Like many, I have been glued to the television and internet news providers during these historic days in Southern Africa. Zimbabwe is very dear to my heart, having been sent there in the mid 90s as a Methodist mission partner with my wife. We taught in a Methodist school out in the bush in Matabeleland. It was an honour to teach the black Zimbabwean children. They had a lasting impact upon me. It was also a steep learning curve in so many ways and I owe Zimbabwe and its people much. That experience helps explain what I do now and why I do it.
In hindsight, one can see that the cracks were just starting to show in Zimbabwe in the 90s. The country should have been the success story of Africa. It had infrastructure, an educated population, democracy (seemingly), natural resources and the goodwill of the international community. And yet it went wrong for all the reasons we have heard about.
So, is what is happening now the real thing? I listened to Zimbabwe’s new President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as he addressed a packed Harare football stadium. He promises to serve all citizens, saying "I am required to serve our country as the president of all citizens regardless of colour, creed, religion, tribe, totem or political affiliation.”
When I lived in Zim, it was in Matabeleland, home of the minority Ndebele people. Mugabe is of the dominant Shona tribe. It was in Matabeleland in the mid 80s (AFTER independence) that Mugabe authorised a terror campaign against the Ndebele and his political opponents in that region. At the school where we lived, there was the grave of Luke Khumalo and his white wife Jean. Luke had been the Principal of the school when these secret attacks were being waged and the couple were murdered as part of these atrocities. A friend told us of how, during those days, he and his wife were dragged from their homes one night and he was told to go and get an axe so the soldiers could cut his wife’s head off. Miraculously they both survived. Such was the brutality of the previous regime. And this brings us back to Mr Mnangagwa. During this period, it was Mnangagwa who was the national security minister and during that time an estimated 20,000 people were killed in that civil conflict, many simply disappearing.
So, what are we to think? We can think many things but above all, we must hope. We must hope that leopards change their spots, that compassion and a sense of responsibility win through. That there can be wisdom in economic policy and a willingness to work with international allies once portrayed as enemies. We must hope that the people are heard and honoured and that all, in power, catch a vision of what their country might become for all its citizens.
‘Hope’ is the key thing when working in circumstances where there is poverty or injustice. The facts, statistics, structures, systems and history could all, quite easily, convince you that things will most probably stay the way they are. But something inside many of us screams at us to try something, to grasp an opportunity, to take risks and even go against what common sense tells us. Irish Methodist World Development & Relief bases its work on the hope that circumstances (and people) can change. There are indeed disappointments along the way such as heavy rains washing away pipes from a pump that has been providing safe water. A successful project in northern Ghana may be a disaster in southern Ghana. A partner, with all good intentions, may over-stretch themselves and work may flounder for a time. WDR’s income may stagnate or even drop and so put work at risk. There are no guarantees in development work.
What we must do in these situations is hope. That is the business that WDR and its partners are in; the ‘hoping business’. Cynics and pessimists will find this approach hard to understand. They suspect that foul play is inevitable or that because hardship has been around for a long time, it will continue to be around. But it is an initial commitment to hope that eventually brings self-respect to Dalit women in Nepal, delivers healthcare in Ghana, pipes clean water to Indian villages and rehabilitates young people disabled in Palestine; all through our many wonderful partners. And, of course, this is similar to many other development agencies and NGOs.
I choose to get past my cynicism and fear about events in Zimbabwe and I hope for a better future. We stand in solidarity with our Zimbabwean partners who choose to do the same.