WRITERS, journalists, singers and poets from all walks of life and different persuasions are desperately seeking relevance in the descriptive narrative of Cyclone Idai. This is understood. Their passions, for good or bad emanate from the tragic aftermath of a natural disaster, the worst to hit Southern Africa.
All descriptions in the narratives, in the form of news reports and comments, songs, poems and prayers around the furious cyclone cannot avoid public scrutiny and analysis. Readers and listeners are not foolish. They cannot be taken for granted. They can intelligently and accurately scrutinise every word, every phrase and clause, perhaps every stanza and chorus, syntax and semantics, and get to the bottom of every detail of meaning. They can easily tell the difference between those who are deep-hearted and serious and those who are fake actors and actresses, typical stage dramatists bent on making money and names through the tragedy of the people of Chimanimani and Chipinge.
Even writers or reporters who claim to be divinely objective, they too find it difficult to escape the sickness of subjectivity. They all unwittingly fall into the same communication trap of literary naivety; the tragedy of verbal disability that exposes both cheap and debilitating reporting which is characteristic of all poverty of journalistic reasoning.
Whatever a writer, journalist, news reporter, singer-song writer and poet one may be, and whatever biases they might have or not have, one thing is clear. Schools and education in the affected areas need more than news coverage and personal attitudes influenced by personal size, status and class in society.
School going survivors of the inimical Cyclone Idai, indeed adult community survivors though this thought provoking writing is at the moment focused on school going survivors, need Zimbabweans who rise above political and church affiliations, colour, creed, belief, custom and tradition.
Those who perished in the tragic tropical cyclone included male and female, all ages, all political parties and church members; all classes of people – the rich and the poor – those who knew God and those who did not; married and unmarried; good and bad.
The cyclonic demon did not select its victims. Like a marauding vengeful folk-tale mermaid, the tropical cyclone swept away everybody and everything on its way into the rivers and the ocean.
Political parties need to close ranks and for one moment, operate from one and same natural constitution and manifesto strengthened by a convergence of ideas, resources, common wisdom and attitude. The spirit of the historic war of liberation is badly needed here. When the freedom fighters rose and fell with the wave of armed struggle, they did and triumphed with one conceited aim of freeing everyone – all men and women, young and old, but most of all and perhaps most ironically, freeing even the stone-hearted Rhodesian settlers and colonialists whose political system they were fighting to dismantle once and for all.
Not one guerrilla was fighting to free his little home area or village, his own friends, relatives and family. The war sought to bring political honour and dignity to everyone… absolutely every one without exception.
It is that spirit that is needed now, not grandstanding punctuated by media photos and politically romantic talk that benefits the talkers or writers, singers or poets and not the victims! Not attention-seeking intended to differentiate the Saviour-character from the miserable and poor, the saints from the sinners and the angels from the humans!
The school going survivors lost parents, siblings and guardians. They lost the schools, including boarding schools. They lost books and uniforms. Some schools lost teachers. The world at once turned topsy-turvy.
Shakespeare would say, “(their) life is (now) but a walking shadow…a poor player that frets and struts upon stage and heard no more…a tale told by an idiot…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!” They care about now, not tomorrow or the day after.
Education authorities and officials have been given permission from government to close 33 primary schools and 10 secondary schools. Tough decision to make, but not only tough! It is the only one! An inevitable reaction! People talk about closing the schools as if this is honourably and calculatedly done. A conclusion and decision reached by choice! Interesting, is it not? The schools will open two weeks earlier next term to make up for lost time. And everything will be fine! It will not be fine.
There is need for every authority and official in the education sector to see this cyclone and its aftermath for what it is, an Armageddon-size tragedy; and stop to see it like a children’s game that has been disrupted by a whirlwind.
When schools open two weeks late, may be even a month late, two months or 10 months later, where will the students…the pupils be coming from? Who will pay their fees? Who will buy them uniforms? After every school day, what do they go back ‘home’ to eat? Even if they get all the material needs from well wishers, what psychologist or educational theorist knows what kind of education can go on after such a traumatic experience?
Are the teachers trained in any special way to teach such children? Will the teachers themselves be back to their ‘senses’ and free from the post-cyclone stress or trauma? With the enthusiasm we all know the education supervisors and inspectors to have, how much good and not harm will they be to the teachers? Have they too been trained to know how to operate in an education environment existing in a situation worse than a war ravaged community or refugee-camp scenario?
The education officials in this area or whose area of supervision was devastated by Cyclone Idai need to change their mind-sets, language and attitudes. The teachers need to understand the hearts, the minds and the conscience of the pupils they will be teaching post-Cyclone Idai. The school inspectors and those above them all need to change their style of supervision and particularly the language and the attitude. It is not business as usual. It will never be business as usual, at least for the foreseeable future.
The rhetoric that is already filtering from certain quarters of this critically important facet of national development, education, post-Chimanimani and Chipinge disaster, clearly suggests worried and concerned people but as expected some of them have no idea of the task ahead to bring education back to some level of normalcy. The task is near insurmountable. It is not a Ministry of Education task alone and for a long time will cease to be.
The lessons Zimbabwe must learn from the worst storm to hit Southern Africa are enormous and many. Some problems are so enormous they need nothing less than genuine unity of purpose or good will that singularises effort. The Chimanimani-Chipinge cyclone disaster is one such problem.
I may as well add, and in the same context of the survivors of Cyclone Idai, “When people have nothing left to themselves, they need no philosophising, no politicking, no talking, no prayers. They simply need food, clothes and shelter to make it through one day at a time. And we must think of them, not ourselves, not our glories and good names!” These desperate victims of Cyclone Idai will take and accept any help from anybody black, white, green, yellow, including even their enemies. So let them.
The good thing is that there is already evidence on the wall that Government and its people are seriously on the ground thinking about what must be done immediately, in the medium term and long term.
Armchair critics, political philosophers and analysts who ooze words and supply lots of oral wisdom but did not part with a handkerchief to give to the victims! People whose eyes see only politics even where it is dangerous or least needed. The foolish neighbour who will verbally vandalise another neighbour’s dog to win favours from the closest neighbour who loves no dogs and owns no dog! The hypocritical favour-seeking, attention-seeking nincompoop who cries louder than the bereaved! Opportunists are not made; they are born. Like human shadows they will always be around.
I have no doubt in my mind that President Mnangagwa will listen to every little sense, every little idea and suggestion from every patriotic Zimbabwean who believes we are one nation, one family and one people.
He has already demonstrated that by the way he has unleashed operational personnel and equipment and set up task forces to plan easing the pain of the people of Chimanimani and Chipinge, particularly school going children. What he needs more now is support and joining hands with, and less noisy and critical mischief.