Home » Human Rights » Of Miniskirts, Culture and Constitutional Rights [opinion]

In spite of how one may feel towards how the lady assaulted by the touts was dressed, it is necessary for all Zimbabweans to condemn such oppression and persecution.

“Language carries culture and culture carries … the entire body of values by which we perceive ourselves and our place in the world.” These are the words of Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

A cultural debate has arisen in the wake of the recent stripping of a lady by kombi touts.

Her offence? Wearing what they deemed to be an inappropriately short skirt.

The video of the incident went viral on social media and has since received mixed reaction from the public.

Regardless of the reasons the touts and their aocates may put forward, their actions were illegal and a gross violation of the woman’s rights and dignity.

The argument that those in favour of this level of abuse raise is that her dressing was indecent and goes against the moral fibre and cultural practices of Zimbabwe.

In short, it is unZimbabwean to wear such revealing clothing.

At this juncture let me state how illogical I find it to further undress a person who you accuse of indecent exposure.

Would the solution not be to cover her up not strip her down?

But let me not digress. The dispute here is culture and what constitutes Zimbabwean culture.

Certainly not the conservative Western style clothing revered by the transport facilitators in our nation’s capital right? Another pertinent question to pose is who exactly are the custodians of our culture?

Ngugi propounds that language carries culture. Therefore, working with this premise, it is within language that we are to find Zimbabwean cul- ture.

A relatively simple deed if our Constitution had not enshrined Zimbabwe with 16 official languages.

If I am permitted to humour you dear readers and take all 16 languages found in Article 6 of our supreme law, then Zimbabwean culture would be an amalgamation of all of these. I highly doubt even the most learned of our citizens is well versed in all 16 of these and can thus speak unequivocally for our nation’s culture.

Forgetting the politically correct idealism of the Constitution, let us strip away the Chewa, Chibarwe, Koisan, Nambya, Shangani, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa and remain with English, Shona (Kalanga and Ndau included here) and Ndebele.

Following in line with Ngugi-losophy, Zimbabwean culture should thus form from an embodiment of these three languages. A difficult feat as all three languages contain within them different cultural elements that may not necessary coincide with the next. It might be more prudent to assess the different cultures and search for common themes and values that all Zimbabweans can relate to.

What we must all accept is that culture is a dynamic force, what was culturally acceptable in pre-colonial times might no longer be practised today.

Even certain traditions such as lobola have adapted to modern times and have taken a rather lucrative appeal.

Though that is a discussion for another time. The point being made is that nothing remains the same and we must adapt to cultural changes.

The Shona language itself has gone through changes in the last century.

What is “common” Shona today is a result of work done by Prof. C.M. Doke who standardised Shona orthography in 1931 to what became known as Union Shona.

This standardisation was heavily influenced by Christian missionaries in Rhodesia at the time who would then translate the Bible into this Union Shona.

The need for standardisation drew from the fact that Shona contains five different dialects, Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika, Ndau and Korekore and thus the missionaries had difficulties in compiling one translation for the bible. Doke’s Shona orthography was drawn from two of the five dialects, Zezuru and Karanga.

The politics of language made it such that when Rev Louw later translated the Bible into this new Union Shona it was done on the basis of Christian values neglecting the cultural implications of certain words.

Other words also took on a different meaning with varied cultural implications. As Lovemore Togarasei points out, translating the word “banqueting” to the Shona “bira” had the effect of equating the cultural practice of a bira to a sin.

“To control a people’s culture is to control their tools of self-definition in relationship to others.” More words and wisdom from our favourite Kenyan author Ngugi. It is important for Zimbabweans to control our culture and define our principles and values according to what we believe and not what is imposed on us.

What is important for us to realise is that culture is not only about the practices but should be more about the principles. As a nation we need to identify which principles we can collectively subscribe to and incorporate these values into our daily lives. It should thus be the duty of every citizen in their personal capacity to be a custodian of the principles and values of Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a utopia and we are all different. A plethora of influences contribute to cultural changes every day. What is needed in Zimbabwe is for us to be tolerant of the beliefs and practices of all members of our country as our Constitution instructs us to.

US former President John F. Kennedy once said “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others. ”

In spite of how one may feel towards how the lady assaulted by the touts was dressed, it is necessary for all Zimbabweans to condemn such oppression and persecution.

The core principle that we need as a nation is respect. Regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, age or political affiliation, we must respect each other and our beliefs. A national culture based on respect is the pre-eminent way for us to build a harmonious and progressive state.

Source : The Herald