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Why Zimbabwe should defend, entrench constitutional patriotism rather than support Patriotic Bill




THE standard dictionary definition of patriotism is simply “love for one’s country”.

However, in a philosophical book-length study of patriotism, Stephen Nathason defines patriotism as encompassing: special affection for one’s own country; a sense of personal identification with the country; a special concern for well-being of the country and willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good.

On 2 March 2021, the Zanu PF Member of Parliament for Mberengwa South, Alum Mpofu, tabled a motion on the adoption of Patriotic Bill. The motion was subsequently seconded by another Zanu PF MP, Pupurai Togarepi (pictured) and MDC-T MP David Tekeshe. Suffice it to say that this motion has sent serious shockwaves among Zimbabweans and has subsequently ignited a series of debates on the rationale behind the Patriotic Bill.

Nonetheless, in socio-economic, cultural, political and humanitarian dynamics and in the body politic of any nation, patriotism is a very intricate concept and phenomenon. Thus, it is not a one-size-fits-all concept; it encompases various strands of patriotism such as constitutional patriotism, critical patriotism/constructive patriotism and blind patriotism.

Therefore, this opinion piece will situate the controversial Patriotic Bill within the frameworks of the above-mentioned strands of patriotism. I will argue that Zimbabwe does not need a Patriotic Bill or Patriotic Act but rather needs to cultivate and entrench constitutional patriotism and critical patriotism and discard blind patriotism which the Patriotic Bill attempts to foist upon Zimbabweans.

Constitutional patriotism
The notion and concept of constitutional patriotism is an idea that was born out of the ashes of post-war Germany. The German political philosopher Dolf Sternberger developed this concept in the late 1970s, which was then further enhanced and articulated by Jurgen Habermas. Habermas argued that the constitution triumphs over nationality as the ideological glue and unifier.

That is, constitutional patriotism is underpinned by taking pride in the rule of law and constitutional guarantees rather than in ethnic affinity. Thus, citizens can depend on the rule of law and the rules based on law (constitution) as an equally and unifying concept.

Therefore, constitutional patriotism for Zimbabweans can be located from the very first page of the national constitution, in the preamble. The preamble reads:
We the people of Zimbabwe, United in our diversity by our common desire for freedom, justice and equality, and our heroic resistance to colonialism, racism and all forms of domination and oppression,

•Exalting and extolling the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives during the Chimurenga/Umvukela and national liberation struggles, Honouring our forebears and compatriots who toiled for the progress of our country, Recognising the need to entrench democracy, good, transparent and accountable governance and the rule of law, Reaffirming our commitment to upholding and defending fundamental human rights and freedoms,……………, Cherishing freedom, equality, peace, justice, tolerance, prosperity and patriotism in search of new frontiers under a common destiny,………., Resolve by the tenets of this Constitution to commit ourselves to build a united, just and prosperous nation, founded on values of transparency, equality, freedom, fairness, honesty and the dignity of hard work, ………… hereby make this Constitution and commit ourselves to it as the fundamental law of our beloved land.

What is of crucial importance from this extract is the phrase “We the people ‘’, it didn’t say “We Zanu PF” or “We the MDC-T” or “We the Politicians” or “We the Members of Parliament”.

This an affirmation of a communitarian solidarity which is undergirded by utilitarianism of freedom, justice and equality for all citizens. Most importantly, the Kantian universal idea is expressed in the sentence “Cherishing freedom, equality, peace, justice, tolerance and patriotism in search of new frontiers under a common destiny”.

Moreover, constitutional patriotism also means the full loyalty of Zimbabwean citizens to the constitution and constitutional order. Therefore, the “Patriotic Bill” attempts to subvert the tenets of constitutional patriotism. Because the Bill tramples on constitutionally enshrined principles such as freedom of speech, association and conscience.

Accordingly, our constitution is buttressed with human-centered principles and Zimbabweans as admirers of rule of law and procedural rights. Therefore, Zimbabwean citizens are constitutional patriots.

Consequently, as constitutional patriots, Zimbabweans must challenge the unconstitutional provisions of the Patriotic Bill once it has been enacted into an Act of Parliament.

Critical patriotism
Critical patriotism is a concept that upsets and challenges the conventional definitions of patriotism as purely a celebration of the nation and support of the government.

Critical patriotism was aptly captured in the literary work of James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, an essay collection. Baldwin declared that: “I love America more than any other country in the world…….

And exactly for this reason I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually”. This type of patriotism is a double-edged sword because it encourages citizens to take pride and embrace what is right in their country.

On the other hand, it enjoins citizens to engage, critique and pushback forcefully against any wrongful misdeeds in their country.

This is the form of patriotism encapsulated by Mark Twain when he said: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, your government when it deserves it”.

This act of patriotism was exemplified by what pastor Evan Mawarire did in June 2016 with his #ThisFlag campaign.

We all remember the visual portraits of Mawarire donning the national flag and vocalising the aspirations, desires and concerns of ordinary Zimbabweans who felt betrayed by their government after their dreams and aspirations of Independence were turned into nightmares.

