During the 2007 hyperinflation period in Zimbabwe, a leader from the war of national liberation asked me where I thought they had gone wrong.   My response was: "I think the comrades lost the compass”.  As these same comrades go about finding the compass, the Church could help by giving them “a moral compass” to complement “the economic recovery compass” the country so desperately needs.

At a time of significant shifts in Zimbabwe’s politics, citizens are expecting that these will translate into changes in economic conditions resulting in increased prosperity for all.  However, like the political shifts, economic transformation will require a changed Leadership at various levels; and it is in this transition of both political and economic Leadership that the Church can find ways to reposition itself in the wider society.  It is also about Commitment to its Values of Service.

Leadership as a function of leader, followership, and environment

By Leadership with a capital L, I mean utungamiri rather than mutungamiri (leader); which is the product of leaders working together with their followership after understanding the prevailing environment.  That is one element from where the Church could draw its strength.  Leadership in this context is about the constant interaction between leaders and followers, acting on the environment, and producing a new reality: something aptly demonstrated in Zimbabwe during the month of November 2017.  Leadership is not just about leaders, it is about leaders and followers acting as a team.

Commitment to the Values of Service

The second is around the question of values – in particular the one about Service.  Here, Churches have an advantage over many other players in what we might call a New Political-Economic Ecosystem – the constantly changing environment where all players collaboratively evaluate their roles, positions, resources, actions, goals, and outcomes; and thus allow them to adjust to change.

The Service Value: here I use a lesson in Change Leadership I got reminded about by the late Herbert Sylvester Ushewokunze back in the 1980s as Zimbabwe tried to come to terms with the transition from a colonial to a post-colonial health service.  The post-1980 generation (“the born frees”) have reconnected with the liberation generation to produce a 2017 mood with some similarities with that of 1980; and with it new opportunities to interrogate the 1980s experiences in terms of what the country can learn and apply today.

In my reflections on that period, I put together what I called Ushe’s Mission in Zimbabwe and what Lessons on Change Leadership I learnt from these early years of Zimbabwe’s post-independence reconstruction.  I pulled out seven themes on change leadership[2] (1. Learn from history; 2. Forgive, but never forget; 3. Act on facts; 4. Be an internationalist; 5. Fight for equity; 6. Give every comrade a job; 7. Push for visible change); but on the day dealt with Theme 1: Learn From History – founded on the idea that our past achievements are a good guide on turning what we considered “impossible” yesterday into the “possible” today and tomorrow.

Ushe’s mission sought to learn from history, and this allowed him to link his actions in the Zimbabwe of 1980 with developments that had shaped the history of Zimbabwe for several hundred years.  Ushe had no doubt that history had a role in post-colonial reconstruction.  This need to learn from history enabled him to construct a critical argument as to why change in Zimbabwe was necessary.  He was quick to identify negative and positive elements from the history of Zimbabwe, and to link the analysis with a program of working for change in the health sector and wider society.

The generation of 2017 has much history to learn from even over the last four decades: including the euphoria of independence in 1980, Gukurahundi in 1982-84, Unity Accord in 1986, ESAP in 1991-96, Black Friday of 1998, the Farm Invasions of 2000, Murambatswina in 2005, Hyperinflaction during 2007- 08, and GNU of 2009-13 among others.  While the past cannot be changed, its lessons can certainly be critical in shaping the future.

In Ushe’s Mission in Zimbabwe, an important part of Learning From History revolved around how medicine had evolved and changed during the interaction between Christian Missionaries, Colonial Administrators, and the Natives.  This African Colonial History produced some important lessons:-

1.     That it is possible to nourish the spiritual without neglecting the physical.

2.     That the Church can be a bridge between old and new values, especially socio-cultural, but also extending to the political-economic.

