By Andrew Field – Follow on Twitter
The proposed Zimbabwean Constitution has specific reference to environmental rights in a clause that will give every person a right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being. Every Zimbabwean has the right to the environment being protected for the benefit of present and future generations.
The Constitution proposes that measures be taken to: prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development. This is music in the ears for some, but perhaps it does not go far enough. Mere measures to protect our natural heritage, the flora, and all creatures great and small are not exactly a right. It should be. Things other than humans should have rights. Humans seem not to be bequeathed the right to the protection of their national heritage either.
Could you imagine a new, say fundamentalist, regime coming into power, which, in its wisdom decides that the Great Zimbabwe was never constructed by the indigenous people after all, but rather by some foreigners from the east or the north who had come to take our gold, ivory and reap the nation of its people for enforced slavery, back in the 11th Century. They decide in this realisation and in their moment of new found glory that the monument of the Great Zimbabwe should be levelled to the ground and destroyed. As ludicrous as that may seem, the origins of this national edifice are still not substantially agreed. Great Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Something similar to this is actually happening in Mali right now. Sites, previously declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO are now being desecrated by religious fundamentalists who wield the power of the gun. Islamists, supposedly connected with Al Queda, who grabbed control of Northern Mali, including Timbuktu, believe centuries old shrines are idolatrous and have already destroyed seven mausoleums. The politicians of the day, whatever their cause, have effectively destroyed some of the national heritage in Timbuktu belonging to the people of Mali. It is of course an absolute disgrace.
Zimbabwe is blessed with five World Heritage Sites, three of them cultural and two of them natural. They are, in addition to Great Zimbabwe National Monument: the Khami Ruins National Monument; Matobo Hills; Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari areas; and the great Mosi-ao-Tunya (or Victoria Falls). One wonders, of course, just how much protection these sites have in the face of radical politics or greedy commerce.
The authors of the proposed constitution have certainly made provisions, but they are diluted. For example, all state institutions and every citizen must endeavour to preserve and protect Zimbabwe’s heritage. Alas, both institutions and citizens are susceptible to the seven deadly sins, particularly where a regime rules with impunity to the rule of law. Many will say we have been there and some elements of government still pursue the rotten ethos.
Traditional leaders have a duty to preserve their culture, traditions, history and heritage. One might ask if in fact this obligation is somewhat adulterated, since the chiefs have mostly fallen in with the more gratuitous party’s gravy train. The risk is that only a one-sided culture, history and heritage will remain intact, with the destruction of that which is against the grain of current party philosophy, much like the happenings in Timbuktu.
Today, some citizens of Zimbabwe, perhaps aided and assisted by those in politics, seem to be out of sync with the good intentions of the proposed constitution already. They aim to satisfy their apparent commercial greed and gluttony (the type which allows one mining magnate to buy up numerous multi-million dollar properties south of the Limpopo) in desecrating a World Heritage Site, Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari areas. They intend to do open cast mining of two river lines through the area. This seriously threatens our national and natural heritage.
Our would-be mining moguls seem oblivious, with their poor intentions, to their moral obligations they have to the citizens of Zimbabwe, the nation and the World at large. Perhaps this band of merry diggers should take stock of what they propose to do and relate this to the environmental needs of present and future generations. They should call it a day… if they are allowed to pursue their objectives no one can say where it will all end. There are many sandy riverbeds in Zimbabwe.
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