Speech by Briggs Bomba, Convener, Citizens’ Manifesto
On the Occasion of the Third National Citizens’ Convention; 4 – 6 November 2020
Dear comrades and friends; fellow citizens; and all those joining us in person and in spirit for this august occasion.
I welcome you to this 3rd National Citizens’ Convention organized under the banner of the Citizens’ Manifesto and running under the theme:
“None but Ourselves: Reimagining the future we want after Covid-19”
The convention is co-convened by more than 20 progressive civic organizations and community collectives as a combination of virtual and limited number physical gatherings at more than 25 locations across the country – including Lupane, Gwanda, Bulawayo, Kwekwe, Chiredzi, Bindura, Arcturus, Chimanimani, Mutare, Harare and so forth.
We appreciate the solidarity messages we have received from The Elders through their Chairperson Her Excellency Madam Mary Robinson, Advocacy Network for Africa, Southern Africa Liaison Office, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and our Ecumenical Leaders through Rev Cele. And many others nationally and internationally as showcased on the program.
To put our conversation into perspective, I would like to speak today about time. Historical time. For I believe that to fulfil the task of leadership, we must know what time is it? This means being able to discern where we are on the big arc of our history and define the attendent most pertinent national questions of the time; and understanding the demands of the time.
I would like to suggest that we are at that stage in the life of our nation where we are witnessing the coming to an end of one big cycle of our history and we stand on the threshold of the next big cycle. This terminating big cycle was defined by the liberation struggle generation and the liberation struggle agenda. It had its deserving heroes. Those who correctly identified addressing the colonial question as the priority of the time and stepped up to the plate in resisting colonial injustice. Out of the obscurity of colonial repression emerged celebrated heroic names, communities and narratives that have dominated our political landscape for the past 50 to 100 years. Names like Nehanda, Kaguvi, Chairman Chitepo, Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, Ndabaningi Sithole, General Tongo, Dumiso Dabengwa and many more to mention.
As this big cycle concludes and the liberation struggle generation exits the stage, we find ourselves on the threshold of an unprecedented grand generational transition in our modern history as a nation, where we are set for not only a change of guard but also a definitive transition to a new agenda for the next era in our history. Indeed, the significance of today’s social struggles is that they will define the substance and direction of this grand transition. New heroes, new names and new celebrated communities and new narratives that will shape the trajectory of our country for the next 50 – 100 years are being written in the throes of today’s struggles. These will emerge from the ranks of those who correctly read the time and correctly define the priority national questions and indeed step up to the plate to play an active role in the continued quest for a better Zimbabwe for all.
Therefore, our conversation on “Reimagining the future we want”, and our declaration that its none but ourselves could not be coming at a more-timely moment, nor with a weightier mandate from history. Not every generation is privileged with an opportunity to bend the arc of history this way. It’s a mandate we must execute putting Citizens, Country and Constitution first.
With the foregoing, let me therefore make some suggestions on what I believe are some of the compelling demands of the time:
First, the time requires a new convergence of progressive social forces and a new consensus on the future we want. Our conversation over the next 3 days involves some of the most relevant social forces of the day – from business, organized labour, public sector workers, informal economy, rural community collectives, youths and students, artists and the democratic civil society. Our conversations and efforts through this process, should be a tributary into this new convergence of critical constituencies and the issues at the core of our respective social struggles. It is from that convergence that we must build a new consensus on the future we want and craft the substantive agenda of the grand transition upon us.
Secondly, the time demands that we re-think our approach to the big questions of the day. Our convention program suggests 3 big questions, namely:
- Participatory Democracy and Constitutionalism – Where we are asking how do we build real democracy that creates room for everyone, everyday in everything that matters in our governance. How do we build genuine rule “by the people.”
- Inclusive and Sustainable Economy. Where we are asking how do we get our national wealth to serve our communities and preserve our natural environment. And we have to ask questions about ownership and equitable distribution of our national wealth.
- Thirdly, Social Cohesion. Where we are asking questions about how do we genuinely heal our social fabric and develop a new social contract that serves as an anchor for peaceful co-existance and national unity, accommodating our full diversity.
We have expert panels and participatory discussions to explore all these questions in greater detail.
We are convinced that the answer to these questions lies with the people, at their most local level – that is community. Indeed, we have a mantra that says, “whatever the question, community is the answer”. This is why the question of reweaving the social fabric of our communities is fundamental. The future we want must be built on the foundation of strong community. And community is built by reciprocal relationships of solidarity.
Indeed, our proposition is that the answer to the foremost questions of our grand transition is bottom up. Is that not the only sensible way to build?
Thirdly, the time demands an inter-generational conversation. There is an undeniable generational disconnect in our politics that we need to address. The unfortunate suspicion with which the old generation holds the young needs to be addressed. Equally, the affected disdain with which the young hold the old generation needs to be addressed. This intergenerational conversation is more important now than ever as we go through a historic change of guard. The old generation must be assured that we do not seek to wipe their chapter from the book of our history. No, our quest is securing the legacy of all noble contributions to our historical progression as a people; and of-course take responsibility for the next chapter.
As the post-independence generation, our calls for democracy and basic rights and freedoms are often misunderstood. And we have faced all sorts of delegitimization and even criminalization. To the extent that I can speak on behalf of this generation, I would like to affirm the legitimacy of our voice. Ours is nothing less than as a solemn duty to those who lost life and limb in the liberation and democratic struggles of our people, in our relentless pursuit of the of a better Zimbabwe for all.
We show up like this because we are patriots, driven by love for country and an abiding conviction that a better Zimbabwe for all is possible. Look carefully, you will find us more patriotic, more anti-imperialist, more revolutionary and more committed to the ideals of a better Zimbabwe for all than the superficial assessments would suggest. How else could we have turned out – our political upbringing was in the school of Garvey, Du Bois, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Sellasie, Franz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral, Steve Biko, Thomas Sankara, Bob Marley and many others. We proudly associate with their legacy and pan African ideals.
Let us engage with no prejudice and heal the rift in our generational politics and bequethe a better future to future generations.
Fourthly the time demands action. Consistent informed action towards our shared dream of a better Zimbabwe for all. Someone said theory without action is sterile and action without theory is blind. We do not convene to enjoy well-constructed discourse. No, we convene so that we can clarify ideas and so that we can act with clarity. Thus, the time demands of us that we step up to the plate and exercise our agency, in our communities, wherever we can, conscious of the “fierce urgency of now”.
In conclusion, I would like to say check the time. We are at a truly historical juncture. The generational mandate cannot be weightier. Let’s summon all the positivity in our history, and stand firm on the solid foundation of who we are collectively as a people and the best traditions of our communities and propose contextual solutions to the big questions before us.
The time is now. Our history is looking for new heroes.
I wish us all fruitful deliberations.
Thank you, #NoneButOurselves