Hunhu: making human rights education discourse relevant.

Author:Hapanyengwi-Chemhuru, Oswell


The context in which the discourse on human rights education is proceeding in Africa is not conducive to the internalisation of human rights by African people. The discourse is largely mimetic and exterior, the reason being that the philosophies that inform it are alien to the African people (Cobbah, 1987:309) and deny the philosophies of those to whom the discourse is being proffered. At the same time the discourse on human rights education is supposedly liberative. It is our view that relevance and authenticity can only be achieved if the discourse on human rights education is done in the context of indigenous African philosophies which in the case of Zimbabwe is the philosophy of hunhu, defined (Samkange 1980) as humanness in the fullest and noblest sense; the attention one human being gives to another like kindness, courtesy, consideration and friendliness in the relationship between people; a code of behaviour; an attitude towards others and life, and thus a person who upholds the African cultural standards, expectations, values and norms and keeps an African identity) which emanates from the historical experiences of the Zimbabwean people. Then the discourse would be truly liberative and invaluable to African people. The present discussion will make use of Zimbabwe as a case study. It is therefore essential, after a brief excursion into the origin of the current discourse on human rights and human rights education to explore the philosophy of hunhu so it can be clear how hunhu can make the discourse on human rights education relevant in Zimbabwe. Indeed, Cobbah (1987:310) argues that an "Africentric conception of human dignity" is a "valid worldview" that should be harnessed in explicating human rights in Africa. Certainly, hunhu provides such an Afrocentric conception of human dignity as explicated in the exposition that follows as our third section engages the discourse on human rights education informed by the philosophy of hunhu.

The Western Discourse: Human Rights

In his discussion on human rights, Oyugi (1994) points out that the idea of human rights has been in existence from ancient times. Along the same line of thought, some scholars have traced the idea of human rights to the Ancient world, for example, Asante (2004) and Watterson (2013) locate the origins of human rights engagement in Ancient Egypt. In his book, The Egyptian Philosophers: Ancient African Voices from Imhotep to Akhenaten Molefi Kete Asante (2004) shows that Ancient Egyptians were concerned with issues of social justice. Already, in ancient Egypt there were such philosophers as Khunanup, Kagemni, Amenemope who made social harmony the subject of contemplation. The existence of these and other Egyptian philosophers such as Ptahhotep, Duauf, Amenhotep, Imhotep, Amenemhat, Merikare, Sehotepibre, Khunanup, and Akhenaten demonstrates that there is a body of knowledge in rights related discourse that preceded Greek philosophy.

Still on Ancient Egypt, in her book, Women in Ancient Egypt Watterson (2013) engages the lives of ordinary women and those who occupied influential positions in Egypt, Barbara Watterson argues that woman were accorded legal rights equal to those of a man from the same social class and had the same expectation of a life after death, dating c. 3100 B.C. to 30 B.C. Using written, monumental and artistic sources Watterson (2013) shows that Egyptian women enjoyed more freedom than women of other civilizations in the ancient world. Furthermore, inheritance in ancient Egypt was matrilineal where even at marriage the women maintained their own property which she could dispose as she pleased. If women did the same work as men, they were paid the same as was paid to men. Thus, through her work in Women in Ancient Egypt (1994) Watterson demonstrates that the parentage of human rights does not begin in the West, but in Egypt, in Africa. Indeed, this is confirmed by Johnson, (2002) and Masson, (2014) with the latter explaining that Herodotus was perplexed by the legal and economic equality with men that women enjoyed in Egypt to the extent that he said the Egyptians "have reversed the ordinary practices of mankind" (para 13).

Yet, there are others who find the origins of human rights in the codification of laws that are expressed in religious documents that form the pillar of the religious beliefs and practices of the adherents, for example in the Bible, the Ten commandments (Melechinsky, 2007, Tierney, 2004) or the laws in the Quran (Rehan, 2013). There are also scholars who trace the origins of human rights to the code of Hammurabi (King, 2008, Courtney, 2013). This Sumerian King's tablet makes reference to individual rights against arbitrary persecution and punishment.

Still other Eurocentric philosophers argue that the idea of human rights was first explicitly expressed by philosophers in Ancient Greece who presented it in the form of natural rights (Marq. L. Rev. 1972, Young, 2011, Markovic, 1981). These natural rights were believed to emanate from natural law.

Socrates and Plato presented natural law as "law that reflects the natural order of the universe, essentially the will of the gods that control nature" (Kanmoy, 2010:4). However, Rhodes (2009) argues that the Greeks believed in citizens' rights rather than human rights. Oyugi (1994) contends that the concept of human rights has its origins in Greek philosophy. There were rights which were possessed by all citizens.

The Stoics formulated the doctrine of natural rights, arguing that these belonged to all people at all times. Stoic philosophers propped up the principles of liberty, equality and brotherhood. "Every human being was entitled to these rights by virtue of the simple fact of sharing humanity and rationality with everyone else" (Oyugi, 1994:57). For instance, the word isogoria was employed to refer to equal freedom of speech while the word isonomia referred to equality before the law (Ndondo, 2014). The Romans as well held that natural rights belonged to everyone whether Roman citizen or not. However, in both Greece and Rome it was accepted as normal to have enslaved people who were not accorded the same rights as free citizens. However, each of the greats of Western philosophy contributed to the development of the notions and understandings of human rights.

To Plato is attributed to the idea that human rights are universal. This can be traced through reading his views on universal truth and virtue. He argues that such eternal truths are above what individuals and the state can establish as the law. Aristotle on the other hand, having distinguished between natural justice and legal justice, was of the conviction that legal justice should be the guiding principle for the state and the individual in the conduct of their affairs (Marq. L. Rev., 1972). Furthermore, he regards natural justice, which he views as 'universal', 'eternal', 'unchangeable' and 'fundamental' as superior to legal justice (ibid, 54-55). Rights which belong to legal justice could only exist among those who were free and equal before the state, that is, the citizens. Important to note is Aristotle's support for slavery and argument that some human beings are incapable of rationality and therefore could be subjected to the will of others. The theologian and philosopher, St Thomas Aquinas adopted Aristotle's distinction between natural justice and legal justice. However, he established natural justice in the Divine, God, identifying the law of nature with the law of God. He viewed natural law as superior to human law and as the primary law from which all other laws are derived (Marq. L. Rev. 1972). He regarded fundamental human rights as essential for basic human needs such as selfpreservation, based on rationality. On his part, Hobbes regarded the idea of natural law as 'vague and hollow' as well as susceptible to a variety of construals (Sabrahmanyam, 2014). Instead, Hobbes proposed the idea of positive law in which human rights are not absolute. They can be given, taken away or modified by the society concerned. In his Leviathan, Hobbes argues that the right to life is fundamental but can only be guaranteed through social contract.

Jeremy Bentham also shared Hobbes view of human rights. Bentham argues, "Right, the substantive right, is the child of law: from real laws come real rights, but from imaginary law, from laws of nature ... come imaginary rights" (Monteiro, 2014:65). Locke contented that the laws that the state...

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