Bullets and Ballots and Big Power

When you look at situations like that which prevails in Zimbabwe today, you can see that without change, the country is not going to be able to get out of the mess it is in. To add to the many indicators that confirm our status as a country that has totally screwed up its future, last week a continental study said that we are now the country with the lowest average wealth on the continent. This in a State that has a rich and diverse mineral base, several globally significant resources in the form of Chrome, Platinum, Gold and Diamonds, a well educated population, reasonable national infrastructure and agricultural resources that would make us a global player in many farm commodities.

A South African observer said last week that there were three great threats to the South African State: the breakdown of institutions; the spread of corruption; and the influence of traditional cultures. If you look at the collapse of Zimbabwe as a State since 2000, the very same factors have been at play.

In the first instance we have systematically sought to control all national institutions in an effort to entrench political and economic power in the hands of a small minority. We even had a go at the Church (Kononga) but that came back to bite us and we now rely on intimidation of any Church leaders who dare to stick their heads above the window ledge. So today every State enterprise, every local authority, every institution of any consequence and influence is controlled by politically linked and approved individuals. Very few remain professional and independent – the Judiciary is a prime example.

The consequences have been disastrous – institutions that should be enhancing the role of the State and acting as a break on excesses and violations of the rules of good governance are totally disabled and compliant with corrupt and ruthless and incompetent elites. We have had an anti corruption Commission for five years – not one conviction.

When we started out on this journey as an independent State in 1980, we had the world at our feet. Our Government had a reputation and record of sound administration and zero tolerance for corruption and the first 5 years were great, apart from the genocide against the Ndebele minority. But from then onwards it was downhill as far as corruption was concerned. At first it was quite small and was easily accommodated. Being found out was also a deep shame and we can all recall the time when a Cabinet Minister committed suicide over the sale of a couple of cars. Now it seems laughable.

Today corruption absorbs perhaps 20 per cent of our GDP and some US$80 billion has simply vanished since 1980. In a small country like Zimbabwe this is an enormous sum – it is the sum the EU is claiming from the UK as the cost of Brexit to the Exchequer. When Mr Mugabe bemoaned the theft of US$15 billion from newly discovered alluvial diamond deposits in Marange, it caused an uproar, but no action. The total output of Marange – still over a million dollars a month, is vanishing into mid air with absolutely no consequences. Our fuel prices are 20 to 40 per cent higher than in the region – corruption is the only explanation and despite the fact that I have raised this several times in public and in Parliament – no action or even investigations have taken place.

No country in the world can carry such a burden and grow. The proposed Russian nuclear Power deal in South Africa at a cost of a trillion Rand involves hundreds of millions of dollars of corruption with the President one of the main beneficiaries, the arms deal shortly after the transition in 1994 not only bought South Africa a great deal of stuff they did not need but involved massive corruption and the main beneficiary was the ANC. So far the Courts in South Africa remain strong, professional and independent – but last week the Chief Justice appealed to the State for freedom to do his job. Already all the institutions that are supposed to investigate white collar crime and corruption have been totally dismembered.

Then there is the influence of culture. African culture has been established over many centuries and in the context of small tribal communities which were either nomadic or agricultural and based on shifting cultivation. The majority had a leadership based on the appointment of a Chief who could be by family or simply a leader that emerges from the community. One thing was common – they had supreme authority and control over the people they led, enjoyed many privileges and comparative wealth. An extreme example was Shaka Zulu who controlled an empire that spread across southern Africa and demanded total allegiance from his subjects, reinforced by the capacity to order the death of anyone he chose.

One thing that grew out of this cultural jungle was the belief that your first loyalty was to your wider family and clan or Tribal group. Inter tribal conflict was the norm, not the exception and when the Afrikaners first arrived on the Highveld of South Africa, they found it totally deserted with abandoned villages littered with the skeletons of those butchered by the Zulu Impi’s or their surrogates.

The arrival of the settlers – whatever their nationality, brought to a halt this intertribal conflict and imposed on this complex fabric of tribal life and traditional African cultures and religion a completely new and strange set of beliefs and rules. Not just the Bible and Christianity but also Roman Dutch Law and a Constitution, some form of democracy and the replacement of Tribal loyalties with institutional and corporate loyalties and control. It also brought education, books and means of communication and record keeping.

When finally these subjugated peoples overthrew their masters – colonial or settler, all they knew was the struggle, guns and bullets and the power of violence and intimidation. They regarded the encumbrances of their former masters as simply part of the repressive system they had overthrown. In the transition they were forced by big power influences to adopt a constitution and democracy – but once they had taken power, they quickly moved to destroy their colonial legacies – good and bad, and started reverting to their tribal and African cultural roots, good and bad.

So Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe regard themselves as “African Leaders” and they govern with a strange mixture of modern and old practices and also believe they hold absolute power. Their people do not regard the blatant disregard for niceties when leaders build mansions, drive luxury cars and have total disregard for the cost of their lifestyle as being unacceptable. They are “Chiefs” after all. So Mr Mugabe can lease a top level plane for a trip to the Far East and then to an AU meeting in West Africa and no one even questions the decision – even though the costs run to millions and his own people are starving. Constitutions and the Rule of Law are just hindrances to such leaders.

If countries like Zimbabwe are not prepared to go back to bullets to resolve the crisis that these conditions create in African countries like ours, then they are left with the ballot or big power. Gone are the days of colonial power when a gun boat can be dispatched to bring down a delinquent regime, gone are the days when independent States will accept the interference in their domestic affairs and if the ballot does not work (like Zimbabwe) then what is going to save our countries from ourselves and put us on the road to the future?

Eddie Cross
Harare, 2nd May 2017