The difference in a week is quite phenomenal.
One week I am waking up wondering about the safety of a journey across Harare to the airport, the next I am taking my kids to school then heading towards the Houses of Parliament. One week I have no internet due to the Zimbabwe government shutting it down, the next I have easy access to high speed broadband and 4G wherever I go. One week I am in glorious sunshine the next I am wondering if the snow might settle or if it will just blow around a do nothing.
Despite it’s faults (of which there are plenty) the system of Government and democracy in the UK is a huge gift. I take so much for granted. As a nation we are divided on the issue of Brexit, there is a split between those hoping we will leave the EU and those who hope that something will change and we’ll get to stay. Either way there are issues. Both sides of the campaign have on the whole used tactics of fear and greed to promote their argument. Yet, for all the lies, inaccuracies, over-reaching claims, shouting, scheming, marching, banner waving and incompetence I feel incredibly privileged.
Today I walked freely into the Palace of Westminster, obviously passing through the necessary security, and enjoyed a mug of coffee before watching Prime Ministers Questions (PMQ’s). For those unfamiliar with UK governance, each week the British Prime Minister (PM) stands in the House of Commons and takes questions from Members of Parliament (MP’s). British citizens are able to visit the House of Commons and watch, from the public gallery, all parliamentary debates including PMQ’s (though due to popularity the PMQ’s requires tickets which are freely available upon request from your local MP.
A week ago I was reflecting upon how easily the Zimbabwe government had been able to instruct companies to switch off the internet and to send the army out onto the streets in opposition to those protesting and on strike. Today I walked past cheery protestors waving their banners and into the very heart of our government. The protestors are generally polite and good natured (a small number become obnoxious and abusive) and the police respond in an equally good natured way.
After enjoying a coffee I pass through Westminster Hall (stepping where kings, queens and Prime Minister have made history), through St Stephen’s Hall and watch the Speakers procession in the Central Lobby.
Within the chamber of the House of Commons there is banter across dispatch boxes and the back benches. Although there are differences of view and a jostling for the best one-liner in the hope of becoming the positive headline in the news to follow there is also respect. There are little digs about policy disagreements and jokes that receive murmurs of laughter in the chamber and the public gallery. Questions about Brexit give way to considerations about improving mental health support services, encouragement for women to have their smear test, names of those who have passed away being honoured and the memory of the Holocaust acknowledged throughout the chamber as MP’s fall silent as they listen to those speaking. There may be disagreement about policy but their is respect for one another and for the processes and procedures of Parliament.
As I ambled outside and watched the protestors waving their flags and vehicles honking horns to show their support as they passed I was reflecting on the differences between one week and another. In Zimbabwe the poverty is apparent, the problems huge, the government unaccountable, the police and army intimidating. It is a country on the brink of complete economic collapse and the challenges clear to see. In the UK though people are dying because the National Health Service (NHS) is underfunded, social care is struggling, the police are stretched, the demand for food banks and clothing banks is increasing, and in theory this is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
I am reminded of a conversation I use to have when I was a youth worker about the use and abuse of drugs. People who can afford drugs use them in private homes and parties, those in deprivation use them in dark alleys, parks and public toilets.
Wealth covers a multitude of sin.
Poverty exposes both the evil and the joy.
Zimbabwe is beautiful, in my view the most beautiful country, and I met some hopeful people, some resigned for the current generation but also hoping for the future. People haven’t given up but continue to train to become pastors, lawyers and other professionals because they have a hope and a dream for their country. I received some of the most joyous, humble and compassionate hospitality from the people who I met. The UK is a more unnerving mess as we are playing with lives on a bigger scale, we have apathy so long as our little world remains as we like it, not altered by those who think a little different or look a little different from ourselves.
We should be ashamed of how we use our wealth and influence and sadly I believe the church is often complicit. The UK’s parliamentary system and democracy is a gift and we should treat it as such for the betterment of ourselves and our neighbours. The church should be a gift and we should also treat her as such as she should treat her neighbours as the gift they are.