Echoes: CONWAY TUTANI
SOME people make it impossible for anyone to misquote them or exaggerate about them.
Just when you thought politicians across the divide would tone down on rhetoric in the spirit of Independence Day celebrations this week, MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa had this to say: “That Zimbabwe Bird symbol is part of our problem. We must deal with institutional idolatry.”
Yes, people across the political divide or whoever can and do speak out of turn. They can say something erroneous, foolish, or impudent at an inappropriate time, or speak when they do not have the authority or qualification/expertise to do so, but what Chamisa said just about beats them all in terms of being way out of line.
For one, Zimbabwe is not a theocracy, but a constitutional democracy. Two, while the majority of Zimbabweans are professed Christians, this does not make Zimbabwe a Christian state, because the Constitution stipulates freedom of worship, meaning there cannot be an officially sanctioned religion. This essentially makes Zimbabwe an inter-faith nation.
Said a fellow Zimbabwean: “This is exactly why I have consistently and unapologetically said that religion is dangerous for our people. My late grandmother is a Shiri (Bird as her totem), so the subject matter hits quite closer to home for me.”
As one can see, many Zimbabweans will find Chamisa’s remark quite offensive because it hits at the core of their identity, their deeply-held values and beliefs.
Religious wars throughout history have been caused by those saying their way of worshipping, doctrine or dogma is the one and only one. This made a strong and compelling case for the separation of State and religion.
Religion, in wrong hands, can be a most hateful, divisive, toxic and dangerous weapon.
Ian Smith used religion to justify his brutal racist suppressive rule by saying he wanted to preserve “Christian civilisation”, when it was actually to perpetuate rule of the white minority comprising only 5% of the population.
Apartheid South Africa also used religion to discriminate against blacks, conveniently interpreting the Bible reference to “hewers of wood and drawers of waters” as referring to black people.
Chamisa is strongly advised to tone down his language. He ought to be careful not to mislead his followers.
Earlier this year, he said he would “simply pray and everything will come to a standstill” for President Emmerson Mnangagwa, but if it was as simple as a prayer, why didn’t he pray for the Constitutional Court to declare him the winner of the July 30, 2018 presidential election?
Don’t get me wrong that I am totally against Christianity. Not at all. I was brought up in the Wesleyan Methodist (now Methodist Church in Zimbabwe) tradition, but in different circumstances, I could have been raised in the Catholic or even Muslim tradition. It’s only that my parents happened to be Christians that I too became a Christian. And it’s only that my parents happened to be Methodist that I also became a Methodist.
It’s like an accident of birth because no one has any control of, or responsibility for, the circumstances of their birth or parentage.
And so it is with religious beliefs, meaning what is important is religious tolerance and religious accommodation.
After all, the MDC Alliance, which, like a broad church, is supposed to accommodate a wide range of different opinions and ideas, should be a microcosm of Zimbabwe made up of both believers and non-believers, Christians and Muslims, pentecostals and non-pentecostals — unless Chamisa is now saying, by implication, by dint of hint, by imputation, that party members must not only be Christian, but pentecostal as well because all that he says comes back to the party he leads as its public face and authoritative voice.
Or is Chamisa presenting himself as the ultimate authority on Christianity? Has he elevated himself to spokesperson for the whole Christian community in Zimbabwe?
Or does he speak for Christendom, the worldwide body or society of Christians? Chamisa cannot be all things to all men.
Observed one Zimbabwean: “This thing of a pentecostal preacher doubling as a politician doesn’t work.”
Indeed, it doesn’t work because it is a throwback to that dark and unenlightened age when not only constituional democracy did not exist at all, but the very idea of it was inconceivable.
That said, there is nothing unique or idol-worshipping about Zimbabwe having a representation of a wild animal as a national symbol.
The United States has the Bald Eagle as its national emblem, South Africa has the Springbok, Britain has the Lion — the list is long.
So, what’s idolatry about the Zimbabwe Bird to differentiate it from America’s Bald Eagle, South Africa’s Springbok, Britain’s Lion and so on and so forth?
If that is “institutional idolatry”, then Zimbabwe is very much in good company and the issue is past raising.
But, as has become their spuriously selective habit, they single out the Zimbabwe Bird in the government crest as symbolising idolatrous worship, but overlook the fact that the MDC’s own party logo has that very same Zimbabwe Bird featured prominently — the same way they condemn violence associated with the State while turning a blind eye to violence in their own party.
Like are they saying only the Zimbabwe Bird on the government crest represents idolatry while that on their party’s logo is exempted from idolatry.
As one can see, these people have little or no sense of contradiction and no sense of hypocrisy whatsoever, and that is the main source of the problems facing the nation — not the Zimbabwe Bird.
Conway Nkumbuzo Tutani is a Harare-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org