By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
Before there was the individual, there was the community, and the family—the extended one—and everyone that connects us to our past, our present and a shared future.
We were not individuals. We were not sons and daughters of our parents. We were not fathers of our biological children. We were not mothers – or parents – of those we gave birth to.
We were for everyone. Anyone who knew our name. Any person who could tell of our lineage, even if in a twisted narrative.
Then, somehow we realised that the communal project was unworkable. Somehow relatives became demanding. Somehow those who did not share a surname, a geographical disposition or blood with us became not very important.
In this realisation, we abandoned the project of communitarianism. We said, and with glee, that maxim of ‘every man for himself, gods for us all’.
There was a cartoon. Of a boat on the ocean. A storm struck.
Then, instead of joining hands to oar the boat to shore, a few people took out axes. They said: let us destroy this boat, let us make our own. Smaller ones. Each one for their family and, maybe, a few relatives.
That the bigger the boat, the smaller the chance of surviving. The smaller the boat, the better the chance of surviving. That reasoning that led to the development of private everything. Private schools. Private hospitals. Private security. Private banking, even.
But they had miscalculated. In the process of dismantling this bigger boat, they exposed themselves. The storm found them vulnerable. It swept them off. Killed them even in their safe spaces.
A case of Malawi.
At the outset, it appears, we were sailing together. That sense of community. That feeling of being responsible towards the other.
Then, with time, or maybe independence – it would be the storm here – people started building their own small boats.
Blame it all on neo-Liberal economic policies, the whole process of dismantling the community for the individual to shine was accelerated and stamped. With its own repercussions.
The dream of the average occupant of the lower class is to break out of it. The middle class occupant might be admiring those above him but his pressing need is not to be with them. His most pressing need is to safeguard his position in the middle class, and make it very comfortable.
Once in this middle class, the occupant starts to create a sort of paradise. The irony is that the expectation of the middle class is that even if the daily realities of those around them is hell, they will still be able to have a paradise at the centre.
This, so far, has proven to be ineffective.
In one way or another, we end up circling to the same dysfunction systems that we thought we had escaped. Either directly or otherwise.
I thought of discussing about our service providers in my final entry on our situations, having started writing about this at the onset of the month of May.
I would like to focus on services that we pay for.
A friend, in the week, texted that they had had a hell of a time with their health insurance provider. The narrative, certainly biased, appeared not complicated. The provider just had to be understanding and this whole issue would have been resolved amicably.
But, as we agreed at the end of the whole issue with the friend, that is Malawian service providers for us. You pay, you do not pay, it is all as if you are begging from them.
We have even gotten used to being treated badly that when a service provider responds accordingly then they get flowers. There are even awards organised by some chancer organisations where they award service providers for providing their services.
When it comes to some other services, the better off thought they would beat the system. They introduced paying services.
However, the services in the paying sections also leave a lot to be desired. They are, if anything, mimics of what it is that they are in other functioning contexts.
Paying hospitals are certainly a washed smarter version of government hospitals. Just mildly sanitised. They are not, in the hyperbolic sense of writing, paradises that they ought to be.
Same can be said of most private schools. If anything, they are pretending to teach our children complicated stuff yet at the end of the period, the children come out just with an accent from the back corners of foreign capitals. The value for education, which they promise, is washed away by the other realities that kids encounter in the streets of the hell we think we are protecting them from.
It is almost a helpless, if not outright depressing, scenario. Because once something happens and it reminds us our vanity. The belief that we could have curated a paradise for ourselves at the centre of hell.
Can we do something about this, can we address this?
We might, perhaps. Maybe if we realise that the only way of getting a paradise is to get a plot in paradise. That there is no way we can build for ourselves a paradise while around us Flames of Sulphur and brimstone are raining.
I know the counter argument: It is hard, we cannot change the world, it is the way we found it. Change it, today? That is impossible. Let us just do what we can to improve our lives.
It is an interesting opinion, an easier way out too. But the implications of that are far reaching. The same walls we build to protect us from the deprived and ‘criminal’ other will be the same walls that will be of our prisons.