Stand up and be counted for our work is not yet done
Speech delivered to the Zimbabwe Achievers Business Circle (ZABC) Breakfast, Johannesburg, March 5, 2015
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Zimbabweans and friends of Zimbabwe, I greet you in the name of our troubled nation.
I’m pleased to be in the company of so many of the most outstanding members of the Zimbabwean diaspora. Individually you’re all remarkable achievers, you have the skills, the resilience, the will and the drive to make a success of any venture. And this is why I think instead of extolling the many outstanding traits that you collectively possess, I think now might be the time to ask for honest self-reflection.
It is five years since the founding of the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards (ZAA), and this year both the original London event and the newer Johannesburg one confirm what we all know, that Zimbabwe is truly blessed with extraordinary citizens.
Our beautiful country has given so much to us and yet my generation has not given much back to Zimbabwe. It is also true that Zimbabwe has stolen many of our dreams and hopes. Suffice to say we are what we are because of what Zimbabwe gave us.
Which begs the question, are we doing the right extraordinary things? As we gather in the plush hotels of Johannesburg, or as our counterparts will gather later in the year at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, London to congratulate each other across fields such as Business, Sports and Culture, Community, media, music, is there not something missing from this celebration of success.
In short what I’m asking us to do is to put down the champagne glasses and the trophies of success we lift so proudly and ask if our achievements are more important than why we find ourselves exiles in countries such as South Africa, the UK, the US, Australia and others. Should we not be focusing all our energies on changing the situation back home in Zimbabwe instead of indulging in congratulatory gatherings?
I’m glad I’m not the only one to ask this difficult question. Speaking at a similar event at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in South Kensington, London, BARCLAYS Bank Zimbabwe Limited Managing Director, George Guvamatanga said these powerful words: “My heart bleeds when I see such wealth going down the drain as the diaspora fails to translate these experiences into something meaningful to Zimbabwe, and yet it enjoys some of the best brains that Zimbabwe was once gifted with”
And I think the key part of Mr. Guvamatanga’s speech was “The diaspora fails to translate these experiences into something meaningful to Zimbabwe” and that is something that I think all of us should be asking. How much are we doing to change Zimbabwe? I’m not for one moment suggesting that our personal success is not important. But in the face of the continuing destruction of our country, it seems almost self indulgent to focus on private success when there’s a huge elephant in the room.
Zimbabwe is where it is today because its best brains and talents are highly marketable achievers with a low pain threshold. Some would say selfish. We took flight when our freedoms and quality of life were compromised. We chose to run as a way of protecting our freedoms rather than stay home and fight to defend our rights and quality of life. But what good has that done us and our country, I ask. And once outside we have excelled at something else. We have become good at complaining from the sidelines.
What I’m saying is it’s good to be successful, but even more important to be agents of the kind of change that can move Zimbabwe back on track. So that Zimbabwe can once again be a constitutional democracy, rooted in the rule of law, and her sons and daughters do not have to languish in exile, no matter how the trappings of success may appear to mitigate their misery.
Mwangi Kimenyi reminds us of the role that we can play, outside of the comfort of our chosen professional fields. He says “In general, African diaspora communities can be muscular agents of political change, because of their familiarity with democratic norms and processes outside of their home countries” And this is something that we need to consider not as a luxury, but as a necessity.
The time has come when we need to look at how change has come in other societies because business, civic, cultural and other leaders did not leave change to the politicians. Each one of us has to see how we can stand up to be counted. That’s how we are going to usher in the Zimbabwe that we want, not by tinkering with ZANU or the MDC, but by boldly inserting ourselves into the very fabric of Zimbabwe to change it from within.
In this instance I am reminded of Plato’s words; “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”
Again Mwangi Kimenyi suggests one of the forces that we should be tapping into when he says “When united abroad in a national group, some émigré communities have less ethnically-centered politics. They are people who are more educated, more informed, more inclined to better governance,” “They could be the ones to tip the balance.” And I think what we need is the courage to overcome our individual cowardice and know that it is our duty to crush the evil of ethnic chauvinism that has characterized both Zimbabwean politics and other aspects of our lives.
