New Internationalist

We deserve the chance to be the best we can be

African schoolchildrenWhen I first went to teach at Dinyane High School in Tsholotsho, in Matabeleland, northern Zimbabwe (the same school where Professor Jonathan Moyo almost succeeded in pulling a dramatic coup on Robert Mugabe) I was told by teachers who had been at the school for some years ‘not to bother’. I was told not strain myself trying to make the pupils achieve good grades because they were not interested anyway. I was told all they were interested in was going to South Africa; school for them was just a pastime.

At the time, my inner reaction was that no society is composed of entirely useless people, so I set out to do my best with the pupils. I proved a point or two during the three years I was there: from taking the drama group to the national finals and the netball team to the provincial finals to raising the biology pass rate from a very bad zero to a respectable 40 per cent within one year. But I did not see the bigger picture.

Over the years, as I become and more involved in activism, I have realized that humans have one important right that is constantly abused: all humans deserve the right to be in an environment that allows them to become the best that they can be. In all fairness not everyone can become a millionaire and not everyone wishes to be one, but everyone needs to be afforded a chance to test out their full potential. The current crop of leadership – especially in Africa – has dismally failed to provide the majority of people with the basic tools that can give them a fighting chance in the bad, cruel world. The attitude of the teachers at Dinyane High was a disturbing reflection of the attitude of our leadership: after putting people in an environment that does not give them a chance to escape the clutches of poverty, you turn around and mock them!

Things like affordable and accessible education and healthcare quickly come to mind. What percentage of the African population has access to sporting and recreational facilities? What percentage has access to computers and internet connectivity – things that will allow them to compete on an equal footing with the rest of the world? The constant excuse given by African leaders is that they do have the resources to develop their countries. Really? The number of African leaders who are millionaires – billionaires, even – is shocking. Why is it that African leaders don’t see anything wrong with amassing great wealth when the people are wallowing in poverty?

In an article in the Zimbabwe Independent (23 November), Moses Matenga reports on a rally held by Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in his home town of Buhera:

‘MDC-T leaders rolled into Buhera in top-of-the-range vehicles and swanky attire and villagers could not help but notice how times have changed.

he affluence gap between the visibly well-off senior MDC-T officials and poor masses was glaring at the rally. On the sidelines of the gathering, some villagers noted the rapid transformation of the MDC-T leaders from their humble days in 2000 when they started off to now after amassing wealth.

The vast difference between the villagers, desperately eking out a hand-to-mouth existence, and the lavish lifestyles of top MDC-T officials and ministers who rolled into Tsvangirai’s home area of Humanikwa village – about 200km away from their posh houses in Harare – in top-of-the-range vehicles and swanky attire, was all too visible.

he poverty-stricken rustic folk, some of whom travelled on foot for long distances to attend the rally for victims of political violence at the hands of Zanu PF, looked at the luxurious cars, ranging from the latest Mercedes Benz, Range Rovers and Land Rovers to Land Cruisers and Prados, with envy and resentment – as proved by their furtive chats in hushed tones among each other.’

Surely if the ‘people’s’ leadership can afford vehicles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, they can afford a few thousand for some income-generating projects that can fish a huge chunk of the starving villages out of poverty? But have they thought to take a brief break from their main preoccupation of amassing wealth to think of the people and how they can be helped? No.

I recently had an interesting debate with staunch supporters of the MDC-T party about Morgan Tsvangirai’s apparent wealth. All they had to say was that Robert Mugabe’s people are also doing it. I guess if the current government is doing it; it is okay for the official opposition to do it; even if it’s wrong. So what is the point of voting out the current government if the only change we are going to see is in name only? It’s high time this cycle of looting and self-enrichment stopped.

Photo of African schoolchildren by Heath Windcliff under a CC Licence 

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