By Dr Michelina Andreucci
AFTER purging millions of indigenous populations, centuries of slavery, various forms of human captivity, murder, maiming, lynching and even genocide, the West, as recently as the New Millennium, has finally come to realise that cultures are complex, variable and difficult to define; subject to misinterpretation and the challenges they create when attempting to affect a Euro-centric, one-size-fits-all policies.
The West has not yet accepted, nor come to terms with their diverse, multi-cultural societies that they created, even up to today.
How can the West, their child protection agencies, social workers, psychologists, law makers, governments and foreign NGOs, who are mostly advantaged middle-class whites, speak on behalf of other countries and cultures, especially the ‘less’ affluent African people?
Cultural competency and understanding is a skill that has for too long been neglected and overlooked in common universal legal practice.
Britain, with its relatively ‘affluent’ and theoretically educated society, has a despicable level of pornography, paedophilia and violence.
This was revealed in recent ongoing enquiries into child abuse that also exposed a plethora of historical abuses that stretch back to the 1950s.
The enquiries implicate several famous, high profile and powerful figures who include politicians.
Why then is it that Third World countries, Zimbabwe included, are eager to append their signatures to these one-sided Euro-centric notions of humanism?
In August 1941, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, jointly released the ‘Atlantic Charter’, which outlined the rough goals of the US and British Governments.
The document became the foundation for the United Nations (UN); all its components were integrated into the UN Charter.
Various perceptions of what constitutes ‘human rights’ are embodied in the UN Charter.
The UN Charter on Human Rights entails what universal governments should provide for the development of conditions that will empower their citizens to enjoy the other rights.
In June 1981, the AU’s African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights endeavoured to draw a parallel between Western and African values and their implications of what constitute ‘human rights’ by making reference to African values of civilisation and their historical traditions.
At Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe inherited a complicated colonial system of skewed ‘human rights’.
In fact, according to ratings published annually, Zimbabwe’s ratings (on a scale from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free)), since 1972, fared better than under the previous white regime as indicated below:
For Zimbabwe, land is at the heart of all activities; all other rights are derived from the right of its ownership; giving access to all other basic human rights such as food, shelter, housing, education and general livelihood.
Yet, in the name of Christianity and development, it was taken from them.
Though in pre-colonial Zimbabwe there were land wars, it was not until 1890 that a minority of white settlers appropriated and controlled over 87 percent of all fertile land, while over 70 percent of the indigenous population relied on subsistence farming on infertile land ‘reserves’; much as the indigenous people of America still live on today.
Former colonial regimes used a complex web of legal instruments and institutions to systematically dispossess many indigenes of their lands, violating many of their basic human rights.
The percept of ‘civilisation’ was methodically used by all colonising regimes to deny Africans their civil, political and property rights.
Africans and Zimbabwe in particular, have a different way of thinking, a different way of living, of being; we have a different morality and a different set of values.
Even from African-Americans.
At the time Western societies were still in a high degree of savage barbarism, brutally exploiting women and children, Munhumutapa (today’s Zimbabwe), was at the zenith of its civilisation.
The majestic medieval Stone City still stands out as extraordinary monument to a civil and culturally sophisticated civilisation; we had a nation of people inspired for greatness.
According to the late Dr Vimbai Gukwe Chivaura – (The Patriot December 20 2012), “… the original home of Zimbabwe’s Shona people was Tanganyika (Tanzania), which according to the Shona language translates to the ‘origin of the world’.
Zimbabweans on the whole, are a peace-loving people who enjoy harmony and peaceful co-existence among people as kith and kin.. Even under extreme provocation, they are reluctant to fight.
They abhor wars and detest conflicts and violence.
They harbour no recriminations against their enemies or humiliate their prisoners of war.
They only fight in self-defence and where life and environment are threatened with extinction.
By following the ancestors’ religion and teachings, they seek to live in peace and harmony with nature and all things in the universe, including former enemies, in spite of their incapacity to repent.
The Shona people maintained their religious and family structures as models for their political and religious systems in Zimbabwe.
This makes it difficult for their enemies to infiltrate and divide them to set one against the other.
But the love for peace among Zimbabweans and their capacity to forgive without vendettas are often misunderstood and abused as a sign of weakness or war-weariness.”
Would it be facile to suggest then, that the West can learn something from Zimbabwe?
In Zimbabwe and other African regions, the ‘collective’ good generally has precedence over the individual’s rights and preferences.
The Shona person lives for the family and the community, not for the self.
Hunhu/ubuntu refers to a person’s character, spirituality, disposition and sense of responsibility.
Parents or guardians have a fundamental role to play in shaping the behaviour and future of our own generations.
An African child correctly raised in the African philosophy of hunhu/ubuntu grows up with appropriately laid-down principles.
Do we need NGOs and trusts from Western countries to come to Zimbabwe (and Africa), to teach our children ‘rights’ — What rights? Whose rights?
As for discrimination against women, Cheik Anta Diop on the fundamental issue of matriarchy from an Afro-centric perspective and interest aptly states: “African experiences gravitate around a single matrilineal centre like some massive magnet pulling the pieces together into one coherent whole.”
This statement clearly defines the role and esteem in which women are held in the African culture: Matriarchy, unlike in Western society, is far from being imposed on man by circumstances independent of his will, but is affected and defended by him.
The primary role of the African mother, whether it is bequeathing the gene or language to the human race, is an amalgamation of traditions favourable to womanhood and mankind in general as opposed to a compromised struggle for women’s rights in a Western patriarchal system.
The role of women in most indigenous societies is to safeguard the village.
They hold the keys to the production and dissemination of our cultural mores, our values, our behaviour, our ritual protocol, decorum and overall appearance.
Cheik Anta Diop suggests that African-centred perspectives, along with the edification of matriarchy, are required as part of the protocol and prerequisite towards fashioning and rebuilding our contemporary African histories, cultures and societies anew.
Africa should not be so concerned with Western human rights!
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field.
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