And so it is with my Grade 2 granddaughter.
Only yesterday, she sought my help with what seemed to me a very simple multi-choice Math problem.
BY ZIFISO MASIYE
My wife and I have always admired the rare professional approach, the refreshing passion and sense of dedication to duty of Zothile’s teacher Ms Van.
Though young, she is a cut from the old block.
Thorough beyond the call of duty, Ms Van has become our little princess’s primary benchmark and reference point to prim and proper conduct, to poise and panache, to lady-like etiquette and social decorum and to discipline and the values of hard work, cleanliness and the works.
It is not uncommon for either of us, when our own ageing authority fails to contain the spoilt little brat, to borrow the authority of her teacher: “Hey, Ms Van doesn’t like girls that take to bed without a bath…Ms Van doesn’t approve of kids that dance to crazy Channel O music…Ms Van this, Ms Van that…”
As I helped her with her Math homework, it was no wonder to me that the little girl kept insisting that neatness and presentation was key, whatever the answers were — “Class, I will understand if you miss the correct answer, but I will be very upset if your work is clumsy and you don’t follow rules!”
That’s the classroom mantra and culture.
Often she is more terrified by the prospect of clumsy presentation, of straying from the underlined and established norms of neatness, than the prospect of a wrong answer.
Yesterday’s Math problem was not any different.
The question was simple: 7+4
The options provided were simple: 9; 11; 3; 28.
The instructions were simple too, or at least so I thought: Choose the correct answer and fill in the box(es) provided.
Therein lay Zothile’s challenge.
The classroom instruction so often emphasised was “Don’t squash your numbers.
Always fill in one digit per box”, and in the above case only one box was provided.
She does the math and Zothi is absolutely in no doubt what the correct answer is.
She also explains expertly why the other four options are a trick and why they are wrong.
But then comes her challenge.
Only one box provided.
And Ms Van’s repeated mantra and classroom culture rings loud in her ears as she attempts to “cast her vote”.
She could never bring herself to squeeze in that 11 into a single box or to ignore the box and place the correct answer on the side or to add an extra box to accommodate the other digit when I suggested these options.
So terrified by the prospect of bending the rules, of changing the culture, of upsetting the master that my granddaughter invited me to help her double-check the question and confirm beyond any reasonable doubt the symbol between 7 and 4 was really a “plus” and not a mis-typed “minus” sign.
For to her, the availability of 3 amongst the optional answers, combined with the provision of only one box suggested that the question was wrong.
The authentic question should have been 7 -4 and everything would flow.
Forty-five minutes of my cherished World Cup moment could not resolve Princess Sophia’s Math quandary.
I squirmed out of it by scribbling a note to Ms Van and advised Zothi to leave the troublesome box, write her correct answer on a separate sheet of paper and only resolve the box problem with her idol and mentor. Phew!
Then, it dawned on me, as I kept musing on the child’s intriguing dilemma — a clear understanding of what is right, but a hamstrung incapacity, compounded by habit, by context, by experience and by culture — to carry it through.
I realised that Zothile’s dilemma was no different from the political dilemma of so many citizens out there.
I soon realised it is both wrong and futile to be repeatedly explaining the correct answer to Zimbabwe’s electoral question and directing the citizens’ attention to the danger of wrong choices and the beauty of the right choice on July 30, because it is apparent, the citizens know the right answer, but perhaps the answer doesn’t fit in the boxes they have so long been accustomed to.
It is not as if Zimbabweans do not know or remember which political parties and which specific candidates are responsible for wrecking this economy to a virtual standstill.
Zimbabweans know which party and which candidates superintended the near collapse of service delivery in their communities.
Citizens of Zimbabwe do not need any pinpointing or reminding at whose behest they lost so many loved ones to the scattered capitals of the diaspora.
They know which party and which candidate gave a violent early ticket to heaven, to so many of their kith and kin.
Zimbabweans surely know which parties and which politicians have looted with impunity their resources in local authorities.
Zimbabweans are smart enough to decipher lies and understand repeatedly empty promises when they hear them.
To the extent that it is clear which answers on the ballot exam are wrong answers, trick answers and dangerous answers, Zimbabweans need no reminder in 2018.
What also became apparent from this Grade 2 homework experience is that in fact Zimbabwean citizens know the correct answer on that 2018 ballot paper.
Every citizen, sister, brother, colleague I speak and listen to, every social media and mainstream media conversation I hear and participate in and even every committed opponent to the correct presidential answer acknowledges willingly that, all things being equal, there is only one correct answer to the question: who is competent and most suited to rescue the country and to lead Zimbabwe to effective rehabilitation and sincere renewal?
Having had access to all the candidates and having perused all the manifestos of the political parties and candidates, it cannot be doubted that, in their minds at least, Zimbabweans are clear as 7+4=11, who they should be casting their vote for come July 30.
But lo and behold! The answer doesn’t fit in the box!
There are certain political mental boxes that we citizens have so long been framed into by years of Mugabeism and bad politics that have become a permanent barrier to the correct answer.
Although we verily accept he could be the correct answer, Nkosana Moyo’s refusal to locate and identify with some distinct ethnic grouping or to be backed by a tribal card, as is usual, sits uncomfortably with us.
His reluctance to identify with some team from which we can personally link our individual and family fate bothers us.
His attitude to political friendships from which flow lucrative deals, and his idea of rewarding only merit, threatens our conventional nests of paid non-performance.
His personal integrity and insistence on professionalism and results is a threat to our entire culture and graft and patronage.
In order to retain our collective allegiance to unproductive crowd culture, aesthetic grandstanding and campaign theatrics, intelligent adult citizens are willing to swap the wrong answer for the correct one.
Nothing as futile as the attempt to clean up muddy pigs!