I think it is harder to ask the difficult questions, because they require from us an honesty that can be uncomfortable. But sometimes I wonder who are the real heroes of the Zimbabwean situation. Who are the unsung achievers. Is it not our sisters, our mothers, our fathers, our cousins, our uncles, our brothers who wake up each day to face brutal repression, joblessness, poverty and even disease without the comfort of self imposed exile or expatriate status. Indeed, the people who have kept Zimbabwe going during our absence.
And maybe that is why even Zimbabwe is beginning to disown us as “diasporians”. Sadly many of us think of ourselves as superior to those we left back home in Zimbabwe. And this is easy to understand as we have succeeded against impossible odds in foreign lands that are invariably deeply hostile.
I sometimes get a sense that our achievements abroad have made us misfits in current Zimbabwe. Our country looks and feels different compared to the one we abandoned. Zimbabwe moved on without us.
And this leads me to the big question that we rarely ask. Where do we actually belong? Do I belong in South Africa or Zimbabwe? And have I done enough or anything at all to claim to be Zimbabwean or South African. It is so easy to hide behind the newly sexy tag of being An African. But beyond the glossy headlines of an Africa that is rising, the hard reality is that you actually do have to belong somewhere. I am a proud African of Zimbabwean origin but sometimes the way South Africa looks at me causes considerable discomfort. It is of course deeply ironic that during her years of exile and repression under Apartheid, South Africans were welcomed both in Zimbabwe and across the continent. It is fitting that South Africa should welcome us as we face our own winter of discontent.
The sad fact is our achievements don’t matter much to South Africans who consider us unwelcome, economic refugees. In the past few weeks we’ve seen again the resurgence of the violence of xenophobia directed by some South Africans at those they consider outsiders. Its brutality is perhaps a reminder that beyond the platitudes of African Unity lies a much more complex reality. It is a chilling realization that the authorities will not strongly condemn xenophobia and thus this ugly thing will continue with disastrous consequences. Our achievements will not protect us, in fact there are the cause of why we are hated.
And so as we find ourselves in this agreeable breakfast meeting we must consider and possibly recognize that our work is not done until we give back to the society that raised, natured and educated us. And that society is Zimbabwe. There’s no doubt that if we can unite in our quest to change Zimbabwe for the better we can. If we can win against formidable foes in the arena of business, then those who stand between us and the full realization of our democracy can be no obstacle.
In case any of you ever wonder, or even tell yourselves that you’re apolitical, the truth of the matter is that ‘exile’ is always by definition and experience invariably political. When we return to Zimbabwe, whether for short vacations during Christmas or Easter, many of us are profoundly disturbed by what we see. The situation is not improving. In fact it is deteriorating. When we compare the redistricted freedom of our brethren back home with our situations in the diaspora, we know that change has to come to Zimbabwe. But this change will need all of us to rise beyond our individual interest and say, with one huge push that no leader or party can resist, “Enough is enough”
I’m deeply thankful at the invitation from the organizers of this event. As I said earlier no one can question the calibre of Zimbabwean achievement. But I do believe that the time has come for deeper self-introspection. When it is difficult to answer even a simple question such as Where do I belong? You know the challenge before us is tremendous.
I would like to urge each of us to continue making waves in our various fields, but to constantly be mindful of how we as the diaspora should be making a tangible difference in our home country. Zimbabwe has never needed us as it does now.
Lastly let me reflect very briefly on the state of the media in Zimbabwe, because media freedom is a useful index of the freedom enjoyed by citizens. The disheartening fact is that the government of Zimbabwe is intent on redistricting media freedom. Government owned media have little if any credibility. The private media faces great hostility even as they try to hold the government to account. But given that the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) gives the government the powers to license and accredit journalists, the obstacles to media freedom are considerable. But even in this area, conscientious decision-making has meant that we have given the government propaganda team sleepless nights. These battles are never easy, but they are necessary.
I would like to salute ZAA Executive Director, Brian Nyabunze and leaders of the Johannesburg chapter for reminding us of the potential power of the expatriate Zimbabwean community.
Our entrepreneurs, artists, professionals and philanthropists have the combined wisdom to resurrect Zimbabwe from its current and terrible malaise.
I do hope that the much-vaunted ZAA’s ‘return to the Motherland’ event scheduled for Harare later this year will accelerate the kind of soul searching that I have proposed. Without it the inaugural awards event in Harare will just be another glamour event with little meaning for those outside the red carpet venue.
Thank you so much and God bless