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Cursed by time, imprisoned by lament

09 Feb 2020 at 05:48hrs | Views
Trauma can be really traumatic.

Its after-effects often stubbornly linger like a skunk's stench.

It can also be both unforgiving and haunting.

Bishop Lazi knows full well the colour, smell, tribe and religion of trauma for it came one fateful day in the form of one of his then-younger nephews, who used to be the village's errand boy.

Well, as fate would have it, one day, at dusk, this village mule was sent by the Bishop's grandfather to replenish his cigarette stash after the old-timer had unsuccessfully rummaged his pockets and small hut to assuage his insatiable cravings.

This fairly mundane task meant a more than five-kilometre walk or trot to the shops through a path that was interspersed by thickets, vleis, graveyards and eerily abandoned decrepit houses.

Ordinarily, on any given day this was easy-peasy, but on this particular day, the fact that the second leg of the journey could only be completed at nightfall made it unnervingly creepy.

Back in the day, if there was anything that spooked rural folk the most, it was "spooks" — yes, ghosts!

This fear was often fed by a staple of occasional fireside tales by supposed victims narrating their chance encounters with these dreaded creatures.

The stories were invariably the same: One would be told that when a ghost manifests, it usually starts as a speck before exponentially snowballing into a fiery fireball that would disappear as fast as it appears.

Realising that the young man's nerves had been frayed by the prospect of walking in the dark alone, the old man typically gave him a pep talk, advising him that even the most stubborn of ghosts could be easily shooed away by a mighty tongue-lashing, especially from an innocent and blameless soul.

He took the advice to heart.

The first leg of the journey was hassle-free, but the return wasn't so smooth.

As cruel fate would have it, just after passing through the graveyard, the young lad encountered a posse of "ghosts", which, however, flickered like small airborne cinders.

Somehow, with hairs standing on end and sweaty armpits, he mustered the courage to launch into a frenzied tirade, before taking to his heels.

Propelled by the adrenaline rush, the Bishop's nephew motored through the footpaths at such supersonic speed that he collapsed upon reaching the compound.

That it was eventually discovered that the young man had instead bumped into a colony of fireflies that was always known to the village did not count for much, for he did not walk out at night ever again.

It took a while before the nightmares eventually left him.

Even to this day, he is still nyctophobic (as he abnormally fears the dark).

I think they call it post-traumatic stress disorder.

Centuries-old trauma

Africa is perhaps the most traumatised community that one can find in the world as it has far too often been at the receiving end of egregious greed and bestial savagery.

For 366 years — from 1441 to 1807 — Africans were subjected to the most dehumanising treatment imaginable through the slave trade, where 12 million people were shipped to the Caribbean, Americas and the Middle East to supply labour.

Canadian economist Nathan Nunn, who is also professor of economics at Harvard, estimates that of the 2 million unfortunate souls, 1 089 were actually from Zimbabwe.

However, the extraction of slaves from their communities was thoroughly barbaric and often led to pillage and unconscionable violence.

Although the world celebrated the end of this abominable practice, it actually did not have a bearing on our kinsmen.

Unfortunately, the end of the slave trade heralded the beginning of a new scourge — colonisation — which subsequently stalked the continent for more than 100 years after 1885.

So, Africans have had to deal with the fallout from more than 500 years of trauma.

What is often underestimated, however, is the socio-psychological effects of centuries of subjugation, subordination and subservience.

It essentially normalised the master-servant relationship and inculcated the doctrine of the supremacy of the white man.

There was even a slave bible titled "Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands", which was published in 1807 and used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves.

In this adulterated holy book, which can be found at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, 90 percent of the Old Testament and 50 percent of the New Testament was removed.

All this was meant to ensure that the black man knew his place.

Well, Bishop Lazi believes that all this trauma led to an unacceptable fatalism among Africans, which forces them to accept unpleasant circumstances as part of their destiny.

They ultimately view themselves as lesser beings whose survival depends on the benevolence of ostensibly superior races.

And this robs some amongst us of the agency to change our narrative and shape our destiny.

Of course, they are those who believe that free will is limited and destiny is predestined by God.

Disciples of this philosophy argue that everything in life is already predetermined by the Creator and there is nothing that we can do as human beings to change it.

So all they do is to endlessly lament.

However, Deuteronomy 30:19 shows that indeed human beings can shape their own fate.

It reads: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants."


We urgently need to begin to unlearn the pessimism and cynicism that has become pervasive in our society, especially at a time when we need human agency to improve our lot.

At a time when we face extraordinary odds from climate change-induced drought and onerous sanctions, we also desperately need to free ourselves from the grip of the "Malthusian trap" (named after UK economic Thomas Malthus), which presupposes that we do not have the power and ingenuity to overcome some of life's challenges.

In essence, we do not have to sulk interminably, but we have to be change agents if we are to achieve the prosperous future that we envision for ourselves.

Kenyan celebrity academic Professor Patrick Lumumba told an audience at Ray Phiri's memorial lecture in South Africa in September last year that Africans really had to reclaim their ability to solve their problems.

"In my own view, we cannot as Africans keep on lamenting, because the problem with us Africans also is that we are prisoners of sorrow and lamentation . . . let us not let God into these things that we can do for ourselves," he observed.

"On our part we have allowed the world to subdue us and then we complain to God . . .

"There are certain things that can only be solved by hard work and logic, and yet we think they can be solved by prayer and fasting — that will not happen! So my own views is, we must begin to do things for ourselves. If the land needs to be worked, we must work the land, and we cannot work the land the way Abraham used to work it with ploughs, we have got to mechanise . . ."

We need not continue to stew in poverty, misery and lament.

Notwithstanding the limitations imposed by our painful history, we definitely have it within us to shape our destiny.

Bishop out!

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