The Independence that is still to come
This week I said farewell to an old friend who was going back to his life and work overseas.
by Father Oscar Wermter
I will miss him, his family misses him, Zimbabwe needs him.
But I can’t blame him for having left. I think of another young friend of mine.
He celebrated his graduation just now. His getting through college was a long and hard struggle for his family. The joy is great. He achieved what his father could only dream of. And yet, the battle is not won yet. Far from it.
“Have you found a job yet?” It is impolite to ask this question as people rejoice in the academic success of their child. No, he has not found a job yet. He is trying like anybody else. Prospects? Uncertain. He may yet have to cross the Limpopo, even the Atlantic Ocean.
Independence 33 years ago did not bring Zimbabweans the freedom they longed for. “When we are the true owners of the land, we will be able to rebuild our lives.” Many restrictions were removed, true. “Our children will be able to go to school, college, university, anywhere they like. All jobs will be open to them.”
Now we know this has not happened. Too often the graduation ceremony with mortarboard and gown is the end of the road, not to think of the majority who never make it that far.
Discrimination in employment was abolished, of course. But now there is no employment. Who could have thought that? Unemployment is the great scourge of this country and Africa as whole, especially for young people who remain idle at a time when they should be creative and productive. But even their parents dread unemployment: you lose your job at 50 and you are finished.
But wait a minute! What are we talking about? Employment or work? That is not the same thing.
There is this woman in Mbare who has turned her living room into a mini-factory. All day long, in between cooking meals for her family, she is busy on her sewing machine making floppy hats for schoolchildren. She is not only a good seamstress, she is also a clever businesswoman.
She has a market for her products. She heeds the slogan: “Production is easy, marketing is the problem”. Her products are actually wanted. She is officially unemployed, and yet she works, perhaps harder than wage earners.
People seek employment so as to secure a regular income. Employees are prepared to do anything even though it is toil and drudgery, as long as they get their pay at the end of the month. And even if they don’t get it, they hang on in the hope the inept employer will pay up one day.
A nurse who sees a patient whom she has nursed over several weeks leave the hospital and go home – is she not happy that the woman she saw writhing in pain is now smiling and relaxed, ready to return to her family?
Does she not feel at such a moment that the labour and toil of being a nursing sister is worth it, that such moments are its rewards?
The big question for Zimbabweans is this: Do we have a vision for our country which is sick and needs healing? And do we want to work for this vision and make this patient well again and find joy in doing it, together and not in rivalry against each other?
Somebody told me Zimbabweans were like drowning men, each pushing the other down, as long as he himself survives.
What do MPs sit in Parliament for? To get their benefits or to turn the country around, labour and toil for the common good? Now that they are scrambling to meet us because they want our votes and their benefits once more, we must ask: What work did they do? Did they deserve their benefits?
Employment is no good if it serves no purpose. A civil servant may have an income, but if he has no concern for the people who come with legitimate demands to his office, no sense of justice, what do we pay him for?
An official who keeps saying grumpily, “Not today, come next week” cannot be happy about the frustration he causes. But a cheerful one who is glad to help and happy about any satisfied client enjoys her work and deserves her wages.
Work for people with a vision is working for a better world, not just a better wage. Work in this sense is creative and productive for the community. Merely being employed, though it may mean sadza on the table, does not give us fulfilment. It means being dependent. Once employed you live in fear of being fired.
You are not your own master. Depending on who you are employed by, you have to hand in your conscience at the reception and do jobs you do not really approve of.
Going round the country we see so much that needs to be done, starting with resurfacing our roads and building new ones, building houses for the homeless (and not mansions and luxury flats for multiple home owners), rebuilding our water systems and providing people with energy at affordable costs.
Hiring ourselves out to interests that are not our own as employees, we may never be able to do what really needs to be done.
When are we going to achieve our real independence and the freedom to work for what the country and its people really need?