Reflections on freedom and national progress

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I WALKED into quite some robust argument at my usual watering hole.
I had been away for a while on account of pocket-induced absence.
The patrons were appraising President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s first 100 days in office.
Some felt nothing material had changed at their workplaces and homes.
Others pointed to walking the talk with regards roads dualisation, railways revival and the anti-corruption drives.
A few others felt the appraisal was misplaced as three months was too short a time to expect meaningful progress.
Sinyoro stole the debate, arguing President Mnangagwa has brought back freedom to Zimbabweans: “Three months ago who among you would have participated in bar performance appraisal of the Republic’s President?”
Sinyoro put across a compelling argument.
It reminded me of a colleague of mine from Malawi who confessed to his wife, upon Kamuzu Banda’s fall from power, that he had always suspected her of spying on him for the Young Pioneers only to discover that the fear/suspicion had been mutual!
You can imagine the sense of freedom that must have engulfed this couple with the departure of Banda.
Sinyoro’s submission won the day and we toasted to the end of stiff necks and whispers in the bar!
Back home and reflecting on the pub talk, I reached out for Alexander Kanengoni’s Echoing Silences and searched for the part when Munashe and the other boys listened to Father Erasmus, the Irish priest, speak:
“I may speak with the tongues of men and angels but if I am not a free man, I am as hollow as an echoing gong,” he said, slightly twisting Saint Paul’s emotional letter to the Corinthians.
He continued: “I may have the power to foretell events and to understand all mysteries but if am not free, I am nothing.” The boys continued to clap their hands and the priest’s eyes burned more fiercely.
“I may give all my worldly possessions to the poor and surrender my body to be sacrificed for their cause but if both myself and they are not free, my gestures would be futile because it is freedom that gives value to our actions.
Freedom is the embodiment of all our hopes, dreams and aspirations.” He paused and looked at them and then continued:
“When I was a child, the most important lesson that I was taught was respect for other people but it was only when I grew up that I realised that one could not possibly respect others when one did not acknowledge their freedom.
There is no respect in a situation of bondage.
And so it can be said that of all gifts that God gave us, there is none as great as freedom.
Therefore, the worst sin that any man can commit is to deny another this God-given gift.”
Freedom is a notion I have always found troubling though.
It was in the village in Unyetu that the notion had first been introduced to me, in its English sense, by my mother.
I have previously written about this encounter with freedom:
“At night, around the fire place, during the planting season, when it was taboo to have ngano or zvirahwe, mother taught us negro carols. ‘Oh Freedom’ was my favourite;
‘Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me
And before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
No more moaning, no more moaning, no more moaning over me
And before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
No more weeping, no more weeping, no more weeping over me
And before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
No more tommin’, no more tommin’, no more tommin’ over me
And before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
There’ll be singin’, there’ll be singin’, there’ll be singin’ over me
And before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
There’ll be glory, there’ll be glory, there’ll be glory over me
And before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free’
I sang the hymn with gusto and saw myself sharing the same happy ‘grave’ future with my negro brothers and sisters. mother loved it.
She encouraged me to work harder at school and hopefully one day I would get a scholarship to the Americas.
As fate would have it, a travel laden carrier many years later has conspired against a childhood dream to visit America.
What was not made clear was why the negroes were moaning, crying and tomming.
They had lost a whole culture and spirituality.
They had lost their pride and identity.
They had become Mugo’s cultural zombies.
They buried their sorrows in a new found religion.”
In other words, one could pray or die his/her way to freedom. Late in 1977, we were introduced to another freedom reality; people can shoot and terrorise their way to freedom.
At the forefront were the ZANLA forces, ‘terrorists’ in the African Times propaganda mouth piece, but whom we variously called; freedom fighters, liberation fighters, vana, vanamukoma, vakomana, macomrades, maguerillas.
They taught us that freedom had to be fought for, struggled for.
But freedom troubles me.
Was it not freedom, which the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission stared in the face at their aborted meetings in Bulawayo and Lupane recently?
Has it not deserted Paul Kagame’s fast developing Rwanda?
Was it not absent in Muammar Gaddafi’s prosperous Libya? Freedom troubles me.
Maybe it’s about time we troubled it also.

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