Independence, protocol and our identity.… time to reflect on our culture


IN Zimbabwe’s proto-history, the period or stage of human development of our people and culture prior to the emergence of writing, etiquette, protocol and custom were already established.
I was privy to a Government school event at which the students sang the National Anthem facing in all sorts of directions, some pupils and teachers stood with hands in their pockets, arms akimbo, totally disrespecting the solemnity of our Zimbabwean anthem.
The lack of training in protocol, etiquette and ubuntu/hunhu was glaringly evident.
Sometimes my perception of us as a nation is of a rootless people; aimless and feverishly searching for our identity.
I recognise, in us, the lack of a singular approach to our problems and the lack of a common heritage and purpose.
While we may differ, according to old colonial tribal divisions of Shona, Ndebele, Tonga, Venda and Ndau, among other ethnic groups, most of the aspects of our physical existence do not differ at all.
We eat the same food, wear the same clothes and live in very similar abodes.
Even our traditional religion is the same.
We worship one God, Mwari; yet somehow we lack that necessary cohesion as a nation.
As we celebrate our independence, when many national events are held, I find it fitting to discuss the issues of protocol and state diplomacy.
What is protocol?
Protocol is the formal etiquette, code of behaviour and procedures for state and diplomatic ceremonies.
With this in mind, it is with due diligence that our children should be taught the simple rules of national protocol such as standing straight and positioning the arms correctly when one sings the National Anthem.
In Zimbabwe, the appropriate body language is integral to the language of hunhu/ubuntu in Zimbabwe’s proto-history.
In terms of national imagery, visual communication, heritage and identity, the protocol and symbols of independence are many; from the AK-47 to the raised fist, from the cockerel (jongwe) crowing at the break of dawn, to the Eternal Flame — a symbol inherited from the fires of Paramount Chief Mbire’s perpetual fires (zvitungwa) that lit up the night skies from the summit of the Kopje in Harare, in pre-colonial Zimbabwe.
While commemorating our 37th anniversary of Independence, we need to ask ourselves what has been achieved in terms of national etiquette, design and symbology during the past three-and-a-half decades that express who we are as liberated, indigenous people.
Independence was a prime opportunity for Zimbabwe to claim the legitimacy of its identity in the international socio-cultural milieu.
While notions of cultural reconstruction, affirmation and indigenisation were prominently expounded on in the early days of our independence, we have yet to assert ourselves in terms of heraldry, visibility and cultural identity within the public arena.
In order for all Zimbabweans to fully understand and appreciate the implication of independence, education and ubuntu/hunhu should provide for us the inspiration to appreciate our spiritual, cultural, social as well as economic liberation, and to present ourselves as proud Zimbabweans, visible and distinct within the greater global context.
The development of knowledge regarding the cultural protocol of the past, present and possible future is urgent, vital and pertinent.
But what is hunhu/ubuntu – do we know?
What do the words of our National Anthem mean?
Do we know what else constitutes our tangible and intangible heritage?
Which aspects of our traditions make up our national identity?
What do we understand of our varied, but similar cultural identities?
An important aspect of any nation’s life is the way in which it sees itself.
Each nation has been produced by its own peculiar history and exists in its particular environment. It has features that no other nation can share.
It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to develop in our people a deep sense of patriotism.
To develop a cognisance in them of our greatness and a profound awareness of how lucky we are in the endowments of our physical and spiritual being and the privilege of abundant natural resources.
Our people must be made to recognise their great capabilities to manipulate their surroundings to benefit the nation.
They must become the first to recognise themselves as a worthy and capable people who have a right to be here on earth and in particular, Zimbabwe — proud to be what they are and show a great love for themselves.
Hunhu/ubuntu is one of the ways for us, as Zimbabweans, to explore our own particular national reality, identity and give us an insight into the multiple facets of our collective life as an independent nation – a privilege that allows us to play our part within the greater universal arena.
Zimbabwe did not spring from literary or academic institutions but grew out of an already vibrant cultural tradition and a war of liberation (Chimurenga), which exalted the blood, soil and values of nationalism and liberation.
Unfortunately, for generations, Zimbabwe has had to struggle against much colonial misrepresentation of our recorded and non-recorded history in order to obtain recognition of our true cultural civilisation in our contemporaneity.
Eurocentric anthropological opinion attributed most of the characteristics and distinguishing features of ancient Zimbabwe, our civilisation and cultural artefacts to Phoenicians, Minoans, Egyptians and other ancient cultures that are alien to Zimbabwe.
The collapse of the colonial administration and the subsequent establishment of independent Zimbabwe in 1980 made possible a number of far-reaching reforms.
Among these were those concerned with our culture ubuntu/hunhu, its definitions, expressions and its importance in relation to protocol, etiquette and our socio-economic development.
As Zimbabweans, how do we go about developing such a strong consciousness as a nation?
The philosophy and the principles of our nationhood, hunhu/ubuntu are universal and can be applied to every aspect of life.
These principles, however, are like a song.
They cannot simply be performed, they must be rehearsed!
Hunhu/ubuntu and our culture form the paramount, national ethical basis for human relations and define a way of life, not just a methodology for succeeding at interpersonal relations and diplomacy, but an entire rhythm of being.
Perhaps as we celebrate our 37th year of Independence, let us reflect on our culture which embodies the tangible vision of what independence and indigenisation should mean for Zimbabwe.
Independence should remind us of these symbols of hunhu/ubuntu.
Each individual must be able to stand up and say: “Though I am somebody, an individual soul, an important somebody, I am also part of the nation.”
Every individual must agree to be part of the nation, with his rights, privileges and corollary obligations.
The state must then acknowledge this and together with others, we will have strength.
There should, therefore, be an intense and extensive educational drive within the responsible Ministries of Education and of Cultural Heritage aimed at inculcating a deep civic consciousness in our people.
This process of education would have to be constructively implemented through a purpose-tailored civics course in schools, technical, agricultural as well as teachers colleges, youth training centres and the respective universities.
Of special importance would be the need to target our efforts in this most urgent work on the most malleable of our people – our youth. Our youth must be taught our history, ethics, civic decorum and public responsibilities.
They must know we did run our own affairs before the colonial aggressors, who proceeded to brainwash us into doubting our own capabilities.
Youths must know we were and are capable of moulding our own destiny.
They must know the history of our recent revolution inside-out. Larger-than-life images of our heroes must be created for them so that the residual visions of such heroes will remain sharp in their minds.
Young people who excel in the national decorum and civics course must be given merit over their peers of equal ability.
Education, posters, badges, art, pictures and recordings, electronic and other media that reinforce a deep sense of our Zimbabweanness must be freely available to young people.
Let us be vigilant in the task of creating the Zimbabwean consciousness, for it is from this seed that the tree of independence will blossom in our youths, our future.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practising artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher.
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