The Sunday Mail
Zimbabwe should be wary of raising a generation of violent citizens, people who think they can use force to show off their power and people who think they can have their own way by terrorising others.
This is where school bullying will end, a most unpleasant society where might is right, with all the nastiness that it entails, rather than the sort of society almost all of us would prefer, where we can all get on with our lives, build our businesses and careers using our own talents and skills, rely on the police and courts to keep the peace, and ensure that the vulnerable are protected and can join in the prosperity, and take advantage of the opportunities that continually open up.
At first sight, President Mnangagwa’s remarks at an economic meeting – the inaugural ED Mnangagwa Business Summit, when he spoke briefly on the menace of bullying in our schools, and for that matter outside our schools – might seem to be a sidetrack. But that is to miss the point.
Wherever Zimbabweans gather and work, they need to be thinking of how they want their country and their community to develop, the sort of people they want to work with, and the sort of behaviour they want to exhibit themselves and want others to show to them.
The President was also very practical. A lot of those raising the issue of bullying want more action from schools, more action from police and more action from society to recognise and stop this menace. All that is important, but President Mnangagwa went to the core of the problem, that if there were no bullies, there would be no bullying.
He sees the main people involved in stopping bullying being parents, who, as they raise their children to be decent citizens, also raise them to respect others and not throw their weight around as bullies and use violence to show others how important they are. Sometimes we need to remember that the President is also a parent, and a grandparent, and for most of the childhood of his children, he was a Cabinet Minister and a central member of the Government. Yet by all accounts, he was also a very active parent, ensuring that his children never took advantage of their dad’s position but did take advantage of their education and did know that there were right and wrong ways to behave.
The result was that, after raising, educating and guiding his children, the President had that immense satisfaction of seeing them move into the world and all earning a living doing something they really want to do, and the range of their occupations is very wide since he obviously recommended that they do something they were both good at and enjoyed, rather than trying to force them into some sort of straightjacket.
In later years, he became an active grandfather, being that background figure as his own children basically pass on the same ideas and principles they learned from their father. The group of his descendants is large enough to show that he must be, and has been, an effective parent and the lack of headlines, in a society keen to display the weaknesses of families of the powerful, is, in many ways, another mark of his achievement.
So, it is possible. Parents do a lot as they raise their families. They teach them how to cross roads, they teach them that they must go to school, and help with the homework, they feed, house and clothe them, and they, we hope, provide the moral example and the moral and practical teaching of how to lead a decent life. So, as children, we get told we do not steal, we do not cheat, we treat others with respect, we understand that boys and girls are equal, and generally learn about our culture and our society.
At the same time, we need to learn that we get ahead in this world through what we learn, what we do and how we do it. And this sort of positive approach is needed, rather than just a ban on wrong activity. We need to show children, and adults for that matter, that building something, creating something, living decently and achieving your dreams honestly are far more satisfying than bashing people over the head.
Like almost all Zimbabweans of his generation, the President grew up in a society where there was institutional bullying, where colonialists could, and many did, demand subservience. And since racialism is not natural, but has to be learned, we know precisely what sort of society is created when bullying of perceived outsiders is not just permitted but taught by word and example. It is hideous. There were settler families who raised children differently, but they were a minority of a minority.
Of course, while families have to take the lead in ending bullying by not raising bullies, they do need backing, and this is where schools and others who raise and protect children need to be involved. So, children also need to know and understand that while bullying degrades the bullies, not those who are bullied, there is action they can take when they see bullying and where they might be victims.
That action is not retaliation or jungle law, but using the proper systems. So, yes, we need active and responsive heads, we need respectable teachers, who can take action, and this needs to involve parents of both the bullies and the bullied. But in the end, this external action should be there to support the families, and to back them in their efforts to raise decent citizens who can create and build the society we all should want.
Schools and society in general cannot do this alone. Where the main and initial effort is needed, as the President noted, was in the home with active parents who love and care for their children and want to see them grow up to be a credit to themselves, their families, their communities and their schools. Then we win.