“ZIMBABWE, Justice is for free, don’t pay for it! … Against Corruption Together (Act),” has become a new motto for the fight against graft in the country’s justice delivery system.
Hundreds of people, accompanied by drum majorettes marched through Harare’s central business district last Friday to raise awareness against corruption while also promoting a whistle-blowing culture.
The colourful procession brought business to a standstill. The mood was celebratory with songs such as Shauri Yako, a yesteryear hit by the once popular Congolese Orchestra Super Mazembe, being bellowed out by the police band. For a moment, people seemed to forget their problems, as they joined in and danced away on Harare’s streets.
Renowned Zimbabwean guitarist and popular jazz crooner, Louis Mhlanga’s Distant Lover proved to be quite popular as well.
The procession, which set off from the Supreme Court along Samora Machel Avenue marched through the city before converging at Harare’s Rotten Row Magistrates Court, included officials from the Justice ministry, Prisons and Correctional Services, Attorney-General (AG)’s Office, National Prosecuting Authority and police, who all play an important role in the justice delivery system.
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku attended the launch, indicating that, at least on paper, the fight against corruption had support from the top. Several people, including Mnangagwa, Chidyausiku, AG Prince Machaya, Commissioner-General of Prisons and Correctional Services Paradzai Zimondi, a representative of Commissioner-General of Police Augustine Chihuri and Deputy Prosecutor-General Florence Ziyambi spoke about the need to fight corruption.
But the buzzword, even as the procession marched through the streets of Harare was that more needed to be done to fight graft other than marching and speechifying, given how endemic it has become in society.
Transparency International’s (TI), which ranks countries based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived, based on the informed views of analysts, businesspeople and experts in countries around the world, last year ranked Zimbabwe 150 out of 168. The ranking meant Zimbabwe is perceived to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world, together with other African countries, including Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Central African Republic and Uganda.
Many have attributed the rise in corruption to the government’s failure to adequately tackle dishonest and fraudulent behaviour from an early stage. From the days of the 1988 Willowgate scandal, which rocked the nation, there has been very little (if any) effort by the government to punish the offenders. Ministers like Enos Nkala, Calistus Ndlovu and Frederick Shava lost their positions only for the latter duo to be rehabilitated through appointments to party and government positions. Another minister Maurice Nyagumbo committed suicide in shame, but all this did not stop corruption which was to worsen and become more sophisticated in later years.
Major corruption cases that have rocked Zimbabwe since then include the ZRP Santana scandal (1989), War Victims Compensation (1994), GMB Grain (1995), VIP Housing (1996), Boka Banking (1998), Zesa YTL Soltran (1998), Telecel (1998), Harare City Council Refuse Tender (1998), Housing Loan (1999), Noczim (1999), DRC timber and diamond UN-reported scandals (1999), GMB (1999), VIP Land Grab (1999) and Harare Airport scandal (2001).
In 2012, former South African president Thabo Mbeki blew the whistle to President Robert Mugabe alerting him of demands made to some South African investors to pay sums as high as US$10 million to mine in Zimbabwe, but he failed to act.
On a number of occasions in public, Mugabe has spoken out against graft but he has consistently failed to walk the talk, such that corruption has continued unabated across all levels of society.
Corruption has become so endemic that Zimbabweans witness it on the streets daily, with traffic police officers almost becoming the symbol of corruption.
The scourge is also rampant in government departments and parastatals where millions of dollars are lost annually, without the culprits being brought to book despite evidence in some cases.
The Auditor-General’s Office has done a commendable job highlighting corruption and abuse of funds, but year in and year out, the department’s reports are ignored.
Corruption is also widespread in the private sector, moreso in the financial sector, where executives have caused the collapse of many banks by misusing depositors’ funds, but have largely remained unscathed despite prejudicing the depositors.
TI chairperson Loughty Dube said more prosecutions on perpetrators of corruption should be done, rather than just campaigns.
Dube said: “It is a good development that the government wants to go public on the fight against corruption, but we feel this commitment should be taken by the executive. Zimbabwe’s corruption is at its highest level and we would want to see more prosecutions of the perpetrators of this so we can begin to take government seriously.”
Social commentator Nyamutatanga Makombe said launches alone will not stop corruption. “Well, the thing is we are thinking that the launches and high sounding statements would reverse the scourge,” Makombe said. “However, the issue is we are using the launches to feel good and say we are doing something and do not go beyond the launches in Harare and implement the proposed projects. What we need is to fully equip the relevant bodies and help them fight the scourge. We also need to empower the citizens so that they will be able to help fight corruption.”
Many Zimbabweans will hope that corruption will at least be rooted out among officials working in the country’s justice delivery system.
In his speech, Chidyausiku said conditions of service for judicial officers and support staff need to be improved to acceptable levels to avoid temptation, widely seen as an admission of how widespread corruption is in government.
Mnangagwa, who also doubles as the Justice minister, said not a day passed without his office receiving complaints against court officials, including messengers of court. He admitted that despite the reforms and efforts to fight corruption, some individuals have not stopped.
Plan International communications manager Angela Machonesa said her organisation built several victim-friendly courts to enhance children’s access to justice. She said corruption increases with distance to courts and it is common for suspects to bribe victims not to testify against them while the police can also be bribed by perpetrators.
“We therefore applaud this positive stance to outrightly condemn corruption in the justice delivery system because it hurts the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable members of which children form the majority,” Machonesa said.
“The launch itself is not enough, there is need to quickly engage in public awareness with all stakeholders. Corruption can be a culture (as it is now) we therefore need to uproot it!”