Call for patriotism to be redefined

As Zimbabwe approaches its first quarter century as an independent state, some political commentators have called on the country to redefine patriotism to reflect the generational transformation that has taken place since 1980 when the country attained independence after a 14-year bitter armed struggle.

The commentators were concerned about statements by ruling ZANU-PF leaders which continued to bind the nation to one's participation in the liberation struggle, something they argued inferred that anyone who did not participate in that struggle was not patriotic enough to lead the country.

President Robert Mugabe was recently quoted as saying that he looked forward to being replaced by someone with a political record of participating in the liberation struggle. Though it could be argued that he was talking about someone succeeding him in his own party, ZANU-PF, there are fears that he could have been referring to the nation, as he is currently president of the country.

"I look at one who will appeal to the people and who the people will have chosen naturally as having the qualities of a leader. ..We must have honest leaders and that comes first," he was quoted by The Voice, ZANU-PF's official newspaper as saying.

While political commentators agreed with Mugabe on this because he was giving the people the right to choose their leaders, they differed when the President went on to add: "One naturally with record of participation in the struggle and one who cherishes the principles and objectives of ZANU-PF and who is people oriented and knowledgeable in other ways."

Mugabe's sentiments were a sad reminder of what former Defence Forces chief Vitalis Zvinavashe said in the run-up to the crucial 2002 Presidential elections. He said the defence forces would not accept anyone who had not fought in the liberation struggle to lead the country.

Most people felt this was outright intimidation to cow the electorate not to vote for Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai who was widely tipped at the time to pip ZANU-PF leader Robert Mugabe.

Asked what he understood patriotism to mean in view of the prevailing attitude within the ruling party, political commentator Heneri Dzinotyiwei said patriotism meant "having a genuine emotional attachment to the goals of interest to one's country and taking positions that are always seen to give priority to such goals".

He said the goals were broad ones aimed at developing the people of a country. They had to be nationally acceptable and, though they could be set by the government of the day, if it was an acceptable government, they transcended the political divide.

"In other words these are goals that can withstand a change of government. All that changes when there is a change of government is the method or pace of implementation," he said.

Dzinotyiwei said while there was nothing essentially wrong with looking at those who participated in the liberation struggle, there was a need to redefine what people meant by participation in the struggle.

"We fought a people's war. Everybody, except a few sellouts, participated in one way or the other, so the question of who participated must be looked at carefully," he said.

The same sentiments were echoed by Bulawayo historian and educationist, Pathisa Nyathi. "If we continue to link patriotism and participation in politics to those who fought in the liberation struggle, what are we going to do 50 years from now when they are all dead?" he asked.

Nyathi said patriotism should simply be confined to love of one's country, dedication to that country, commitment to the nation and conviction for what the nation stands for.

"I am not saying people should agree all the time, but where there are differences you do not shoot down your country or denigrate it," he said.

"This does not mean to say you should not criticise the leadership. You must do that instead of letting outsiders do it. You criticise to build the nation, to make sure that the leadership is answerable to the people. You do that out of love for your country just like you would criticise a friend or a colleague, out of love."

Nyathi said it was very unpatriotic to keep silent while the nation crumbled, adding that linking patriotism to participation in the struggle was too narrow a definition of patriotism.

"You have to leave that to the people. People will define what patriotism is and who they want to lead them. What is important is not what you were carrying, but people standing for something.

"You need to stand for your nation, defending what is good for your country. Some struggles are not political, they are ideological struggles. The greatest weapon on earth is the mind, and fighting minds will always be there."

Gorden Moyo, executive director of Bulawayo Agenda, a trust that promotes dialogue, debate and discussion on topical issues affecting the nation, said patriotism should be redefined to reflect new thinking on democracy and respect for human rights.

He said as far as he was concerned there were two levels of patriotism, one shared by the "passing generation" and the other by the new generation.

"For the passing generation of current political leaders, who started as nationalists, patriotism means commitment to each other, commitment to collectiveness, commitment to the common good, commitment to people who share the same history and culture," Moyo said.

"It means commitment to the values and virtues of the liberation struggle. These people had a vision of liberating the African continent and patriotism meant that one had to identify oneself with this vision. This did not just apply to Zimbabwe but to the African continent as a whole," he said.

Moyo said things had changed. There was a new generation and a new crop of leadership. To these people, patriotism meant commitment to the values and virtues of democracy, and commitment to civil liberties of both individuals and communities.

"While it is good to refer to our past so that we can look at our mistakes and map the future, we should not dwell too much on the past," Moyo said. "Patriotism should be above mere utterances and observation of past rituals and past victories. The past needs to be challenged and to be scrutinised whether it was good or not.

"Patriotism should include listening, sympathetic listening, to the people, the poor, the middle class, listening to the concerns of the people and bundling them up into a vision for the future."

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