Furthermore, we witnessed critical patriotism in action during the ICC Cricket World Cup of 2003 which was co-hosted by South Africa and Zimbabwe when two Zimbabwean cricketers, Henry Olonga and Andrew Flower, donned black armbands.

It was an act of silent but thought-provoking protest and an expression of solidarity with the oppressed Zimbabweans. Here we had two world-class sportsmen who were proudly representing their country but were ashamed of the autocracy and misgovernance of the Robert Mugabe government.

The Olonga and Flower protest clearly shows that there is a clear distinction between loving one’s country and disliking one`s government. Thus, hating one`s government must not be conflated with hating one’s country.

Furthermore, the #ZimbabweLivesMatter hashtag which went viral on social media and spread globally was another classic act of critical patriotism. That is, #ZimbabweLivesMatter acted as a form of digital civic republicanism which served as a bulwark against the authoritarian excesses of the Zanu PF government against a plethora of pro-democratic forces and individuals who were extralegally criminalised and had their constitutional rights violated.

Constitutional patriots can highlight that, contrary to Zanu PF’s twisted and self-serving concept of patriotism, in fact the most unpatriotic elements are Zanu PF establishmentarians and elites. For instance, they can point to the unpatriotic avaricious corruption of Zanu PF ministers who selfishly squandered people’s pension savings. Additionally, critical patriots will point to the US$60 million Covid-19 public procurement scandal which led to the dismissal of Health minister Obadiah Moyo.

The corruption put the lives of millions of innocent Zimbabweans at risk, especially the frontline healthcare workers who had to perform their duties without proper personal protective equipment.
Corruption kills, as Covid-19 has shown.

Furthermore, critical patriotism will expose the unpatriotic proclivities of Zanu PF members such as Henrietta Rushwaya who allegedly attempted to smuggle US$300 000 worth of gold to Dubai, which would have prejudiced the nation. Under critical patriotism, citizens will expose the hypocrisy of the Zanu PF government’s self-serving and corrupted love of Zimbabwe.

Political elites shun local medical facilities and public hospitals and instead seek medical attention in India, China and South Africa using taxpayers’ money. Under critical patriotism, the citizens will be able to expose the neo-imperialism of decolonisation undertaken by the Zanu PF government against the Chilonga people. Accordingly, the critical patriots will declare that they love their country but are disappointed by their government.

Blind patriotism
Blind patriotism is always associated with the famous toast made by US naval officer Stephen Decautur who in 1816 declared “Our country!

In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be right; but our country, right or wrong!” Thus, blind patriotism is the antithesis of critical patriotism and constitutional patriotism; it is a corrupted, twisted and a self-serving form of patriotism which demands that citizens of a nation must uncritically support and endorse the actions, commission or omissions of their leaders even if they are detrimental to their overall well being.

This is the form of patriotism that the “Patriotic Bill” is earmarked to ram down the throasts of many Zimbabweans.

There has been intellectual dishonesty and false equivalence drawn between the Zimbabwe’s Patriotic Bill with the US Patriot Act of 2001 and the US Logan Act of 1799. In fact, the US Patriot Act is an acronym which stands for: Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.
The Patriot Act was a kneejerk anti-terrorism enacted by the George W Bush adminstration in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on the US.

Therefore, it is purely an anti-terrorism piece of legislation designed to prevent and combat terrorism in the US. It Is not about foisting patriotism on US citizens. Nonetheless, in 2004 the US district judge Ann Aiken ruled that some of the provisions of the US Patriot Act are unconstitutional.

Additionally, in September 2007 in the case of John Doe v Gonzales, judge Victor Morreno ruled that the provisions of the USA Patriot Act violated the doctrine of separation of powers and the First Amendment protection of free speech. Furthermore, the Logan Act of 1799 has never been successfully used against any US citizen.

It is a piece of legislation that, if it is ever used, will violate the First Amendment which protects freedom of speech, religion and press. US legal scholar Jonathan Turley argued that the only reason the Logan Act has not been repealed is because it is considered a harmless relic. Therefore, it is ridiculous for the Zanu PF government to try to invoke both the Logan Act and the Patriot Act as legal justification for imposing the Patriotic Bill.

The insidious nature of the Patriotic Bill is that it will criminalise those who will critique and question the policies or the omissions and commissions of President Mnangagwa.

It seeks to insulate and protect the President from public scrutiny and accountability. Furthermore, the intended targets of this Bill are the opposition MDC Alliance, especially Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa because the Patriotic Bill will seek to disqualify from holding public office those perceived to have campaigned against the government of Zimbabwe. It is abundantly clear that the Patriotic Bill is nothing but an oppressive and draconian piece of legislation designed for authoritarian consolidation by the Zanu PF government.

The Patriotic Bill aims to impose a tunnelled vision and one-size-fits-all type of blind patriotism. Thus, it wants to force a heterogeneous, cultural, political, socially diverse Zimbabwean society to have a politicised and zanufied patriotism which will demand blind loyalty and unquestionable and uncritical patriotism to the powers that be.

However, Malcolm X once said “You are not supposed to be blind with patriotism that you cannot face reality. Wrong is wrong no matter who says it.”

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