COLUMN: MARY REVESAI
Maze of Mugabe patronage everywhere
In most other countries cabinet reshuffles are supposed to be an instrument to improve efficiency and enhance the chances of achieving the goals the government has set itself as a way of addressing the needs and aspirations of the people. Most importantly, Cabinet reshuffles are supposed to inject new blood into the team.
Zimbabweans have noted with increasing frustration however, that the thrust of Mugabe’s reshuffles is the complete opposite. His aim is to ensure that regardless of their lacklustre performance, all the members of his tired team remain on the gravy train. The only headache for him is how to shift the same people around so that at the end of the exercise, everyone is still at the feeding trough.
This means that a non-performer like Agriculture Minister Joseph Made who does not seem to have the slightest inkling of what he is supposed to do has no incentive to pull up his socks because he knows he is always assured of a job in one form or another. In some countries, ministers have turned down new portfolios assigned to them after cabinet reshuffles if they regarded them either as demotions or not being fields where they could make meaningful contributions. Not in Zimbabwe, where the ability to perform effectively in a cabinet post does not seem to be a consideration when these sinecures are dished out. I have often felt embarrassed for ministers who have been prepared to be kicked around like tennis balls but have continued to be grateful for whatever bone was thrown their way by the dispenser of favours.
How many times for example, has Herbert Murerwa been shuffled between Finance and Higher Education? An even more important question is what outstanding achievements has he recorded in both portfolios to deserve being a second, their, fourth and fifth chance?
In the short space
of three years since he was retrieved from oblivion in 2004, Didymus
Mutasa has already won three cabinet hats but one would be hard put
to cite a single outstanding success. Joyce Mujuru, who was controversially
appointed to the position of vice-president two years ago, has also
served as a governor and as minister of youth, sport and culture, community
development and women’s affairs and water resources and development.
Most ministers in Mugabe’s cabinet have been given the same run-around
and yet they have never thought of resigning so as to make way for new
A cynical and frustrated Zimbabwean refers to this political patronage system that Mugabe presides over which has brought a once prosperous country to its knees in terms of the living standards of the majority of the people as Robert Mugabe Incorporated (Trading as Zanu PF).
Just how far and widely this “firm” has spread its tentacles within the populace is only obvious through the firm grip Mugabe keeps on his cabinet. Snippets of information come to the fore in unexpected ways all the time to show the extent to which Robert Mugabe has come to regard Zimbabwe as his personal fiefdom. Sometimes the beneficiaries of his patronage are unmasked through their involvement in scandals in which someone spills the beans or during court proceedings when startling disclosures are made.
Zimbabweans learnt recently, for example, that there are people employed in the public sector whose salaries are drawn from the national fiscus, but who nevertheless, have “personal” contracts with the head of state. This means that these people unfairly enjoy preferential treatment in terms of remuneration and conditions of service. The case reported in the press recently involves a former Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) deputy director now apparently living in Canada, who is a fugitive from justice in Zimbabwe. Before he skipped bail, he had been facing fraud charges along with some other CIO operatives. The fraud case cannot be finalised until the man can be extradited back to Zimbabwe. His co-accused have complained about unfair treatment in that pending the conclusion of their trial for fraud, they have been suspended from the CIO while as their co-accused was given his terminal benefits because of his personal connections with the head of state.
It was in trying to explain this anomaly that the cat was let out of the bag. It is anyone’s guess how many other people in the public sector are enjoying remuneration and conditions of service decreed personally by the president, thus rendering any Public Service Commission guidelines and regulations irrelevant. At the weekend, Mugabe and his wife Grace attended a funeral in Chihvu and unlikely as it may seem, this provided another insight into the tangled web of personal relationships that now determine the caliber of people serving in government and parastatals. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation reported that the man who was being mourned, Obert Bimha, was the president’s brother-in-law. After this disclosure, the penny dropped and it became obvious that the late Obert’s brothers, Mike and Joey, are also related by marriage to the head of state.
Mike is the new chairman of the Air Zimbabwe board and Joey, a former ambassador, is the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Both brothers have been allocated farms under the government’s land reform programme, a fact disclosed by Mike at the funeral when he said: “We were only three brothers and both myself and my elder brother, Ambassador Bimha no longer live at the family homestead as we now live on our farms…”
Such unwitting disclosures are only a tip of the iceberg. The mind boggles to think how big the submerged part of this intricate maze of nepotism and patronage is and what it will take to unravel it so that Zimbabwe can belong to all its citizens once more.
Mary Revesai is a New Zimbabwe.com columnist and writes from Harare. Her column will appear here every Tuesday
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