11 August 2012

Zimbabwe: Is Quantity Measure of Success?


Culture is interesting and is also critical because it provides a basis for meaningful engagement of people. It is important to understand culture so as to come up with appropriate strategies for transforming society socially, economically or spiritually.

So many brilliant plans have failed to bring about desired change in society because they ignore the culture of the people.

Culture provides for priority understanding, lenses of perception, standards of evaluation and image of self in relation to others.

Two weeks ago in one of my articles I asked the question "Do numbers matter in Africa?" In that article I considered various scenarios that showed that the perception of traditional Africa is that numbers do not really matter.

Africa is about community and therefore people can never be too many in traditional Africa. This is why in our context it is not uncommon to get an invitation to a meal - "gezai tidye" - even if the portion is just enough for one person.

Also if that offer does not come people label you stingy, "anonyima chaizvo", they would say.

I think the word "kuwandisa" (too many) in reference to people has no place in traditional Africa. The elders even coined an adage "kuwanda huuya kwakarambwa nemuroyi", loosely translated to mean many is good and is only rejected by a witch.

I have observed that Indians also respect numbers. They are some similarities between our cultures as three generations can live in the same house, grandparents, parents and children.

There is a joke that is often told of an Indian man who was stopped at a road block and asked to pay a fine for overload. The man argued that the car was not overloaded because everyone in that car was family - all Patels. True isn't it in our cultures?

This perception about numbers is translated into a standard used to evaluate success. Often the success of an event is judged by the numbers that attend. Here I am not talking about a seminar or similar event that is attached to the dollar. I am referring to these ordinary social events which bring people together.

It appears as if quality is subsumed in the quantity. Funerals and weddings seem to provide a test of how much the person was loved by many. It is not important whether these people add value or not, their presence tells a story of the dearly departed.

This is why people, especially those in the rural areas, stretch themselves to attend every funeral. Apart from the spirit of being there for others they do it so that people will respond accordingly when it befalls them.

I have heard people in the village recounting stories of how they travel long distances on foot even at night so others may reciprocate.

Surely if you fail to show up they will repay that with unkindness regardless of circumstances such as physical limitations -- they will also not show up. God foreknew, that is why he commanded people never to tire of doing good and also to repay evil with good.

Numbers and size in certain instances seem to determine success. I think this is why we have these big cars on our roads. There appears to be a belief that the bigger the better because things such as these make a statement about the owner. People pride themselves on the size of the farm. They talk of so many hectares of land as if it says something about the owner or the quality of work being done there.

The story does not end there, we add house to house, and we want big offices with big desks because that says how powerful we are in the organisation. The size of a person, especially a woman, also seems to determine the nature of the quality of life she has. There is a general belief that being big and well rounded shows that a woman is being looked after very well by the husband.

I have heard people say "uri kuchengetwa." They even say "akasimba chaizvo mazuva ano agere zvakanaka chaizvo" (She is looking very well these days and is sitting pretty).

Does it always follow? A big body could signal anything good or bad. Quantity, size and numbers make a lasting impression of people thus they are a yardstick for evaluating love, faith, social class, power, quality, success and importance.

While quantity is important it should not be the sole determinant of quality. It is disheartening sometimes to speak to a very small crowd well below expectation. I have seen that if numbers fall below expectations one can sense some uneasiness on the part of the organisers.

There is comfort in numbers. I recall this day sitting in a function that was poorly attended. I kept hoping more people would attend but alas they did not turn up.

As I worried over how the speaker was feeling, it dawned on me that God is not a God of numbers. If he could leave 99 sheep to look for one lost one then I think numbers do not say much.

I think it is time we learn to focus on quality or value more and more.

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