A question that has been topical amongst my friends and I, lately, has been whether it is right for people to fear their leaders – as these leaders are supposedly the fathers of the nation.
This vexing question led me to be nostalgic about the relationship I had with my father, till he passed away on 31 August 2000.
What did he teach me about a relationship between a father and a son in the 27 years we were together – and by extension, between a country and its leaders?
My father was a strict disciplinarian and no-nonsense man – maybe being a school teacher played a role – who did not tolerate any unbecoming behaviour from me whatsoever.
However, in all his strict disciplinarian nature, he also encouraged a friendly environment with me and always encouraged me to speak out my mind in all matters and at all times.
He would tell me never to assume anything, as to ass-u-me ‘made an ass out of you and me’, he would say.
As such, if I kept quiet about something and did not open up and say my mind, he would be offended – as he said that a person who did not open up was the most disrespectful.
If I had something that I disproved about anything, including about him, he always encouraged me to speak out.
This led us in having a mutually respectful relationship, whereby I felt so comfortable in openly telling him if I did not like or did not understand anything he would have done.
He would also do the same with me, if I did something he did not approve of.
He also led by example in that when he erred, he was quick to admit his mistakes and would apologise to me.
I also learnt to admit my mistakes and apologise to him.
My father tried by all means to be frank about his own weaknesses both during that time, or in his past – he did not try to portray himself as a perfect person who is a judge of everyone else.
Similarly, this attitude made it easier for me to approach him with my own problems and weaknesses, as I saw in him someone who understood what I was going through.
Such a relationship cultivated much openness between the two of us that inculcated in me a respect for him that I still hold today – 16 years after his passing.
He encouraged debate – one of those memorable family occasions that I miss so much – on any matter, even politics, as he was a staunch ZANU PF supporter (having risen through the branch structures), whilst I was already questioning the dubious ZANU PF policies.
Another lesson I learnt from him was his openness with all decision-making and finances.
As long as I can remember, we had frequent family meetings – some of the minutes which I still have.
In those meetings we discussed anything, there were no restrictions on any topic.
This was also an opportunity to plan the following month’s budget and go through the previous month’s expenditure.
My involvement in my parents’ financial matters arose in a peculiar way.
As an only child, I always demanded money from my parents for this or that.
I never understood during those times when they told me that they did not have any money, so I would be so disappointed as I felt that they did not love me enough.
So when I was at the age of 9 or 10 years, they decided to involve me in the family budget, so that I could understand how much money my parents earned and how much was spent on what.
This meant that during the family meetings – usually held at the beginning of the month – they would show me their payslips and then we calculated how much was used for mortgage, groceries and other household needs (receipts and all were presented), and how much was left, and was in their bank accounts.
I developed a deep understanding of the family workings, but above all – a profound respect for my parents.
The type of father I am also striving to be.
What my experience with my father taught me was how a father of a nation should also relate to his nation.
A father of a nation should encourage openness in all matters of the country – without any limitations or censorship.
Openness does not equate to disrespect, but actually leads to a sense of respect for the father (leader).
The nation should feel free to criticise their leader without any fear whatsoever, as fear is crippling not only to the relationship but also to the whole nation.
How else would the leader know what the nation is feeling if there is no openness?
How else can the leader know what the nation is lacking if there is no openness?
How else would the leader get ideas on solving the nation’s problems if there is no frankness and openness in debating and discussing all issues?
In being a gentleman enough in encouraging divergent views and frankness, the nation develops a respect for the leader in ways immeasurable.
My trusty little dictionary defines ‘respect’ as, ‘admiration felt towards a person or thing that has good qualities or achievements’.
The leader of the nation should also be frank enough to admit mistakes that he would have made, as to err is human, but to apologise is divine.
It takes a real leader to be brave enough to admit one’s mistakes and to apologise to the nation.
There should also be openness on the leader of the nation’s expenditures, as this leads to transparency that will be emulated by all.
It does not make any sense that the budget of the president is made a secret.
Members of a family should never fear their father, as that is the complete opposite of respect.
Why should a nation fear its own leader?
Why should the nation fear that if we are frank we might find ourselves in trouble?
That same trusty dictionary defines ‘fear’ as, an ‘unpleasant sensation caused by nearness of danger or pain’.
Why should a nation have an ‘unpleasant sensation’ towards their own leader?
How does the leader himself feel to know that the nation has an ‘unpleasant sensation’ towards him?
Is that how a leader would want the nation to feel towards him? I would not want to think so.
If the leader of the nation encourages and genuinely accepts frankness in any views – be they regarding their nation, or their leader – those are ‘good qualities’ that lead to ‘admiration’.
My father’s example is my own practical experience, as his encouragement for frankness did not lead to me losing respect for him, but my respect for him grew tremendously.