like Father Manuel de Escoto who was both a Catholic priest and a Sandinista fighting for Nicaragua's freedom initially, and later, fighting Yankee imperialism disguised as the Contras after 1980. No, here, the Church has remained stuck in time, smelling the moss and stench of ages.

Bible as a book of struggle
Let's grant it, within the Zimbabwean Church are some very uneducated clergymen and women who don't seem to know the difference between Christianity and Churchianity, to repeat the late Reverend Canaan Banana's terminology.

And because such ignorant leaders at the helm of the church have never been able to read the Bible well, they remain fastened to time-worn, age-smelling liturgical malpractices of the colonial Church in Africa. Hinga kana maDutch amai vangu vava kuridza magitare nemabhosvo wani? God's Word grows within ever-changing human circumstances, cultures and experiences, but without changing or compromising its foundational precepts.

It is not meaning of the Word which is immutable; it is the informing, underlying precept The Latinos liberated the message to suit a Latin America in fermentation. That did not make the Church any less holy, which is why it has now hit its apogee by giving the world a Pope! But is it not the same church which encouraged the guerrilla to shoot at structures of oppression?

Through a holier reading of the Bible, the Latinos realized that in fact the Bible was not just a book of faith; that it was not just a great book of worship. Rather, they realized it was the greatest book of struggle, the most subversive vis-a-vis an oppressive and an unjust status quo. Even Coltart, with all his chequered Rhodesian history, confesses to that now.

I am still to read a more enlightened interpretation of the Bible than Castro's "Fidel on Religion", itself an eloquent harmonisation of Christian precepts and egalitarian pursuits of a secular social revolution. That what happens in a living church: Christian faith grows. Not here.

Pastor or piety, Church or Christ?
Let's grant it, there are churchgoers who cannot distinguish a priest or a pastor and Christian piety. Their devotion and loyalty is to a priest or pastor, which is why they end up being asked to do unseemly things — eating grass as if God's children are herbivores! The greatest culprits of idolatry are churchgoers who put their pastors — mere men and women of untold frailties — on undeserved plinths of holiness.

Today, these are the same characters who are (mis)leading the debate on the National Pledge and, herd-like, their whole laity follows, mostly against common sense and own better judgment. Need we wonder that the guys at Education have met with unthinking churchianity?

Now when you have confusion between Christianity and churchianity, confusion between priest/pastor and piety, Word and world, need we wonder there is confusion between pledge and prayer, between God and gold? Pastors have become symbols of lucre, not personifications of trying, frugality as exemplified by many a men of biblical yore. Tipeiwo maserious vanababa vezvemweya, tinokuremekedzayi mhani.

No Jehovah's Witness challenge
I was looking at National Oaths of other Nations. Many do not concern themselves with our Father. Some do, in the very opening lines or so. Yet others — like the Nigerian one — cleverly keep the body secular, only to end by the all-time, all occasion phrase: "So Help Me God". Again to bear out my main point, namely that God speaks to us in our various cultures, times and temperaments.

Where there is absolute unanimity across nations is over definitions. It is as if the human mind knows no colour, culture or place. A National Oath or Pledge, I am unanimously told, is a pledge by a citizen to his country. Finish. Where is our confusion? At the very outset, the belated Zimbabwean National Pledge found its God, giving Him a pride of place in its opening lines, recognising His omnipotence. What is the problem?

Or is it that such recognition has not come from, or through the Church, has come from a secular institution? Frankly, this Nation should put Christ above the Church, which is why a mistaken clergyman's flawed prejudice or jealousy should not bother, let alone detain us. We have a long way to go, much catching to do, we the latecomer.

But we beat the Americans in knowing and placing our God much earlier and from the beginning, respectively. We did not need the Jehovah's Witness class action, and one coming after so long a period of unchallenged recitation. Is that not worth celebrating?

If gold rusts . . .
Why does the pledge sound like a prayer, I hear some churchmen quibbling. Really? Why do their prayers sound like pledges? Where does today's church — Pentecostal especially — stand next to Godliness? Of truth be told, very secular in the majority of sects, which is why its quarrels are routinely with princes of earthly power.

It no longer seeks the Kingdom of Heaven, no longer leave the coin to Caesar. Rather, it chases the coin, harder than Caesar, which is why it cannot answer Jesus' question: To whom does this coin belong? The old church would say to Caesar without contradiction. The new church mumbles a little, to fight back by hypnotising the questioner! Today's prayers mug the poor widow of her mite.

