Column: Shared Vision For Our Community

March 3, 2016

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

On Saturday – February 27th – a large celebration observing the 92nd birthday of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe was held, costing a reported $800,000.

The former Finance Minister – Simba Makoni- complained that residents of the host-town had been ‘coerced’ into donating. Note that Zimbabwe is experiencing a severe drought with 75% of farmers’ crops being lost; and they are requesting $1.6 billion in emergency food aid from international agencies.

This controversy reflects aspects of Mugabe’s 36 years of power in Zimbabwe. I’m contrasting his journey involving transforming a former colony, to that of Mandela’s, as there are parallels. The comparison offers some lessons for Bermuda.

Have their two societies been busy being born? Social scientists suggest that the options available to promote societal transformation include a focus on either; ‘fighting the old’ or ‘nurturing new possibilities’.

South Africa’s liberation movement has deep roots. Mandela’s generation built on that foundation, developing the Freedom Charter, drafted after months of local meetings and adopted on June 26, 1955, by 3,000 delegates – the People’s Congress – somewhat reflecting the country’s diversity.

The document captured an inclusive vision, offering a frame for nurturing new possibilities – they were busy being born. The apartheid regime reacted by charging a group of 136 delegates with Treason and the 3-year trial kept the ‘vision’ alive; ending in acquittal.

After 70 protesters were gunned down in Sharpeville in 1960 and a number of activists were convicted of sabotage in the Rivonia Trial in 1963, Nelson Mandela confirmed the inclusive shared vision of South Africa; in his pre-sentencing statement to the Judge:

“ I have fought against white domination…and… black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

This invitational statement was galvanizing. The group, sentenced to ‘life’ used the opportunity to be busy being born.

Zimbabwe’s circumstances were somewhat different. Mugabe’s ZANU party failed to develop an inclusive ‘vision’ and only focused energies against Ian Smith and the white settlers – “fighting the old”.

This polarizing energy eventually fostered deep ethnic division in the country leading – reportedly – to more than 10,000 Zimbabweans being killed in the early 1980’s, by a special unit of troops under Mugabe’s control. Since then the country’s economy has been on a roller coaster ride which has led several hundred thousand Zimbabweans to migrate to South Africa.

Both Mugabe and Mandela began with a passion to liberate their countries. Both used prison time to earn degrees. Mugabe served 10 years. During Mandela’s 28, he coaxed his jailers to get busy being born.

Mandela found that the only power available to him was a power ‘within’. He leveraged that power, even while in jail. He eventually served as the first democratically elected President of South Africa; giving up ‘power’ after one term in Office –during which he reinforced the inclusive vision.

Mugabe has remained in ‘power’ for 36 years; his country has made some gains in education, overcoming circumstances. However, his focus continues to be ‘fighting the old’, as his hierarchy focus their energy on who’s getting the ‘power’ upoun his demise.

The Rainbow Nation continues addressing their many challenges as many folks – not all – are still busy being born.

However the foundation of inclusiveness appears sound for upcoming generations. They are the only nation in which women have a Constitutional guarantee of 50% representation in the Cabinet. In addition, they are the only African country that guarantees the Human Rights of Gays and Lesbians.

With Bermuda at a crossroads, reminded of gaps in our own journey, we would benefit by promoting a conversation regarding a shared-vision for our own diverse community – a People’s Congress process. Many seem pre-occupied on ‘fighting the old’. Overcoming the temptation to focus only on what we are against; we might begin a process that nurtures emerging possibilities.

With stories like that of Mandela as guideposts, we can empower upcoming generations – fostering an inclusive, renewed Bermuda; busy being born.

-Glenn Fubler

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