3.     That providing care to the vulnerable is a critical part of nurturing the spiritual-physical nexus.

4.     That the Church does often find itself in conflict with the State, especially due to some of the unintended consequences of its actions (e.g. teaching “natives” to read in order to increase access to Biblical teachings, only to see the reading skills applied to politics followed and an immediate challenge to the State’s authority: what colonial administrators accused the missionaries of doing  -  “you sharpened the knife on both sides, and now it cuts us”.

5.     That in the provision of services, sometimes the Church finds its goals converging with those of commerce and the state – and often to the benefit of those in need of such services and care.

6.     That knowledge gained from one field of work (like health) can be successfully employed in other areas (for example education benefiting through school health interventions; and mental health benefiting from spiritual contributions resulting from the work of churches).

7.     That the Church is not always able to resist pressure from the State when Church work is considered to be undermining prevailing lay policies (e.g. application of apartheid rules and regulations in schools and churches in direct contravention of the Christian view of human beings).

There few examples of what it means to Learn from History to to demonstrate the important role the Church plays in the development of societal values over and above spiritual needs of its congregants.

Turning to the challenge at hand, what does Leadership and Learning From the Past mean for Churches when it comes to the Values of Service? It is my proposition to you that:-

1.     It is important to first get the best reading of the environment (be it political, economic, socio-cultural, technological, legal, and ecological).  This is the field where leaders and their followers engage each other in order to change both their spiritual and materials conditions.

2.     It is critical to recognize that many followers in one context could be leaders in other contexts.  A congregant in a Church looks up to Church leaders, but the same congregant is often a leader of people in Government or in the private sector (and vice versa – a junior official in their place of work could be a leader in the Church).  These changing leadership roles provide the Church with great opportunities to influence the direction a country and society can take.  This Leadership role played by the Church opens a range of opportunities for it to “do good” with continuity in a way not possible in the constantly changing political arena.

3.     Community presence of the Church also gives it opportunities to serve, influence, and support a society’s development path in both spiritual and physical dimensions.

4.     When it comes to providing support to the vulnerable and the underserved, the Church is often a more cost-effective mechanism than governments when it comes to the delivery of education, health, water and sanitation, distribution of agricultural inputs and food, spreading knowledge in civic responsibilities and engagement, as well as looking after the aged, disabled, orphaned, widowed, and others. While such collaboration between Church and State has faced some constraints in the past, there is also an opportunity going forward; for the Church to engage government in using the limited resources available to society so that more beneficiaries can be reached using the social-spiritual and physical infrastructure available to the Church.

These and many other issues are areas where the Zimbabwe youth is expecting action because a State-Church collaboration using lessons from the last 100 years of service to the people of Zimbabwe would not only provide employment opportunities to the unemployed youth, but the delivery mechanisms could be structured in such a way that they re-enforce moral uprightness, caring for the less fortunate, greater accountability and transparency in delivery; while fostering a stronger foundation for the nation to face an increasingly uncertain world of dwindling resources and growing conflicts.  Were the Church to stretch out its hand in this collaborative direction, would it get reciprocation from government?

Many of these issues cannot be addressed without an inclusive dialogue, and that is the challenge the Church and State face today going forward.

I have scratched the surface in exploring the Leadership–Learn from the Past nexus, and although it cannot successfully operate in isolation, it opens the door to a road where complementary lessons in the reconstruction of society can be applied; and consolidate the Values of Service.

The saying that paths are made by walking requires one to take the first step, however long the journey might be.  In the rethinking of how the Church can remain relevant in what is promising to be a different Zimbabwe, many footsteps have been taken by those who came before in the last 100 years.  It is now important to learn from the work of these predecessors and gather the courage needed for the Church and government to take another step towards each other in order to build a Zimbabwean society that is socially, politically, and economically inclusive.


[1] Based on a talk on “What the Church could do in the new environment” at a Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) meeting on 23 November 2017 at Belvedere ZESA Training Centre

[2] Ushes Mission in Zimbabwe: Lessons on Change Leadership, N.M. Lenneiye (2015), SAPES Books, Harare, Zimbabwe.