The Sunday Mail
“A united family eats from the same plate.”
So says a proverb from the Baganda, a Bantu ethnic group native to Buganda (Uganda).
It might as well encapsulate values held by most, if not all Africans.
It was definitely the same practice in Bishop Lazi’s village, where everyone ate from the same plate.
Most often after excruciating exertions in the fields, the Bishop and his siblings, including cousins and a brood of other posse whose relations were difficult to describe, would gather around gargantuan dish-like metallic plates that would often have steaming mounds of pap (sadza) in one of them and serrated veggies in the other.
No matter how famished one was, they would not just dig into the meal.
As with many things in African communities, there was a method to the art of eating. lt was naturally hierarchical, with the eldest of the brood having the special privilege to the first morsel, followed by a rhythmic and systematic rotational cycle dictated by age, which meant the youngest of the group would come last.
It was not a good thing if you were the youngest.
On rare — very rare and pleasurable occasions — where the serrated aphid-perforated vegetables were substituted by succulent chunks of the road-runner chicken — often occasioned by the visit of an esteemed elder or distant, longed-for relative — the routine became painfully elaborate.
The elder sibling would sponge the soup around the chicken pieces, all the while reconnoitring for the juiciest of them all, and after setting his mark, he would eventually grab it, which set off a similar hierarchical scrum.
Dear reader, most often than not, it meant the youngest of this ravenous clan would have to choicelessly settle for that meatless tripod in the form of a chicken foot.
If you happened to be the youngest, it was a no-brainer: the tripod was always yours.
It must have been this unenviable routine that prompted crooner Simon Chimbetu to pen that relatable song “Zuva Raenda”, which was simply an exhortation to the elder to stop dilly-dallying with the meat and get on with it. Kikikiki.
Some of the lyrics were overt: “Mkoma nhongai nyama; ndakuwara nemuto (elder brother, just pick your piece; the soup is killing me). Kikikiki.
Weird enough, this routine was never unamusing; you always accepted it as an unchangeable fact of life.
But such age-old practices forged brotherhood, humility, deference, hierarchy, structure, respect and above all, communality.
And communality is quintessentially African.
Probably this is why socialism and communism were sometimes seamlessly adopted and adapted to some African communities.
Most importantly, such cultural practices provided the scaffolding needed to mould a respectful, selfless and hospitable society.
Whenever you forgot those values, it might have been on a chicken bus where you would have failed to give up your seat for a doddering elder or a pregnant woman, you would always be reminded by a poking jolt from a walking stick wielded by a concerned and stern elder.
And it is obviously these values that bred our humanity, our African humanity.
When duty called, it moved legions of young man to selflessly and sacredly lay their lives to upend the racist, dehumanising white colonial Rhodesian government.
And they did this at no cost; actually it is them who decided to pay the ultimate price, which was paid in blood.
This deeply selfless spirit is still alive in rural areas as it is in church. You find it in neighbours helping their fellow villagers till the land, at no charge; you find it in fellow villagers volunteering to clear their neighbours’ field, again for no charge; and you find it in villagers looking after each other’s cattle. It is so natural.
Heart of stone
But city values have killed all of this. It is now about money, money and more money.
The trappings of city life tell us that individual competences spell success, and competing rather than cooperating and complementing makes a difference.
Therefore, selflessness has mutated to selfishness, while communality has now given way to toxic self-fulfilling pursuits.
It is thoroughly and stoically capitalistic.
Nowhere is this fact more starkly shown as in the current doctor’s strike.
It has been ongoing for 96 days now.
People are dying, but most painfully, most are having to go through the thoroughly traumatic experience of watching their loved ones wither away.
You would never appreciate this unless it hits closer to home, and you would also not wish this even on your worst enemy.
It is literally a matter of life and death.
The gravity of it recently took Bishops like Lazarus to engage the President to find a solution to the health crisis.
This act cannot and should not be taken lightly. However, doctors continue to intractably dig in.
Bishop Lazi believes that while doctors do have legitimate grievances and a right to a living wage, they need to continue reasonably engaging.
Government has tried to bend over backwards and the private sector has tried to give a helping hand, but this has not helped.
For someone who survives on stipends, Bishop Lazi would think that a $5 000 pay, plus the 100 percent pay hike offered by Government, including accommodation and transport perks, would definitely count for something.
Well, perhaps this is what 1 Timothy 4:1-2 tells us: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”
We must not allow our conscience to die.
Life is precious than silver and gold.
Man has to come first.
South African anti-apartheid icon, Steve Biko — who once studied medicine at the University of Natal and was equally known for his penetrative consciousness and ideology — rightfully observed that individualism is alien to Africaness.
He said: We regard our living together not as an unfortunate mishap warranting endless competition among us, but as a deliberate act of God to make us a community of brothers and sisters jointly involved in the quest of a composite answer to varied problems of life.
“Hence, in all we do, we always place man first and hence all our action is usually joint community-oriented action rather than individualism.”
Therefore, it was not surprising that Biko’s timeless creed was, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (A person is a person by means of other people).
In this moment of madness, let us have a heart of flesh, not stone.
Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Let us stop this nonsense!