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Tracking Zimbabwe’s slime and grime highway

04/11/2016 00:00:00
by Seewell Mashizha
 
 
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SOMEONE said something to the effect that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. They forgot to say that corruption corrupts and corrupts absolutely as well. It is a scourge to which we are all susceptible. It does not really matter who you are or what your place in society is. Man or woman, intelligentsia, povo or upper echelon, the story is the same. Those who take the bait become inexplicably rich and famous.

There was a time when corruption like inflation was not properly understood by many. You were corrupt if you were a politician, and you were the victim if you belonged to some other group. Yet there was corruption everywhere, called by another name of course. For example, there is the hilarious story of people driving along the Harare-Masvingo highway when they happen upon a police road block. A police officer waves them down and gives the signal to stop. He walks over and, much to his chagrin, the vehicle is bursting at the seams with humanity, well beyond its carrying capacity.

The officer asks each person where they come from and promptly makes a decision in each case on the basis of the person’s place of origin. Those who come from the wrong places are immediately classified as renegades and become fair game. The sergeant in charge of the road block calls out to the young officer to find out how many people are in the vehicle.

“Sir, there are only four people in this car,” he says, “The rest are mazezuru.”

Your guess is as good as mine regarding what befell the mazezuru passengers. And I can bet my last dollar that the officer saw nothing wrong with his actions. After all, there could have been a mwana wavatete (aunt’s son) in the vehicle. If you are a Zimbabwean, does that not remind you of Albert Nyathi performing Chenjerai Hove’s incisive poem ‘I shall not speak?’ Hove then goes into a litany of verifiable ills about the goings-on in the nation.

How often do you hear people say nothing can go right for you unless you know someone who knows someone and so on along the gravy train? In the days of the Zig Zag Band and their phenomenal hit song ‘Gomo raMasare’ (Masare’s mountain) students at a teachers college used the tune as a code that earned them favours from the kitchen staff dishing the food. You took your place in the queue and when it was your turn you handed your empty plate over with the words ‘gomo raMasare’ and if the man recognized you got some of the juiciest pieces of meat. After a student had revealed the code to me I tried it and the waiter smiled in surprise.



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In the years when only the top 13% of students in Standard Six made it to secondary school owing to the bottleneck that limited Form 1 places and also made it extremely difficult for black students to go to Form 3 in the conventional system, I found myself adrift with no school to go to. So a friend of mine and myself decided to try a boarding school somewhere in the vicinity of the City of Harare.

Quite confident that we would make it, given the quality of our results, we presented ourselves before the affable headmaster. He called us gentlemen and was jovial in his interaction with us. We began to think that our quest for a place was about to end with us getting enrolled and arranging to go home for the fees and the uniforms and so on. His next words were devastating. “Gentlemen,” he said. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to serve you, but most unfortunately, my hands are tied. Why? Even my own son doesn’t have a place.” You could have heard a pin drop! With downcast eyes and defeated gait we left that school to try somewhere else.

My next stop was at a school that had only recently been converted from being a technical college to a secondary school. The headmaster was a white man and people said white men kept their word. After all, my former headmaster, himself a white man, had made representations on my behalf. It should have been a walk in the park but in the end it wasn’t. I got to the school first thing in the morning and there was already a throng of hopefuls. We presented our result slips and waited. After what seemed an eternity the white man emerged and announced his shortlist. It was clear from the tone of voice when he said my name that I would be the one getting in. Then something happened.

The sound of a big police motorbike coming to a stop outside the headmaster’s office made us all turn around and look. There parking the bike was a black police officer dressed in the manner of those that used to be known as town police. He was obviously a traffic man. The headmaster came out to see what was happening and as soon as he did the big officer saluted him and said, “Sir!” He was invited inside and was there for not more than a few minutes. As he was leaving he saluted again and walked away. We heard him rev the motorbike (mudhudhudhu) and roar away like someone celebrating a triumph. Soon it was time to know our fates.

The headmaster came out and stood just outside his door. After clearing his throat, he began to call out the names of those to whom he had given places. We hung to his every word, each one of us hoping to hear our names called. I did not panic at first when I didn’t hear my name until he used that tone of voice that people normally use when they have reached the end of an announcement. The policeman’s son got the place and I didn’t.

The Rhodesians had a slogan about not rocking the boat. This was in addition to such exhortations as, ‘DO NOT DRIVE RHODESIA DRY’ in response to the United Nations Security Council comprehensive sanctions against the rebel colony. Rhodesia had declared UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence) on 11 November in the year 1965.

Ian Douglas Smith, the Rhodesian Prime Minister, had done so menacingly with clipped vowels and all. The arrogance and bravado was quite astounding. Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain was totally effeminate in dealing with the rebellion against the crown. It was a clear demonstration of blood being thicker than water.

Harold Wilson held several rounds of negotiations with the Smith regime and on board Her Majesty’s ships, HMS Tiger and HMS Fearless. There were also talks in Malta and Geneva. Naturally the Rhodesians and the African nationalists were miles apart and nothing came of these talks. The rest is now history.

The first president of Rebel Rhodesia was Clifford DuPont, a man blacks hated with a passion. His days as Minister of Justice, Law and Order were particularly confrontational and repressive with the majority of nationalists being hounded, harassed and arrested over flimsy excuses. Some were sent to prison and to restriction centres indefinitely.

After the death of DuPont he was replaced by John Wrathall, a former Minister of Finance in the Smith government. Rumour had it that Wrathall was corrupt. It is said that he often took his wife out for picnics in the air using air force jets. John Wrathall died under mysterious circumstances. Some said he had taken his own life. Everything was kept under wraps because talking about it would have rocked the boat and no good Rhodesian wanted to do that.

Then independence came. It came with a flourish and the inevitable euphoria. Rhodesia had fallen spectacularly like a deck of cards; her military power notwithstanding. And the high profile cases of corruption began: the Paweni case and of course the Willowgate scandal of 1989. A new template was in the making and artistes like Solomon Skhuza immediately attacked the scourge. In one of his songs in the reggae album ‘Love and Scandals’ Skhuza sings: How can a man buy a car and sell it again? Everybody wants to know. This was a covert reference to politicians buying cars very cheaply from the car assembly plant in Harare and re-selling them at criminal profit level.

Jeff Nyarota as editor of The Chronicle then made his name then when one of his reporters the late Tichaona Mukuku broke the story of the scandalous deals. It was a spectacular time with several ministers resigning: Dzingai Mutumbuka (Education), Frederick Shava (Manpower Planning and Development), Maurice Nyagumbo (Mining) and Enos Nkala (held several Ministries at different times).

The corruption story has continued to this day and we need a new template. Let those with cases to answer be put to then defence, no matter who they are. Only then can we speak of a new day. Meanwhile we wait to see what the cat will bring home in the next few weeks.


 
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