On special freedoms and rights for Zimbabwean journalists


WHAT John Dewey has said about the claims of philosophers to a privileged status of knowledge and wisdom in their societies also applies to the claims by some politicians for special rights and freedoms for journalists in Zimbabwe. Just change “philosophers” to “journalists” and “Truths” to “Freedoms” in the following passage and you will understand the delusions of such claims.
Dewey says: “For philosophers to believe that they are endowed with unique powers giving them access to Truths is a gross piece of self-delusion. Philosophers are gifted with no special powers of insights denied to other mortals. There are no exclusive regions of Being or Reality into which a philosopher alone can enter because he carries a philosophic passport made out by himself.
“The only passport that commands entrance into Being, Reality or Nature, is the passport that is filled out, signed and countersigned and stamped by public experience. Unless philosophers recognise this and accept their common humanity with good grace and without any mental reservation, they cannot hope to perform any intelligent function or make their philosophy a living thing and a progressive force in common human life.”
The last sentence is especially important for politicians who claim special rights and freedoms exclusive only to journalists in their societies, to seriously reflect on. It is therefore worth reaping for the sake of clarity and emphasis. Again, just replace “philosophers” with “Zimbabwean economists, academics, politicians and their journalists” and it will read as follows:
“Unless Zimbabwean economists, academics, politicians and journalists recognise this and accept their ‘common humanity’ with good grace and without any mental reservation, they cannot hope to perform any intelligent function or make their economics, academic degrees, politics and journalism, a living thing and progressive force in common human life.”
It is also important here to explain exactly what “common humanity” mentioned earlier in Dewey’s passage means in order to understand the “humanity” which Zimbabwean economists, academics and politicians identify with and intend to serve when they demand special rights and freedoms of expression for the journalists in Zimbabwe.
According to p’Bitek, “humanity” in Africa is clearly divided into two sections. One group is the greater number who live highly and meaningfully organised lives in the countryside. There are economists, academics, politicians and journalists who identify with and serve this group.
Then there is the second group of “humanity” in Africa that calls itself “the middle class.” Of this group p’Bitek asks, “Is their reference to themselves as ‘the middle class’ a tacit confession that there are still white people above them who constitute ‘the upper class?” And p’Bitek asks a further question, “Is their reference to themselves as ‘the middle class’ a hidden form of abusing their mothers and fathers and the general public as ‘the lower classes’ below them?”
This group has also academics, economists, politicians and journalists who identify with them and serve them. Among them are those sponsored and controlled by the West to serve the interests of the West against the interests of the majority of their African people who they loathe so much and refer to as “the lower classes.” Here is an example how this “middle class” loathes “the lower classes,” among them their own mothers and fathers.
When William Ochieng, the Kenyan historian, says of the “common people” in Africa, “For some reason best known to themselves, many members of the public think that anybody can study and write history,” he is speaking for the African “middle class” who put themselves on a pedestal as repositories of privileged knowledge and look down upon their people as ignoramuses incapable of understanding economics, politics and journalism, let alone their own history and struggles. And so the African “middle class” does everything to dissociate itself from the lower class whose intellect they despise as unfit for modern society. And by “modern” they mean Europe as a model.
But the crucial point according to p’Bitek is unless the middle class in Africa begins to identify with the majority of the poor people in Africa, their degrees and paper qualifications will never play a meaningful role in the eyes of the public. For as the Zulu proverb says, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” That is to say to be human is to be bound by the values of one’s society.
The bonds that bind men and women to their society are what Africans call culture. Anyone who declares himself or herself to be free to go against his or her society and defame it ceases to be umuntu. The Shona say, “Haasisiri munhu” even if he or she looks like them.
To be munhu refers to the content of the values in one character that one shares in common with the people where one belongs. When your people are abused, you are also abused. When you abuse your people, you also abuse yourself. Anyone who frees himself or herself from the values of his or her people ceases to be of his or her people.
Anyone who replaces the values of his or her people with the values of strangers or aliens becomes a stranger to his or her people and a friend of the people whose values he or she now espouses. And if the strangers whose values he or she now identifies with and espouses are enemies of his or her people, he or she becomes a friend of the enemy of his or her people and therefore an enemy of his or her own people.
Once again, as p’Bitek correctly says, the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau whom our economists and politicians and journalists would like to persuade us to follow was quite wrong when he declared that “man is born free.” But he was quite right when he added “but everywhere is in chains.” Man is not born free. He cannot be free. He is incapable of being free. For, only by being in chains can he remain human. What constitutes these chains, p’Bitek explains.
Man has a bundle of duties expected from him by society, as well as his own bundle of expectations that he expects from society. In African belief, even death does not free him. “Till death do us part,” a vow made by Christians at wedding sounds hollow in African worldview. The death of a spouse in African worldview does not extinguish the bond between them and their families.
Man cannot and must not be free. “Son, mother, daughter, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, father, uncle, husband, wife and many other such terms are the stamps of man’s un-freedom.” It is by such complex terms and relationships that man is defined and identified as human. Permanent bond to one’s society seems to be man’s inescapable fate.
So, Zimbabwean politicians and journalists should never take the so-called ordinary people for granted. They see, but look as if they don’t. They can wait, and look unmoved. But when the time comes, the sure fate of academics, politicians, economists and journalists who defame them with their pens and tongues for the titillation of the West and the prize of money will be a place as outcasts in the evil forests of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart or Gandavaroyi in Zimbabwe.


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