African philosophy vis-a-vis the Constitution


By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

IN the Constitution of Zimbabwe, conflict between Eurocentric linear thinking and African relational philosophy (hunhu/ubuntu) is palpable.
As I tried to explain in the May 18 2018 instalment, this conflict in daily life manifests in the aesthetics of the dariro versus the aesthetics of the queue.
The Parliamentary Select Committee which, in 2009, carried out nationwide ward-to-ward consultations to gather people’s opinions on what should go into the new Constitution recognised principles of hunhu/ubuntu when they went asking communities to make their contributions in their own indigenous languages.
COPAC drafters of the Constitution and all political parties recognised principles of hunhu/ubuntu when they agreed that our Constitution should have a whole Chapter Two called ‘National Objectives’, even though it is still hard to reach a consensus on whether each nominal ‘objective’ therein qualifies as truly a national objective.
The agreement on the need for national objectives was a good gesture toward the values of hunhu/ubuntu.
That is why in African philosophy, the most critical symbol of the quest for consensus is the dariro.
Therefore, the most critical lesson of the dariro or pungwe is the fact that it always defines and leaves common space inside the circle which teaches, symbolises and demonstrates the living reality of those values which belong to all of us together but to no one alone.
The queue is totally incapable of defining such a common centre.
The second beauty of the dariro lies in what it forces the outsider to do, to be allowed to approach or join the dariro and perhaps become entitled to share in the common values at the centre.
The usual protocol compelled by the dariro is expressed in the following way in Shona: “Vapano, vapano. Tisvikewo!”
The usual reply is: “Svikai!”
The approaching stranger asks: “Those who belong to this land, this space, this place, may I or may we approach!” If the reply is ‘svikai!’, then the outsider(s) can approach. Immediately, the stranger is told the purpose and expectations of the pungwe or dariro.
The dariro in African life, over many millennia, exists at the family level, at the community level, at the education and entertainment levels and at the state level.
Depending on the degree of formality and authority accorded to it at the particular level, the dariro becomes the dare.
It has no beginning and no end as a structure.
It stands for the universe of human values, the institutional nature of relations and relationships which Africans experience only partially through the participation of those individuals who happen to be in the particular dariro at present; so that my mother may die but ‘umai’ (the value of mother) is not buried with her; a particular comrade or friend may fail or betray me but he or she alone cannot destroy the value or institution or capacity of comradeship and friendship.
We mourn, we are saddened by the occasional or incidental betrayal or departure of this one friend who leaves the circle, but we do not despair because of the enduring dariro, with no starting point and no dead-end, which represents our idea, our vision, of the best of human endeavour, the best human values.
When the settler-state was being constructed in Rhodesia and being deployed to dismantle the ubiquitous African dariro, Michael Gelfand did research at St Ignatius College, Chishawasha Catholic Mission, focusing on the importance of performed arts and games learned in the dariro, including songs and singing.
The value of the dariro could be demonstrated by asking African boys and girls who it was who taught them songs and singing.
Out of 36 boys between 13-14-years old, 15 credited their sisters; 13 credited their brothers; seven credited their fathers and five credited their grandfathers.
Out of 24 girls between 15-17 years old, 12 credited their grandmothers; seven credited their mothers; four credited their grandfathers; three credited their fathers; four credited their older sisters; two credited their older brothers and 16 credited other relatives in the family and community.
These statistics tally with experience from other areas of Zimbabwe and demonstrate the central role of dariro and how it naturally merges with dare.
Dariro is associated with play, entertainment and informal family communication and instruction; dare is the dariro elevated to an arena of authority either as educational authority or as adjudicating or law-giving authority.
For all these siblings, mentors, elders and neighbours to be available to teach the youngsters who ended up at St Ignatius, they had to have been regular participants in the circles (madariro) where the children were taught.
No singular gender, no single age group and no single person monopolised the teaching and upbringing of the children.
That universal spread of instruction is the essence of dariro.
This is why the dariro is so elastic.
When there are more participants, it is widened; when there are fewer, the dariro is reduced and ranks are closed.
Each friend, relative, neighbour or sibling is only a bearer of certain unique features of the universal value of friendship, kinship, neighbourliness and comradeship.
When one kinsman or kinswoman dies or leaves, the circle representing ‘ukama’ (kinship) remains and continues to nurture the continuing and continuous values of kinship, even reproducing new relations and relatives.
In this sense, love is always far bigger than a two-some.
It cannot be contained in a two-some.
It will not be destroyed by a failed two-some.
We are only partakers of the on-going value, the on-going institution of love.
It contains us in its elastic nature and manner like the dariro which always allows individual partakers to come or to go without exhausting its value.
At the denotative level, dariro means the place or the group arrangement in which people choose to sit facing one another and being able to see one another, everybody.
It also means the physical space and common ground defined as a centre by the sitting persons.
However, at connotative level, the meaning of dariro becomes densely rich.
It is hope organised; the place of considering one another and one another’s contributions, ideas, needs, aspirations and concerns; the place of looking forward together; the place of collective morale, mutual confidence building, faith and optimism built on consensus, trust and reconciliation of otherwise initially diverse views moulded into one position through the process of kushaura and kutsinhira (call and response).
One of the Shona proverbs expressing this all-round optimism and faith in the dariro says: “Iri mudare iri murwaenga; ichaibva.” This means any issue, any matter, which has properly been brought to the collective dare is like hard popcorn or peanuts put in a roasting pan.
