It takes a village to raise a child

By Eddie Cross

It takes a village to raise a child.

The above is an African proverb, but in my experience it is true for virtually all of humanity.

The role of community in society is vastly underestimated in our world today.

Nothing highlights this more than how minorities learn to survive and thrive in Africa.

Recently I had a cup of coffee in a cafe owned by a member of the Greek community in Harare. I watched community members walk in and out, sit at tables and eat together or just converse.

Harare’s Greek community has built its own Orthodox churches and schools, and evidence of their collaboration in business is everywhere.

Their influence in our economy far exceeds the size of their community.

The same could be said of the Jewish community.

When Cecil John Rhodes was busy securing his grip on the country that later took his name, he remarked to a colleague as he walked down the main street of the new town of Bulawayo that he spotted a Jewish settler putting up his billboard above a small shop: “If the Jews come, we will succeed”.

Spurred on by anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe and pogroms perpetrated by the Russian state, Jewish migrants emigrated in significant numbers to countries such as Rhodesia.

At one point in my home town of Bulawayo they reached several hundred families.

But it is their entrepreneurial spirit and ability to organize business that has made them one of the most important parts of the business community.

I was a board member at one of the largest Jewish-owned industrial companies and was fascinated to see how they worked.

Every city in the world where a Jewish community lives has the capacity and the social organization necessary to ensure its religious activities as well as the education and financial support of families who do not quite manage to get by.

In this way, Jewish children faced few obstacles in getting as far as they could in the academic sphere, and many ended up running their own businesses.

If the company I worked for needed funding, it often turned to the community rather than the banking system.

We now have small communities of people from India or Pakistan.

These communities followed the Greeks and Jews in the way they met the needs of the individuals and organizations they established in their host countries.

This has made these small minorities disproportionately important in the business and social life of the countries in which they have settled.

Settlers of European origin had the disadvantage, when they came to Africa, of finding themselves in countries where they controlled the state.

Even though they were minorities, these settlers had nothing to do with the same motivation that animated the activities of those communities that had no political power.

When change inevitably occurred in these countries, settler communities normally left en masse to return to their homelands, which in many cases left a huge void in the skills available to lead the newly independent states.

The minority communities of European descent who remained in Africa after independence have yet to learn the lessons that their Greek, Jewish and Indian colleagues have learned over many years of living abroad.

It is a pity because it is only by collaborating that these minorities who, without political power, can ensure the collective security of the people who constitute their community.

Perhaps over time they will acquire these skills and attributes and begin to work together as minorities to meet the needs of their own communities.

An unhealthy aspect of the early post-independence era was the tendency of racial minorities to seek a new life for themselves, semi-isolated from the communities in which they currently live.

It is a mistake. The one thing every village needs to learn is how to collaborate with their neighbors and make sure everyone benefits from their mutual activity.

If you have decided to make Africa your home, it is essential that you pursue the interests of Africa and a personal relationship with the people among whom you live and work.

Minorities in Africa cannot expect social safety nets or significant support from state institutions.

It is therefore incumbent on them to work together to meet these needs for their own communities.

It is remarkable to see this process taking place in Zimbabwe where the elderly and even the needs of children are increasingly being met through collaborative community action.

If we are to continue to be able to contribute to the well-being and progress of the continent and to prosper and flourish, we must work together.

  • Eddie Cross is an economist and former legislator from Bulawayo South. He writes here in a personal capacity

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