Mindless accumulation is the new gospel. Its God is Mammon. And the rituals that guarantee advancement in this new order are deeply steeped in greed, selfishness and corruption.
Okay, this has been the order since the dawn of atavism, it is the culmination of millennia of individualistic economy; but for Zimbabwe it has not always been so.
Consider the words of Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko as published elsewhere in this edition.
Speaking on the increasingly self-centred approach to public office, he says of his days during the liberation struggle: “You were obliged to take care of party property. If it is was a car, you would rather die and leave party property because it belonged to the people. The same thing when we went to Mozambique. I tell you there was something very unique there.
“It was a time of starvation hunger and so forth, but people would, if a bag of mangai, umumbu comes in, it would be distributed accordingly and nobody would unduly benefit.
“That culture you have now, I don’t understand where it is coming from. Because even the food that was there, those who were senior commanders would eat and remember the others.
“But what is happening now is something I don’t understand. People want everything for themselves. That is what breeds corruption…”
Something about the VPs literalist, stream of consciousness unpacking of greed, selfishness and corruption is reminiscent of Charles Mungoshi’s prose. His the Old Man character in the seminal “Waiting for the Rain” speaks thus about the coming of the coloniser:
“We cut off their genitals and threw them into Munyati River because they shouldn’t have been called men with that woman’s greed of theirs. (In this age of political correctness, we hasten to point out that The Sunday Mail is not in any way casting aspersions on women, and neither do we believe that Mungoshi was making a chauvinistic statement but was merely relating the patriarchal approach of the time. — Editor’s note)
“We said: build there, the land is the Earth’s, there is enough for everyone. But their greed reduced them to something less than men. We couldn’t understand this desire of theirs to call everything mine, mine, mine …
“What they didn’t know, which we knew, which made us survive, was that we owned nothing and it wasn’t our own cunning that made us live. Everything was the Earth’s.”
Greed. Selfishness. Corruption.
That is the unholy trinity that is holding Zimbabwe back; holding Zimbabwe back more than sanctions, droughts and the ugly legacy of colonialism.
Greed. Selfishness. Corruption. They drive us to say “mine, mine, mine”.
What drives an already rich person to externalise millions of dollars while ordinary folk sleep in queues in the streets in the hope of maybe getting US$50 the next day?
What motivates a person to loot public funds — money meant for hospitals, medicines, water, schools or food — so that they can finance narrow personal and political agendas?
What pushes a person to demand bribes for facilitation of infrastructure development projects that stand to benefit the economy for generations to come?
Greed. Selfishness. Corruption. Mine, mine, mine. An unholy trinity.
So we know what the problem is. But do we know how to fix it? Are we prepared to do what needs to be done to fix it? History has shown that you cannot appeal to mankind’s mythical intrinsic humanity.
People understand something uglier than quixotic entreaties to do good. They appreciate constructs as feral as their atavism: prison.
For too long we have been content to agitate for the firing of public officials who are caught elbow deep in the till. They face a bit of public embarrassment via sensational media reports for a while, and then they disappear from the scene to enjoy their loot in relative anonymity.
Sometimes they are simply reassigned to another office, where they may or may not dip into the cookie jar again. There are no reprisals, no penalties. Just a slap on the wrist.
Zimbabwe needs a robust accountability system that starts with asset declaration, periodical asset review, prosecutorial recourse where suspicion of criminal accumulation is present, and restitution that ensures the offender does not benefit from his/her abuse of office.
It is encouraging that the State is working on legal instruments to that effect, and it is our sincere hope that this will not result in the creation of one of those curious nets Ayi Kwei Armah speaks of which are somehow able to catch small fish but not the big ones.
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