I WENT back home to Zimbabwe for the first time since 2011 and spent 3 weeks traversing between the cities of Harare, Kwekwe, Bulawayo and the surrounding rural areas. I spent time in some of the country’s upmarket places and also in the rundown townships. I used private vehicles, taxis, public buses and trucks and allowed myself to meet and listen to stories and observe actions of as many people as possible, from all walks of life.
Like most people who have gone back home in recent years, I found it impossible to leave without wearing a heavy heart. I however didn’t just want to wear that heavy heart, but decided to put my head over the parapet and say what many have since given up on; that things are not yet well in Zimbabwe – in fact we are heading toward irredeemable abyss. By pretending that things are normal, or that they are getting better, we are sleepwalking ourselves into unthinkable disaster, even worse than we have already gone through.
Time and time again, we have been told that the fish’s head is rotting. This of course makes it easy for many to point accusing fingers at President Robert Mugabe and his party for their role in steering the country towards a reef, and justifiably so. What many fail to realize, however, is that the rot is shockingly not only limited to the politics of the ruling party, it is touching leadership in all facets of Zimbabwean life, and spreading. A newspaper vendor told me that it was painful for him to see a few individuals creaming off the nation’s wealth, but he wouldn’t hesitate to do the same if he got the chance. This is sad. The whole society’s leadership, from the ruling party to the opposition, from the mushrooming salvific religious movements to opportunistic business entrepreneurs, and so on, is a joke.
Unfortunately, it’s a very dangerous ‘joke’ because these ‘leaders’ have ganged up, like parasites, to suck dry the hapless majority of Zimbabweans who are sinking deeper and deeper into abjection. The most dispiriting thing is that there seems to be no better alternative in sight. Even those who could have carried the hopes of many during these trying times, like our main opposition party and religious movements, have tippexed-out the words ‘service’ and ‘humaneness’ from their dictionaries. Plunder has strangely become a virtue, and it’s now always wrapped in euphemisms like entrepreneurship, salvation, empowerment, and even ‘fight for democracy’. If the ordinary Zimbabwean has for a long time been forgotten by our leaders, this time s/he has been extirpated and no longer has a place in any plan-books, if at all there are plans for ordinary people in today’s Zimbabwe.Advertisement
Big men and women
I honestly never expected the horrendous levels of dilapidation of infrastructure and the amount of desperation and hopelessness of the ordinary Zimbabwean. The decay in the country is simply inexcusable for a nation of hardworking people like Zimbabweans. Travelling on the country’s pothole-riddled roads feels and is indeed risky. Cities across the country are dark for lack of electricity and filthy for lack of cleaning – only the lionhearted drink tap water. The youth are despondent for lack of jobs and the nation is ill for lack of preventive and corrective healthcare. It’s now almost normal to be a victim of random crime like theft (I am a victim). The few remaining industries are sputtering and getting a single US dollar has become, for many, an arduous undertaking. But we continue to keep quiet and still think there is ‘leadership’.
There is now an uncomfortable obsession with unaccountable ‘big men’ (and ‘big women’ too) in politics, religion, business, in virtually every sector of the Zimbabwean society. I happened to be in the country when several stories of high-level corruption were surfacing. The story of the Premier Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) chief executive officer, Cuthbert Dube who, apparently, was taking home a bulky salary of nearly $250,000 and that of Happison Muchechetere, the disgraced boss of the country’s state broadcaster who enjoyed a US$40,000 monthly salary at a time when their subordinates endured months without payment, made some sad reading.
And they are not the only ones; some spendthrifts masquerading as religious leaders are infesting the country and gnawing at what is left of the already impoverished bodies of ordinary Zimbabweans. I heard that some of them are using the loot to crisscross the skies of Harare in choppers supposedly going to church services. There is absolutely nothing wrong with flying a chopper, driving lavish cars or staying in mansions, but not after getting the monies through the manipulation of a desperate population and the squander of their meagre belongings. There is wickedness in promising desperate people heaven on earth, especially when the promises remain just promises and cost a fortune too. The number of such movements, whose activities are the apotheosis of con-artistry, is staggering and growing. This is scary.
Our politicians, even those presenting themselves as alternatives to the current political establishment, are now overly self-seeking. In their parties’ boardrooms they spend time howling, scratching and biting – fighting for their narrow self-centered aims. In parliament they debate on the color of their urine. In private they are imposters and fraudsters of the worst kind. While 3000 Zimbabwean women lose their lives every year during child birth, according to the UN, people like Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of our main opposition political party have the guts to throw money around like confetti. He is reported to be staying in a US$3 million dollar mansion that he built during the 4 years he was on the government gravy train. During that time he is said to have dished out another estimated US$300,000 to pay a jilted lover.
The most heart-rending thing about all this is that it is happening when the country’s main referral hospital, Parirenyatwa, requires a measly US$4, 5 million for refurbishment, according to a December 2013 report by The Herald newspaper. Tsvangirai is just one of the myriad of ‘leaders’ in the country who are now stone-hearted and are doing everything without compunction.
The state is now only effective where money is squeezed out of the ordinary people’s shallow pockets. I noticed this at toll-gates that look new and formidable, while the roads are in a sorry state. Road blocks are manned by dishonest police officers, and government offices occupied by readily corruptible officers. When it comes to paving roads, tackling criminals that are overrunning the country, re-equipping hospitals, cleaning the streets, or paying school teachers, the State lies doggo.
If there is one country where the “99% vs 1%” made famous by the ‘Occupy movement’ exists in reality, it is present day Zimbabwe. Unfortunately our 99% has been battered into submission and is under the severe thumb of a coterie of political, business and religious ‘leaders’ that benefit from the shambolic state of affairs. The streets that could be ‘occupied’ are riddled with potholes, the squares and gardens are neglected, littered and smell of feces and urine. It seems to me that pushing people deeper into wretchedness, in the mind of these ‘leaders’, is highly desirable.
What the world has to know, however, is that there is a silent genocide going on in Zimbabwe and it is not only being carried out by those with political power alone. Genocide is not only about machetes and AK 47 rifles. The day-to-day carnage on our neglected roads, the neglected hospitals, the lack of food, the lack of hygiene, the unbridled criminality is costing people their lives. This goes to show the severe structural violence being perpetrated on ordinary Zimbabweans by a heartless leadership that is more effective in drinking fine wine and eating rare meats.
We should continue talking about Zimbabwe’s crisis because keeping quiet is not helping anything. Like sheep, we are being taken to slaughter by those we trust to lead us. Unless and until we find individuals who genuinely understands and lives the phrase ‘service leadership’ there shall continue to be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in Zimbabwe.
Melusi Nkomo is a Ph.D candidate at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (University of Geneva) Geneva, Switzerland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org