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Robbing the poor in the name of patriotism

24 Mar 2019 at 10:10hrs | Views
The post-Robert Mugabe administration led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa fancies itself a new dispensation. That is a useless fantasy, of course. Things are as old in the "new" administration as they ever were, sometimes worse.

Under Mugabe, they used state resources to persecute people. That narrative persists post-2017 when the military moved Mugabe out and installed Mnangagwa in his stead. People have fresh memories of what happened last January. Soldiers were deployed to brutalise an angry and also hungry urban population that rioted due to festering frustration over a worsening economy. There was lots of that during Mugabe's time.

And, lately, the government has been threatening to toss civil society under the bus. The crime that civil society keeps committing is failing to zip up when the administration is doing things wrongly. So, the gooks have not only tried to shut one or two civil society organisations down but will also be using the spooks to peep into the bank accounts of those naughty institutions. In its weird newness, the Mnangagwa administration assumes that civil society is a hideout for terrorists. Again, we saw lots of that during Mugabe's time.

When it took over, the "new dispensation" claimed that it was going to make politics a back bencher and focus on the economy. Clearly, having comprised the foot soldiers in the previous regime, it knows that an obsession with power politics was one of the biggest undoings of the Mugabe era. But then, old habits die hard. The economy has once again taken a back bench and its back to politics, politics and politics.

Hoping that we would get fooled, the post-Mugabe establishment got busy jaw-jawing about eradicating corruption once the coup tanks had gone back to the armouries. The anti-corruption mantra formed the core of the ruling party manifesto ahead of last year's elections, and there were bits of political gardening to create a mirage of fighting graft.
There was so much of that rot under Mugabe's tenure. But it's robustly clear that the "new" administration is as rotten as a whole pile of whales washed out of the sea.

The list is far much longer than this, of course. But the Mnangagwa administration seems to have forgotten that there is no way in which a political dispensation can get different if it doesn't start with giving its own house a new coat of paint. Put differently, there is no way in which you can change the way you run the country if you don't change the way you run your party. All this time, President Mnangagwa and his lieutenants have been hollering about how they are going to change the culture of running the government - as if that day will ever come - but hardly anything about how they are going to reform Zanu-PF.

Zanu-PF suffers legendary notoriety for trampling on citizens, especially the hapless rural population. There was lots of that during Mugabe, and things have remained pretty the same under the current order. Predictably, ahead of the Independence anniversary in April, the tiger is showing its stripes once again, robbing poor villagers in the name of patriotism.

Many people out there - particularly the urban elites - might not know this, but there is a lot of corrupt injustice already happening out there. Local Zanu-PF leaderships are forcing hungry villagers to pay at least $5 per head as "contributions" towards the Independence celebrations. Everything is worryingly wrong about this. The party representatives are saying the payments will be used as gauge to determine how patriotic the villagers are. Worse still, they are saying the payments will be used to decide who will get food aid and who will not. We all know that, because of poor rains and failed crops, there will be acute hunger this year. Naturally, the villagers are anxious to get onto the list of food aid beneficiaries, so they have no choice but to get the money from somewhere, by hook or crook.

The amount the villagers are being forced to pay may look small, but that is not the case. We are talking here of people who go for weeks, if not months, without a single bond coin passing through their hands. We are talking of parents whose children are failing to attend school because they don't have a single dollar to buy notebooks. And we are talking of villagers who can't afford the bus fare to go to the nearest clinic for medical attention.

Consider the absurdity of the conditions that Zanu-PF is setting for the poor villagers. The president and government have a constitutional obligation to ensure that needy citizens don't suffer socio-economic vulnerabilities and shocks. That is because citizens have a constitutional right not to suffer those vulnerabilities and shocks. So, where food aid is concerned, it is the legal duty of the government to provide to the citizens. Food aid must, therefore, never come with crude conditionalities like the ones the ruling party is setting. The villagers did the best they could to fend for themselves by tilling the land, and it's not their problem that the rains failed them.

You don't judge the level of patriotism in a person by whether or not they will contribute to Independence celebrations. Patriotism is far much nobler than that and resides in the heart and psyche of an individual. And patriotism is cultivated in, rather than foisted on, people. If you force them, you are bound to reap the opposite of patriotism. People will get disgusted, frustrated and angry with their political leaders and, in turn, their own government and country.

But who doesn't know why the Zanu-PF local structures are forcing the people to pay money towards the Independence celebrations? This is an age old tradition whereby party members use national events to fleece poor people by taking advantage of their vulnerability. There is no reason to believe that the money will go towards the celebrations, never mind the fact that citizens have no obligation to make contributions towards national events.

There is no reason, too, to believe that the party's top leadership is not aware of what's happening. That makes it an accomplice in this whole scam, which was also common during Mugabe's time.

Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT), a member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) and can be contacted on

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