The best thing to happen to Zimbabwe

By Rejoice Ngwenya

MOROKA village, a few minutes’ drive into Botswana from Ramokgwebane border post, is only termed a village because it is under the administration of a kgotla run

by Headman Jakalasi.

My grandfathers and uncles have been citizens of that village since the early fifties. Only in 1979, the eight-kilometre stretch from Francistown was a dusty track patronised by old 404s and donkey-drawn scotch-carts. On either side of this ancient highway, one would see fragile pole- and-mud huts strewn over wide areas of semi-arid terrain, occasionally punctuated by under-developed maize and sorghum crops. Large herds of cattle and well-fed donkeys were a common sight across the roads, posing a deadly hazard to unsuspecting motorists from the “wealthy” Rhodesian side.

Today, the reverse is true. This past holiday season, my nocturnal encounter with the village was an astounding revelation. It was like driving through Warren Park in its early days — scattered but well-built brick-under-tile houses with electric lights flickering defiantly from fascia boards. By the time I got to my uncle’s house, I had already been treated to a spectacle of a well-stocked supermarket, satellite dishes and running water in homes of what may be termed “messengers” in Harare.

Rural electrification at its best! I agonised over how long the Zanu PF government had promised to tar the road from Chachacha via Tongogara to my primeval Mudzengi village kwaNhema, in Shurugwi.

Time-warped electoral promises have pacified villagers since 1980, who probably by now struggle to find transport to the provincial hospital — simply because bus companies are tired of risking their hard-won assets on the rugged roads of rural areas. Perhaps the only thing that illuminates these forgotten places is either a solitary light from the chief’s bedroom — a symbol of our government’s “highly successful” rural electrification programme — or tungsten lamps dangling from verandahs of bottle stores at “growth points” — Zanu PF’s euphemism for glorified tuckshops. What a joke!

It turns out that Moroka village is one example of how public accountability, democracy and respect for citizens combine to form a potent potion of economic development. Mind you, I have not even mentioned anything of Lobatse, Mahalapye and Gaborone.

When cross-border travellers comment on how the South African police and their Tswana counterparts abuse Zimbabweans, I usually chip in with a very simple analysis. In our own country, citizens are arrested, charged, convicted and then brought to court to formalise the process. They are sometimes incarcerated for months on end in remand prison without being brought to trial.

I also remind the critics of the Tswana and South African justice systems that in our country, we need permission from local police to express public opinion, hold meetings and distribute political messages. We cannot appear on television or talk on radio unless we sing praises of the government.

In fact, if we so much as venture to criticise the president, there is a suitable charge for that too. Therefore the burning question is: if our own government or system is so spiteful of human rights, why should Tswanas and South Africans respect us? Who will respect you if you do not respect yourself?

My submission is that all that glitters in Botswana is in fact not just diamonds, but a high degree of accountability, respect for citizens’ rights, political sanity, tolerance and good old love for other people. The vengeance and ridicule characterised by our own political discourse is alien to Botswana. I know it not from speculation, but through direct experience.

On their television, members of different political parties discuss openly. At bars, they share jokes, beer and sarcasm. They display their party livery without fear — which I cannot say of Zimbabweans in Mashonaland Central where Zanu PF warlords mention words like enemy, no-go area, destruction etc — words that have no space in the vocabulary of civilised democracies.

I am sure that many of our brothers, sisters and mothers who I saw standing in the blazing sun at the border post in Plumtree are Zanu PF supporters. I salute their business acumen, but would echo the conscience of a Tswana immigration officer who, when there is a problem in their documentation, would shout: “Go back to your country and work there. Isn’t it you who say President Robert Mugabe is the best thing that ever happened to Zimbabwe? So what do you want here? Buyela kogae! Go back to your country.” A harsh reality.

The bare facts are that where a government is accountable, responsible and democratic, the gains are massive. Firstly, everyone wants to invest in that country. This creates more jobs and a higher sense of individual security. Secondly, markets and monetary “emotions” remain bullish and consumers keep spending, resulting in higher everything — per capita gross domestic product, foreign reserves, standards of life.

In our case, we border-jump because the risk of being caught and whipped at the kgotla is less threatening than being perpetual social rejects at home. In its own ugly way, we deserve a whipping, because we play ball in the

wrong camp — a hostile corner.

I would really care less if this talk sounds like from one whose self-esteem is well below sea level. I represent five million plus Zimbabweans citizens who either have no jobs at homes or clean pigsties and old people’s homes in Pholokwane and Leytonstone. If you do not agree, that is entirely your prerogative.

Zimbabwe right now is at the bottom of the competitive rung while Botswana is flying high. For some reason, Sir Seretse Khama left a legacy of decency that has had a domino effect on his successors. In one way, the bloodless transition from being a British protectorate to an independent republic paid dividends, unlike our own version of outright military conquest that left nationalists with a hangover for haematoid murals on the front doors of political competitors.

Both Zimbabwe and Botswana are in the fast lanes, but while ours is towards destination self-immolation, theirs is towards stardom. We have a choice to stand and watch, or slow down and learn.

Ngwenya is a Harare-based marketing executive.