Dear Dalitso

Everyday lessons for tomorrow

Intolerance

September 14, 2023
Letter #

I have heard it said that corruption is a cancer destroying our moral compass and creating decay in society. Agreed. Have we looked at intolerance? It is potentially a more debilitating threat to attempts of nation building and consolidating democracy.

At the centre of democracy is an uncomfortable idea- the ability to accept that we are different. Unique is the word. These differences include but are not limited to gender, tribe/language, color of skin, sexual orientation, wealth status. A truly democratic culture is one that recognizes and accepts differences. Our history as humanity is characterized by intolerance of other world views and of people different from us. Wars have been fought based on our differences. The discomfort or difficulty in accepting people different from us usually comes from deep seated fear about what others potentially represent.

Nelson Mandela’s utopia of a rainbow nation was and remains an ideal for tolerance. His notion of a ‘rainbow nation’ was based on the need to leverage strengths from each people group and diverse cultures.  Robert Mugabe’s perhaps most famous speech was the one he made at his inauguration in 1980- where he called for bygones to be bygones and quoting scripture about turning swords into plowshares. A direct call for nation building. Immediately afterwards he launched the policy of reconciliation. However, in most cases the above aspirations maybe dismissed as naive and somewhat simplistic. Robert Mugabe’s latter years were characterized by what seemed to be a policy climbdown- towards a vindictive politics around identity and redistribution. Perhaps challenging the superfluous nature of reconciliation in the absence of redistribution. In post-colonial countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa there are deep scars around alienation and deliberate state led processes of impoverishment. There are historically documented processes of enslaving others against their will.

Then the question you may ask how we proceed from such a difficult place; ‘How do we create tolerance in a world with a terrible history of injustice’.  Do we leave things as they are, or we forge ahead with the advantage of knowing that bigotry or revenge will not take us anywhere.

These are difficult issues. In Zimbabwe we have layers of grievances from pre-colonial to the post-colonial. We have done stuff to and against each other. Our post-independence history is not at all rosy.  Over time it’s now difficult to speak of one country or experience.

The organization that we are building is not insulated from these realities. We must be deliberate about ensuring inclusion within the team of staff and the board to truly reflect the diversity within the country. Our regional aspiration also makes this slightly more complex. It would have been easier if it was just about building internal processes that are tolerant and inclusive. Unfortunately, we must wade through the murky waters of intolerance and polarization within the country. Our country has been characterized by high levels of intolerance and toxic polarization. Every time one says anything related to the public space the first layer of analysis is whether they belong to the ruling party or not. Objective evidence-based discussions have been difficult to sustain. The idea of Zimbabwe has been reduced to political party-based rhetoric/positions. 

At the time of establishment, we sought to build an inclusive platform to discuss and address some of these difficult issues. Many of the platforms of dialogue we hosted ended up being occasions for ventilating. There is an urgent need to rescue the public space from being held at a ransom by political parties who in some instances have invested in influencing civil society led platforms. Trust across organizations has been depleted. Instances of collaboration are rare. We are in urgent need of a reset. The task ahead of us as a nation (together with fellow Global South countries), poverty and inequality are worsening, authoritarianism (not democracy) is on the increase, and the inclusive development project remains suspended. Yet chances of joining forces and establishing broad based stakeholder platforms remain limited due to the suspicions about agendas and alliance. Citizens are being made to hold onto promises made by public officeholders with the expectation that in this instance we may experience a turnaround- but the formula remains the same.

Read More