I mean rather than picking a fight with Dokora and his pledge, why not preach against horrendous, ungodly things happening in churches nowadays, and what is worse, in the name of God? Havazvione here? If the church cannot correct itself, how does it hope to redeem wayward Man? To use Geoffrey Chaucer's famous aphorism: if gold rusts, what will iron do?

Loco parentis presumption

Anyway, church schools should exercise their right to set rules as they see fit. That is why the Catholics play the drum and other instruments. That is why the SDAs don't eat meat. There is freedom of religion and worship in this country. It is guaranteed. And there are so many schools that parents who have misgivings about the National Pledge for now, deriving from fear of offending their pastors, can pull out their children to schools they consider holier. But let them not raise false arguments.

It cannot be about one's conscience, unless they are suggesting they are their children's conscience. It is about their poor reading of the Bible. Or simply fear of their pastors. It cannot be about adequate consultations. There was some consultations done by the ministry, to levels practicable. But so many other things happen in schools without parents getting consulted at all.

Often including raising fees, to no objection. Not that parents are pliant. But because there is a presumption of loco parentis status imputed on teachers and teaching Departments. Zvaipei nhasi? That some angry teachers' unions have rejected the Oaths need not matter. There are many good things angry unions reject which still pass. Including the new curriculum. In any case their duty is to members. Not parents and pupils. They have no locus standi on this one. Full stop.

Pitting the Constitution against itself
Then comes the false argument of the constitution. Some section of our hallowed Constitution getting cited to decorate a limping argument. Babanguwee Nhuka! Have those dragging such a reluctant, un-cooperating argument stopped to compare the Preamble of the Constitution with the Pledge? Or they have been told the Preamble is not justiciable?

Well, let the argument be put so we see which competent court strikes off the Preamble for being a danger to protected consciences. I wait for such ruling hoping it comes before my death so I meet my Maker one page wiser. And if you have a point to protect your conscience, deal with the Constitution itself.

Not the Pledge which is a constitutional derivative. The Pledge exhorts the reciter to mind his God, his heroes, his history, his resources, his culture and traditions. Why is it that a few vocal churches and their opposition are quick to draw a revolver when Zimbabweans are made to mind all those key things?

Simply because they want Zimbabweans to remain in the thrall of other values, other races, other Nations. Was it not the same with the land, when the mongers of deadly scare sought to dissuade us through all sorts of arguments? They still do, to this day.

Patriotic history fad
I am told the real fear resides in the reference to culture and traditions, which some churches interpret to mean a 'readmission" of traditional forms of worship and practices. If that is true, then we have a good fight, and a good time to fight it. Let the issue go to the courts, this time sponsored by parents whose children enrol in oath-hating schools. I will part with all my savings — dollar and bond note — to support such a case.

They did it in the early eighties, led by the Catholics who would not have us re-inscribe our history into the syllabus. The fad nowadays is they want to give children "patriotic history"! So which history, from which country is not patriotic? Cite any single British or American author who does not genuflect to national concerns and sensitivities in reading and writing history.

Why prescribe foolish standards for us? And the history we received from Rhodesia which we continued to teach in our schools after Independence, what was its temperament? Unpatriotic? It takes a mad men to miss a bristling Rhodesian patriotism of LH Gann. Or Tindall. Or Blake. Name them.

Reissuing white history
Even the Rangers. That they hated UDI did not stop them from loving and revering empire history. You will be an out and out fool to believe so. Their radicalism was graduated. The moment Mugabe tackled the land — itself the essence of Rhodesian British imperialism — even erstwhile white radicals like Doris Lessing took a stance for the Empire. In the case of Ranger, he went as far as arguing that when we drafted manifesto for NDP, together with Reid, and later, ZAPU, we never made reference to land, only one-man-one-vote.

Wake up mwana wevhu. Implicit in the myth of patriotic history is a package for the retention of Rhodesian history. Or a prescription of a new, revised history meant to whitewash imperialism and reissue it anew. The Alexanders of their world, all deployed to encourage self-hate. Let's all know that, much as we pontificate about histories: that post-high school intellectual game only permissible as a conceptual interregnum.

Between high school and responsible citizenry. That is why Germans will publicly castigate Hitler, while quietly upholding the dominance he aimed for, only through peaceful, non-confrontational ways. The more we proclaim histories, the sure we are to find a national or racial history. That is why I don't begrudge Coltart, only seeking to confront him instead.

Icho!

nathaniel.manheru@zimpapers.co.zw

Source - the herald
All articles and letters published on Bulawayo24 have been independently written by members of Bulawayo24's community. The views of users published on Bulawayo24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Bulawayo24. Bulawayo24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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