By Dr Rino Zhuwarara
REACTING to the news about the introduction of the National School Pledge in our schools, MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said: “We cannot have a so-called National School Pledge that is totally out of sync with the dictates of our founding values and principles as a nation.
“One can safely argue that the so-called National School Pledge violates the right to human dignity and it can also be viewed as some form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of Section 53 of the country’s supreme law.”
A strong statement indeed!
But in all fairness, we are entitled to ask simple questions for us to appreciate the outrage expressed in Gutu’s statement!
As far as most of us can read and interpret the pledge, it starts off by foregrounding the Almighty God and our wonder is how such a reference to God could offend anyone?
The pledge then mentions the National Flag and again the surprise is how this flag, which has been our flag since 1980 suddenly offends the likes of Gutu?
As the recitation of the pledge continues it touches on our desire for unity in diversity?
Surely all normal people in their right mind are bound to appreciate such a sense of unity!
The pledge goes on to refer to our desire for freedom, justice and equality and our respect for those of our forebearers who lost their lives during our liberation struggles!
Again it boggles the mind how such noble sentiments could offend any normal-thinking person in this country!
As far as most of us recall, all these values are part of our founding national values and principles and not out of sync with our Constitution as Gutu insists in his puzzling statement.
The pledge ends by mentioning the pride we have in our traditions and in our natural resources and concludes by citing our commitment to honesty and dignity of hard work!
The question is: Which parents would not like their children to be honest and hard working, children who go on to achieve more in their lives because their work ethic would have been inculcated in them and internalised right from school days?
How on earth could all these well-meaning statements and commitments in the pledge amount to torture as alleged by Gutu?
In any case how many schoolchildren did Gutu consult before concluding that the national pledge violates their conscience and, as such, amounts to some cruel and degrading treatment of our children?
Surely if our memories are correct, there is no way Gutu could have conducted a national survey to determine the acceptability of the National School Pledge, more-so when he started to condemn it a day or two after the announcement of its introduction in our schools!
On this one, it appears Gutu, the learned lawyer that we know him to be, is making bare assertions not backed up by any evidence at all!
The questions that arise are: Why is Gutu, the lawyer of many years, finding it deeply offensive that our children are being made to pledge their allegiance to their country?
Anyone who has read our National Constitution will acknowledge there is no section in it which states that pledging allegiance to one’s country is a crime and, as Gutu alleges, a form of torture.
The only charitable conclusion one can come to after reading Gutu’s statement is that he is being hyperbolic in his use of language to a point of misleading people.
And the question remains: Why is Gutu opposed to such a well-thought out and well-meaning pledge?
In many countries, including Britain and the US, the national pledge is a pre-requisite for one to become a citizen.
It is also a requirement that has to be recited by children at school, a kind of national ritual which pupils grow up reciting because it creates a bond between the individual and the country as a whole, between individuals and the larger imagined community which Benedict Anderson spoke about so eloquently in the past!
It is unfortunate that since 1980 we still find it necessary to argue about a National School Pledge designed to inculcate a sense of national belonging, a pledge which, in its own way, tries to relate us to each other and to our past and our evolving future as one nation.
Instead of suggesting that it should have been introduced in 1980, we are still arguing about its acceptability or not 36 years down the line!
The blunt truth is: Zimbabwe is in existence today because some took their time to construct it brick-by-brick from the foundation right up to the roof.
It did not just drop down on its own like manna from heaven.
What is required now is to create a strong sense of nationhood, so that we do not, as a people, fragment into bits and pieces the moment we encounter problems.
It is one thing to share physical space in a specific geographical area, it is quite another thing to share a sense of nationhood that is durable and capable of bringing people together.
One way of bringing about that sense of national cohesion that is required is to go out of our way and deliberately nurture a sense of that nationhood: call it love of one’s country, patriotism or a construction of national identity, the point is all these have to be brought about in one way or another.
They do not happen on their own and this is why from now on the National School Pledge has to be recited in our schools as a way of promoting our sense of nationhood.
We need a common denominator which binds us all together, a common reference point to anchor our children to the land, to our diverse cultures and to each other as Zimbabweans.
In other words, recitation of the national pledge is only one of the many other methods that should be adopted as we struggle to generate a viable sense of nationhood, strong enough to withstand the ravages of time across many generations to come.
One has to go back to the last 15 years to appreciate the kind of damage which some Zimbabweans inflicted upon their country when it came to interacting with the larger world!
Others did not hesitate to speak against their country on the false assumption that their interests and those of the British coincided.
Some did not hesitate to assist Americans in crafting the notorious Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act which imposed economic sanctions against Zimbabwe, again, on the false assumption that the impact of those sanctions would promote our interests instead of American economic interests!
It is a sad and tragic story to acknowledge that just as the BBC, CNN, Sky News and Aljazeera among others went out of their way to demonise Zimbabwe non-stop for years for democratising the ownership of land in our country, some of us played a big part in legitimising the demonisation that was going on, on a 24-hour basis during those years.
Others went to the extent of faking political persecution at home in order to be allowed to live in Britain or the US.
It is obvious that some of us inflicted grievous harm on our country because the concept of loyalty to one’s country was anathema.
Unlike the Americans, the British and the French who promote and defend their national interests wherever they go, some of us competed with each other to demonise our country.
The results of that kind of demonisation are there for everyone to see.
In light of the above, it is not surprising that we are now trying to address the glaring short-comings in our national consciousness, shortcomings which almost brought about the complete collapse of our economy.
Accordingly our education sector should be commended for coming up with the National School Pledge, but much more still needs to be done in the same sector.