Spreading tentacles of patronage

GOVERNMENT this week started to demarcate residential stands and to re-allocate market stalls to “deserving people” in the aftermath of the state-sponsored tsunami, Operation Murambatsvina.

Prospective benefic

iaries were registering to be considered for the re-allocated stands and stalls which the authorities said would bring order to various urban centres. We were not however surprised by the presence of Zanu PF sharks who ironically have contributed immensely to bringing disorder and confusion to town planning by encouraging people to build houses on unserviced plots and without change-of-use permission.

The state media showed Nyasha Chikwinya as one of the dignitaries at a registration centre. Details of her illegal housing project in Hatcliffe have been reported.

The government has said apart from demarcating and reallocating stands in urban areas, it will publish the names of the beneficiaries in the press to ensure equitable distribution of resources.

We will not be duped into believing that the Zanu PF government has become a doyen of transparency and is acting responsibly. The government has never been known to possess this virtue when it comes to the allocation of scarce national resources. All its actions have been steeped in the mire of political patronage.

The government of President Mugabe in its clientelist mode has built a complex system of power largely based on its ability to co-opt interest groups in society through a patronage system in which they exchange support for the regime for material benefits.

In South America, the system of clientelism has been the hallmark of successive governments who have managed to reward small interest groups such as land-invaders, collective taxi drivers, and street vendors, to enable them to organise and have access to public space to exercise their profession. The practice of rewards also takes place among big business people who are awarded state contracts or access to cheap money from governments in exchange for their unwavering support for the establishment.

There are traits of this unsavoury practice inbuilt into the ruling elite in Harare. The government has been very adept in ensuring that key people across the social spectrum are adequately catered for.

It is a practice which ensures that strategic partners get prime positions at the feeding trough. It is a system that seeks to hoodwink the public into believing that the state is benevolent and keen to correct colonial imbalances by redistributing resources. At the end of the day, deserving cases have been elbowed out of the queues and those who should benefit from the state’s welfare system are as poor as ever.

It is sad to note that those politically connected are always at the front of the queues or do not queue at all to access state largesse. There are senior civil servants and military, police and security officials who have become very rich because of this patronage.

Firstly, they were allocated productive and well-equipped farms during the ill-fated resettlement exercise. Then they accessed cheap loans from government. Next they were in the government scheme to acquire tractors and irrigation equipment.

They have not repaid loans but they still get the opportunity to have another helping at the feeding trough even though there is a long list of hungry Zimbabweans locked outside.

It is not surprising to discover that these are the same people who looted funds from the Pay for Your House Scheme in the mid-1990s. There are still thousands of teachers, nurses and clerks who contributed their meagre earnings to the scheme in the hope of owning a house one day but their dream was shattered when crooks in high office hijacked the scheme. Today thousands of poor civil servants are still waiting for their houses. Good luck to those who deposited millions of dollars each with a commercial bank under government’s new housing scheme two years ago!

Chiefs and other junior traditional leaders have been given cars when district hospitals do not have ambulances. Chiefs’ houses have been electrified yet clinics still use candles and do not have running water.

There are also scraps for the selected lot lower down the social ladder. These come in the form of bags of seed and fertiliser, preferential treatment in accessing relief aid and even a party T-shirt with a portrait of Mugabe emblazoned on it.

All these beneficiaries form various layers of support for the establishment because their collective consciences have been bribed. That includes those responsible for upholding the law.

It is no wonder we have become poorer by the day when the chosen few live in a different world of unrivalled plenty. The connection between the wealthy few and the impoverished many in a system that is unaccountable and grossly self-indulgent should be obvious to even the most simple-minded observer.

Operation Murambatsvina, if nothing else, has laid bare that national trait.

Previous articleEditor’s memo
Next articleComment

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading