The impact of Rastafari ecological ethic in Zimbabwe: a contemporary discourse.

Author:Sibanda, Fortune


By far, climate change is one of the greatest challenges that the world is facing today. It is a threat to the ecological environment, business, communities and general livelihood. Sayed Haneef (2002:241) observes that due to loss of vision and greed for profit and economic growth, humanity has polluted the land, air and water by deforestation, use of excessive fertilisers, pesticides, chemicals and industrial waste spillage, release of active chemical wastes, among others. Yet, as Haneef further argues, it is essential to guarantee continued supply of fresh air, uncontaminated food, unpolluted water and other provisions of life for humans and other living creatures and plants which balances the ecosystem (Haneef, 2002:241). This is in tandem with contemporary observations that climate change continues to wreak havoc on food security in developing nations particularly in sub Saharan Africa. In a foreword to the Climate Change COP17 Magazine, the South African President, Jacob Zuma, (2011: 12) noted that food prices are on the increase due to reduced agricultural production resulting from floods, drought and land degradation attributed to the changing weather patterns experienced globally. In recent months, South Africa hosted the 17th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17) and the 7th Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP7) to ensure environmental sustainability. Nevertheless, COP17 and CMP7 revealed that the global commitment from some developed nations towards reducing the effects of anthropogenic global warming was half-hearted and yet behind schedule for the 2015 target of the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Number 7. Therefore, the level of commitment from developed nations leaves a lot to be desired as it peddles the philosophy of the centre that situates developing nations at the periphery.

This study seeks to explore the role of religion to the global challenge of environmental degradation in contemporary times. S Specifically, the research examines the contribution of Rastafari in the reclamation and preservation of the environment. The study is executed in the wake of the inexorable impact of secularisation and cultural globalisation that continue to eclipse the religious significance of nature particularly in the West. Thus, through a study of this magnitude, the rediscovery of the vitality of nature and other natural resources situates religion and the environmental crisis at the centre. As posited in the study, the existing global environmental disaster requires a collective action in which religious players perform a significant part through unique strategies. The study utilises the case of the Marcus Garvey Rastafari House of the Nyahbinghi Order in the low income and high-density suburb of Epworth in Harare, Zimbabwe. Through a grassroots approach, the study seeks to sensitise the local and global community about the meaningful role of Rastafari in current discourses on the environment and ecology in the Zimbabwean context.


The study adopted a poly-methodic approach in which it combined the grassroots approach, in-depth interviews and observation to collect data and corroborated these research techniques with the phenomenological approach. Jacqueline Leavitt (2006:2) following Nandi Azad (1995) defines grassroots "as those living at the base encompassing rural and urban areas in the developing and developed world." Grassroots approach is a 'bottom-up' research process and technique that gathers 'ground-level' perspectives from the targeted population. The approach stresses a collective interactive process that provides a platform to present the main issue under investigation whilst allowing participants to discuss with an open mind (Panda, 2007:261). In other words, the approach has the advantage of tapping into the indigenous knowledge bases and expertise that validate the community as the knowing subject. In a way, the grassroots approach considers participants as "agents of their own knowledge, not objects to be examined, prodded, or studied" (Singh, 2011). Therefore, the grassroots approach is an ideal method to study the Rastafari community in Epworth since their existential circumstances of being marginalised make them a particular class condemned to live on what Gustavo Gutierrez (1971) describes as the "under side of history". Evidently, the Rastafari grassroots environmental ethic proves that they are practicing solutions whilst the rest of the world is debating theories.

Furthermore, alongside the grassroots approach the study utilised unstructured interviews and observation in the gathering of data. As qualitative research tools, the researcher obtained firsthand information from the face-to-face interactions with the respondents and through observing their grassroots ecological activities. The phenomenological approach corroborated the other methods in the collection, presentation, analysis and comparison of the findings from the Marcus Garvey Rastafari community with existing literature. The study employed some phenomenological tenets such as epoche (bracketing of preconceived ideas) descriptive accuracy, empathy and eidetic intuition, the latter term being derived from the Greek noun eidos to refer to the essence of phenomena (Cox, 1996). Hence, the phenomenological approach provided an emic view and allowed the researcher to respect the believer's perspective and to unearth the essential aspects and meaning of Rastafari activities that are true to their community. Data collection from the Marcus Garvey Rastafari House in Epworth was done during end of November and early December 2011, a period that coincided with the hosting of the landmark international conference (COP17) in Durban, South Africa to deliberate on the climate change which has come into being due to global warming.

Understanding Climate Change

The climatic change is a crucial subject to the African continent and the rest of the world. It becomes imperative to focus on the African continent because most of the nations are poor and vulnerable to changing climate. Lindsey Jones, et al. (2010:1) postulate that climate change attaches another layer of difficulty to existing development challenges such as the astronomic levels of poverty and inequality, rapid population growth and weak governance systems for developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Due to climatic changes, some ripple effects ensues that affect humanity in several ways including the social, economic and political sectors. It is a paradox that the African region comes under spot light in issues pertaining to climate change where they least contribute to its dilapidation. This segment of the study covers two sections, namely: the current trends on the ecological discourses in Africa; and the relationship of the African communities to ecology. These sections are vital to the study because brief reviews of the contributions from religious and non-religious players such as policy makers, Non-Governmental Organisations, Faith-based Organisations as well as individuals towards the issues on the environment are explored prior to the focus on Rastafari that forms the heart of the research.

Current Trends on Ecological Discourses

The subject on climate change continues to attract the attention of a variety of sectors, individuals and communities. The World Bank (2010) estimated that "more floods, more droughts, more strong storms, and more heat waves make development policy and practice more complicated." This has been echoed by a recent observation from Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan-born 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate for work that is linked to the environment, peace and sustainable development. Maathai (2011:88) lamented that "Here in Africa, we are paying the price for a rapidly changing climate--more droughts and food crisis--and it is set to get worse." This scenario makes it imperative to heed the call for an ecumenical approach between science and religion in forging a global plan for the sustainability of resources. In caring for nature, science and religion are needed to bring salvation to mother earth or to keep life sustainable (Rolston III 2009: 924).

Scientifically, it is said that Greenhouse gases (GHG) and the resultant phenomenon known as global warming takes place when heat from high levels of carbon dioxide is trapped in the earth's atmosphere and cannot escape into space. In this way, trees become essential for the livelihoods of people. Trees are regarded as the 'carbon sinks of the world' since they can store carbon dioxide in their branches, trunks and leaves. With this function, trees reduce the growth of GHGs and counteract global warming (www.essentialmag. 2011:86). It is also known that there has been rapid increase in the warming of the earth's surface in the past 50 years. There is also evidence that this warming was largely due to anthropogenic factors such as deforestation, burning fossil fuels and changes in land use (Levine, Ludi and Jones 2011:9).

Hence, climate change is a threat to sustainable development and other important development targets such as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Periodic UN Climate Change Conferences such as the recently held COP17 and CMP7 are held as a global commitment to solve the environmental crisis in addition to the Environmental Days and Weeks celebrated annually. These include World Wetlands Day (2 February), World Meteorological Day (23 March), World Environmental Day (5 June), International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer (16 September) and World Tourism Day (27 September) ( Accessed: 13.02.2012). Nevertheless, what is urgent is to earnestly and collectively 'walk the talk' by different players including the religious fraternity.

The diverse religious players also provide an...

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