Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

An Analysis of the Relevance of Ndebele Political Wisdom as Reflected in Their Proverbs

Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

An Analysis of the Relevance of Ndebele Political Wisdom as Reflected in Their Proverbs

Article excerpt


Proverbs are a literary genre, which has been used by the Ndebele people in present day Zimbabwe since their arrival in the late 1830s to express their understanding of the environment. In the words of Chinua Achebe (1958: 5) proverbs are the palm-wine with which words are eaten. They express and inform members of a community that they have a common genealogy and a specific if not idiosyncratic way in which they react to their environment and their human condition. All proverbs are born out of long observations of specific practical experiences. This is captured by the definitions that define the proverb as "... a short saying in common use expressing a well-known truth or common fact as ascertained by experience or observation. "The same writer goes on to say that proverbs constitute "... the unwritten commandments and the invisible granary of guiding wisdom accumulated over many generations" (Madummulla 1995:18).

From the foregoing definitions, it can be argued that proverbs are a collective voice whose origin is human wisdom. Inherent in the above definitions is the reliance on experience rather than high-sounding hollow theories. This experiential approach reflects a drift towards the specific, the concrete as opposed to the abstract and general.

The fact that proverbs express and embody people's long accumulation of wisdom implies that they constitute the philosophy of that people, reflecting their modes of thinking, encapsulating their traditional values and the means of safeguarding them. They are evaluative, reflective and critical because they use precedents as a guide to future behaviour. To that end proverbs "bind the past to the present and both to the future" (Pongweni 1989:32). These political proverbs capture the exigencies of society's quest to create dynamic relations of power that make for a harmonious society. Since people's experiences and observations are ongoing, it means these proverbial approaches to politics are never static. They are constantly evolving for the betterment of society. That wisdom is accordingly "like a seashell wherein we can hear whom we have been and listen to what we can become" (Eade 2002:11).

For a society to undergo smooth transition there is need for certain philosophical continuities if that society is not to become tempestuously dehistoricised. This implies a theoretical rooted ness upon political institutions and experiences that have been distilled, tried and tested, ones that "have survived yesterday, apply today and guide pathway of tomorrow" (Finnegan 1970:79). This fulfils one of the fundamental functions of proverbs, that is, their didactic nature. Proverbs counsel, caution, warn, encourage, and so forth. The vagaries and vicissitudes through which a society goes become one object lesson of how society should be governed in order to regulate those who would be rulers.

This paper contends therefore that Ndebele proverbs can function as an alternative source of reference to the muddied political realities in Zimbabwe today because their relevance to the building the country's political institutions cannot be questioned. This paper seeks to draw lessons contained in the Ndebele proverbs that deal with traditional wisdom on succession, favouritism and nepotism. The proverbs also focus on how leaders are expected to deport themselves and their relationship to the governed, civic participation and the judicial processes. In the Ndebele situation the study of proverbs offers an opportunity to understand political values since "African are no brand new people nor is politics a brand new activity in Africa. In fact, Africans are far older than various recognizable nation-states one finds on the continent today" (Kiros 2001:169).

So the paper looks at the Ndebele philosophical wisdom as something not special or peculiar to the Ndebele of Zimbabwe but as representative of the Bantu worldview in general. This is because they are many proverbs that are more or less similar in the different Bantu language. …

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