Has Zimbabwe fallen into a state of learned helplessness?
Posted October 11, 2011on:
Definition: The psychological condition that causes you to feel helpless to change you situation for the better.
‘The Misconception: If you are in a bad situation, you will do whatever you can do to escape it. The Truth: If you feel like you aren’t in control of your destiny, you will give up and accept whatever situation you are in. Any extended period of negative emotions can lead to you giving in to despair and accepting your fate’ David McRaney
This is what I fear our nation may be going through. It is that sense that we have almost become conditioned to accept the conditions in which we live. This does not mean that we are not industrious. Indeed, we become more industrious. But the industriousness is not to confront or remove the obstacles in front of us. The industriousness, our industriousness is to work around the problems, to skirt around the issues, to ignore them even. Thus instead of finding some human rights atrocities committed in our great country completely abhorrent we have come to accept that this is what are country is.
I was reading news online and I almost paid not nearly enough attention to the arrest of the Coordinators of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), Jenni Williams and Mgodonga Mahlangu. And then I caught myself. These women spent 13 days in police custody, their crime being that of having planned a peaceful demonstration on the International Day of Peace. Have I gotten so used to state brutality that it does not seem as ghastly as it would to someone in Botswana/the US/South Africa/Zambia?
Of course there are human rights defenders who are outstanding and who continue to be committed fighting on the frontlines and these should be commended. But I am afraid that these may represent the minority. The majority of the population may have learned helplessness. The larger part of the Zimbabwean population may have accepted that we are to be mired in political and socio-economic problems for a long time to come albeit with the certainty that things will turn out better, yet with no full sense of how things can turn out better or what they can do to make things better. In the same way that voter apathy is attributable to the fact that people see it as futile, we may have accepted the mediocrity of our politicians, the corruption within our civil service, the impunity with which some of our Ministers discharge their duties and the general flagrant disregard for human rights. The more we fail to do anything about our problems, the more we convince ourselves that nothing can be done. And so it is when the international media and the international community tire of crises and move from one political or humanitarian crisis hotspot to another.
The system has locked us in, calcified and functions only for its perpetuation. There are legitimate reasons for this and in Zimbabwe’s case it could be the heavy handedness of the state in dealing with its citizens. Any attempt to speak out against rights abuses may be met by state violence. Yet even in the face of this realism there is a need to continually speak out or at the very least notice what is wrong with our state. This realism should not be justification for learned helplessness and should not be couched in language that portrays a sense of doing something when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. People have become experts in stating why African citizens, Zimbabwean citizens cannot do something to extricate themselves from the situation they find themselves.