It will be resolved and the dare and community will live to value, to enjoy the result.
The process of turning the popcorn or peanuts over-and-over in the roasting pan is a metaphor for consensus seeking through the dare or dariro.
– The dariro distinguishes the value of a relationship from the person(s) who happen to be in that relationship at present. ‘Mai’ does not die with ‘umai’; ‘shamwari’ does not die with the value of ‘ushamwari’. ‘Hama’ (kinsman) does not die with the value we call ‘ukama’ (kinship).
– The death of one teacher, scientist or leader does not mean the end of education, the end of teaching, the end of science or the end of leadership values.
– Joining the dariro is already a silent expression of willingness to sing or dance along; or willingness to learn to sing and dance along; or willingness to speak the language spoken in the dariro; or willingness to learn and understand that language; and willingness to abide by the consensus which may emerge from the process of the dariro.
– For African children, the circle meant that there were always several mothers, several fathers per child in the circle.
If my mother died, she was instantly replaced by her sisters, cousins, even brothers who became my mothers.
Therefore ‘umai’, ‘ubaba’, ‘ukama’ or ‘usahwira’ as relationships were larger than the individual ‘mai’ or ‘hama’.
– At the level of the community or neighbourhood, the circle teaches that the harm inflicted on your neighbour’s child in that dariro is quite capable of being inflicted on your own child sitting in that same circle; the harm inflicted on your neighbour’s mother sitting in that dariro of mothers will sooner rather than later hit your mother, aunt or sister occupying the same space in that circle.
– The circle therefore taught solidarity as daily common sense and practice.
– The dariro meant all generations sitting in the same circle. This meant continuity of heritage.
It also meant there were no sunset laws which declared that a grievance would expire after 25-50 years or even 500 years.
A collective grievance of the family or community could only end by resolution, settlement and reconciliation.
– Above all, the dariro represented synthesis, co-ordination, the aspiration for convergence and harmonisation.
– In the dariro, no one says, ‘I arrived before you; I am number one’.
But in the queue, people fight over numbers and accuse late-comers of ‘kupfekera muqueue’.
The queue, therefore, promotes the attitudes of ‘Zvangu zvaita, hameno zvenyu vamwe’ or ‘Chauya chauya, chero zvangu zvaita’.
These linear, selfish and narcissistic attitudes now dominate life in Harare and other towns as ‘chihwindi’.
They fuel conflict, disintegration and greed.
Above all, they foster the attitude that everything is in short supply; that there will always be shortages, thereby discouraging people from thinking in terms of common interests.
This problem lies at the heart of Harare’s crisis as a city and as the capital of Zimbabwe where politicians and activists engage in selfish displays of controversy, conflict and violence with the help of some sections of the media.
Application of African philosophy to the Constitution and the media
It is now obvious that Section 61 (4) (a) to (c) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe contradicts other provisions of the same Constitution and undermines the philosophy and practice of hunhu/ubuntu when the Constitution says:
All state-owned media of communication must –
(a) be free to determine independently the editorial content of their broadcasts or communications;
(b) be impartial; and
(c) afford fair opportunity for presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.
By applying only to so-called state-owned media national media rules and values which ought to apply to the entire press sector, the Constitution of Zimbabwe, in this provision, implies that other media outside the state-sector can be directed by foreigners, by company interests and political factions or any other external forces in their coverage of our elections and other national issues without any legal or moral consequences.
This position goes against the following facts, realities and practices:
– First, the Constitution itself has a whole Chapter Two on ‘National Objectives’ which include the promotion of national unity and peace.
– Second, the future of the entire information, media and communication industry is characterised by ‘convergence’. This convergence is in two parts: technological convergence in which one gadget and one booster can serve multiple purposes. A lap-top can be a telephone exchange, a radio receiver, television receiver, publishing centre and photo studio. Content convergence means that once different genres tend to converge on the screen.
The most frightening aspect of this convergence is the merging of the spectacle of terror with the terror of the spectacle.
The spectacle of terror means that terrorists, thugs and criminals resort to the use of media displays of violence or spectacles to intimidate victims and opponents.
The terror of the spectacle means that even benign media displays of massive power such as those organised by legitimate governments and global companies may also result in intimidating innocent by-standers, over-shadowing them and their own small-scale expressions and presentations.
Therefore, in the face of the realities of media convergence and merging the either or separation of state and non-state, public and private becomes nonsensical and it definitely shows ignorance about the media as part of culture.
– Third, the journalists working in the media sector in Zimbabwe are not organised in terms of state versus private.
They have one Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and they may also be organised as freelance journalists and fully employed journalists or print journalists and broadcasters.
How, then, does it become desirable to apply ethical and moral standards to state-owned media while leaving so-called private media to disrespect, to terrorise, to incite, to lie and to corrupt the very same people whose interest state-owned media are asked by the Constitution to respect?
The centre of the dariro described at the start of this instalment can be viewed a one electoral environment, one pool of water or one river.
Would it make sense therefore to suggest that one set of players are forbidden to dump arsenic or cyanide in the pool or river while another set are free to do?
Section 61 (4) (a) to (c) is preposterous in this sense.
It has got to be amended as a matter of urgency!
Dr Tafataona Mahoso writes in his personal capacity as a media academic.


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