What might be possible today in Zimbabwe?

by Marianne Knuth on September 1, 2011

Recently, I went to the first TEDx Harare event. I had been asked to speak and said yes. A week before the event I still had no idea what I was going to speak on. Having been out of Zim for four years, and then returning earlier this year to a busy project in Harare, I was for some reason finding it incredibly difficult to return home and be clear as to what I wished to share.

It turned out to be a difficult but also incredibly rich week of remembering my work and the songs of my heart. A week of long walks on the land. The TEDx event was an opportunity to finally land back home, and to reconnect to what is important to me, to what I believe in, and to what stirs my soul.What I ended up speaking of at TEDx was not much different than what I could have spoken four years ago before leaving Zim. Part of me thought that surely something new should have been added to my voice through those years? And yet, its gift was this coming back to ground zero out of which the new can rise in a Zimbabwean context, having been gone for so long. And in speaking I realised the new that is also stirring.

And so the essence that I feel excited to be returning to are some of the key principles that have guided my work during the last one-and-a-half decades:

  • That  collectively, we have what we need (to solve our challenges, to feed ourselves, to care for our children, etc.), and that each of us has valuable gifts to bring to our community.
  • That we need each other — in the words of our learning network, the Berkana Exchange: Whatever the problem, community is the answer.
  • That in order to be able to work together, and to help each other bring the best of who we are to the table, we need to find different ways of working than the ones dominating most of our organisations and institutions today. We need to come back to ways of working that honour each voice, that unleash our creativity and that support our ability to co-create.

I was speaking this from a very Zimbabwean place, using very rural examples of community abundance and creativity, and yet, I think that additionally what has been our experience is that the linkages across the earth are a key part of what has made this expression of wealth and creativity possible. Learning with others, some of whom live and work in very similar situations to ourselves, and others who live in radically different ones, is an enormous part of our journey of learning about healthy and vibrant community.

The TEDx event brought me in touch with many wonderful, passionate and bright Zimbabweans, several of them recently returned, others who have never left. And yet there are hardly any public spaces for us to connect. Thus emerges for me a seed of imagining what might be possible if we were to connect the urban and the rural, those at home and those in the diaspora in  several conversations and explorations of possibility. Before, my work was to touch into rural Zimbabwe, and to link it to the wider world. Now, the linkages are asking to grow, to become also about enabling local relations, including with those who long for home but are out there in the wider world. I am not sure how, but look forward to it. The story of Colombus (From Hero to Host) excites me in this. What might be possible, simply from sharing and further learning new ways of working together, and out of that beginning to build a common platform of intent for Harare, or Zimbabwe?

The other piece that I am sitting with from the TEDx day is how we might be building our future on a weak foundation. I was the only one who spoke to the rural side of our country. The examples during the day gave me a sense of the potential as we learn our way into using new technology, of the examples of the brilliance of Zimbabwean intellectuals, and the scientific developments that we could make a reality if we put our minds to it. And yet, our rural origins are where we come from, and surely our path of development should include and build on this?

I am not quite sure how to bridge what is happening out of two quite distinct trajectories of development. But I know that I am in a rich field of learning, walking alongside pioneering leaders who are asking similar questions, and discovering valuable insights along the way.