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Candid Comment

Coy clerics’ sedatives abetting poverty

By Joram Nyathi

Sunday morning listening to Fiba Zimbabwe on SFM. The preacher made an impassioned speech about the “African problem”. He said Africa had enough resources to become

the reserve bank of the world. But this was not possible for three major reasons.

Africans, said the preacher, were plagued by too much “consumption without production, greed without sharing and dependency without responsibility”. I was inclined to agree with his observations on consumption and greed. These are the twin evils that have been most responsible for the islands of obscene opulence amid seas of poverty.

There are all the signs of conspicuous consumption. A visitor from Europe walking along Harare’s streets would be forgiven for thinking that we have one of the biggest production plants for Toyota and Mazda vehicles despite shortages of foreign currency to import critical inputs such as fuel, medicines, farm machinery and fertiliser.

While business leaders drive around in the slickest 4x4s, one is struck by the brutality of municipal police as they chase around street vendors trying to eke out a scavenger’s existence selling cigarettes, oranges, maputi and cellphone recharge cards. Overweight Hummers and the latest SUV share the same potholed streets with pushcarts laden with bananas for sale.

One cannot miss the sharp contrast between the opulence of Rainbow Towers overlooking the dirty commuter terminus near the magistrates’ court.

However, the charge of dependency and responsibility needs some qualification. I disagree very strongly with anyone who says African citizens should not hold their governments responsible for the continent’s backwardness.

Most such preachers are coy about telling these earthly leaders that they are fallible, that they should be accountable to the electorate and that they have a duty to observe and respect the laws their governments impose on citizens.

More than that, it is often difficult for citizens to be responsible under a political dispensation where there is simply too much government. In the case of Zimbabwe the government controls virtually everything one can think of.

It controls the price of bread, commuter fares, fuel, council tariffs and school fees. There is hardly a facet of one’s daily life where one does not experience government’s intrusiveness. Remember after taxing your money, they still want to determine how much you can use per day and how. When you thought they were done, they are working on a law that allows them to tap into your conversation any time of the day.

The preacher reminded me of the duplicitous evangelists from Nigeria and America who seek to explain all our problems on the basis of our sins or lack of faith. In that way they avoid dabbling in politics but ambush the poor who turn to them for salvation.

They will give churches their own names, spend millions of dollars advertising their services and splash their faces in the news papers and television screens while their flock starve.

They scream in front of television cameras and promise to cure diseases before rented crowds all in the name of Jesus but will not visit the home for Aids sufferers at Mashambanzou in Waterfalls, Jairos Jiri Centre for the disabled in Southerton, nor St Giles rehabilitation centre in Milton Park to heal the disabled and infirm. There we have real people in pain and in need of help. Clear these centres of their sick and we shall surely erect churches there in your name. It’s not about posturing for the camera.

But then Jesus was not attention-seeking, a miracle crusader nor a showman. While he exhorted us to give to Caesar his due, he would not condone the cruel treatment of the poor and the fatherless.

His heart bled for the poor, not to anoint despots or absolve them of their earthly responsibilities. This brand of preachers is not helpful in making our leaders take their tasks seriously — not as the anointed of God, but as servants of his people.

It is not possible for people to exercise full responsibility over their destiny when all national resources are controlled by a parasitical state with its octopus hands in everything. Africans are poor not because the continent has no resources but because the government wants to be in charge of everything and dole out largesse at its pleasure. Poverty, ignorance and patronage are a source of immense power.

Can anyone imagine Tony Blair or George Bush, or any European government for that matter, trying to win an election by promising the electorate a return to the land and telling them they will be better off away from amenities to be found in towns. Even that great friend of the poor, Karl Marx, with all his zeal and zest for a socialist revolution maturing into classless communism, had no sentimental illusions about rural conservatism and backwardness. These have been parlayed by unscrupulous politicians to keep the rest of society in thrall.

His views on religion were captured in the famous remark about it being the “opium of the masses” and unfortunately we have preachers today ready to administer the portent sedative on behalf of oppressive regimes while they promise the poor everlasting joy after death. Such preachers have lost their saltiness.

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