By Chido Makunike
IN its confused, disorganised and belated way, the government of President Mugabe is jumping around now trying to put out the many fires that it has watched spread.
After international outrage the regime was strangely not at all prepared for, Operation “Destroy Homes” now is made to appear as a well-planned move that was just carried out a little overzealously.
The claim now is that even the last-minute effort to build a few show houses was all well-planned from the start. One day we are told the displaced will be relocated to farms or to their rural homes, the next day they are dumped where their now demolished houses used to be with the token gift of one or two sheets of asbestos to start building their lives all over again.
It is difficult to keep up with the “trillions” of dollars that are being said to be thrown at municipalities and parastatals for their recovery efforts. Ditto for all the support facilities that are said to be in place to revive agriculture. We may not be sure if all these support schemes really exist or to the extent that is claimed, but there is no doubting the fact that even according to the government’s own figures, there is no sign of recovery in this sector in sight and that’s not just because of drought either.
One no longer hears about “the success” of the Third Chimurenga amidst all the signs of hunger, barren land, machinery idle because of a lack of fuel and so forth.
All kinds of gimmicks from the strange to the bizarre have been tried to increase the amount of hard currency that goes through the official system. None of them have yielded much, as shown by the missions to South Africa and China to plead for money, not to move the country forward but just to try to keep the wolves from the door as expulsion from the IMF looms and Zimbabwe has to pay cash for virtually all its imports.
One reason that none of these efforts are achieving the desired results is that the government and the people are no longer walking together. Not only has the government failed to rally the citizens behind it in seeking solutions to the many things that ail the country, it has failed to convince a significant number of the citizens to have faith that it is capable of spearheading a resolution of those problems. A significant number of citizens believe that government itself is the biggest impediment to solving many of the problems that are attributed to it.
The country is demoralised and has lost confidence in the government, whether it rules legitimately in a legal sense or otherwise. The practical effects of this are immense. It means that our problems require far more than just money to solve.
Those problems are no longer just the obvious and the visible such as crumbling infrastructure, abusive authorities, unproductive enterprise, shortages of all kinds and so forth. The Zimbabwean malaise has deteriorated beyond all these serious symptoms to become a critical problem: a wounding of the national spirit that means that even if we are given huge loans by China or South Africa, we are not likely to see any appreciable improvement in our situation until this attitude problem is addressed. And yet it is unlikely to be addressed as long as so many of the citizens have such a deep mistrust of the abilities and intentions of the government.
For instance, the calls for motorists to conserve fuel makes perfect sense at a time like the present. Until the country’s ability to generate more foreign currency improves, conservation measures, forced or voluntary, must be an important component of dealing with the fuel shortage. Yet there is more conservation in response to just the reality of the shortage than to any exhortations by government officials because we see so many examples of where, instead of showing the nation how they are in the forefront of setting a good example in this regard, they are some of the most wasteful abusers of this scarce product.
We see ministers being driven in big fuel guzzlers to their weekend farms where there is not much production going on.
We hear of a national airline that is sometimes embarrassingly grounded for lack of fuel but we see the president being helicoptered around on frivolous party political errands at a time of national crisis, the presidential motorcade as intimidating and lavish as it was in seemingly better times.
What all this does is to cause a deep alienation of the citizens from the rulers. The citizens are carefully mindful of the brutal capability of the ruling authority and will often allow themselves to be coralled to attending a presidential or ministerial rally but their hearts are often not in it.
And so even when a perennially poorly performing parastatal receives a large government grant, little changes in service delivery because the motivation to serve and the confidence in the country’s prospects under the present system has been long lost.
Government officials from the president down have forgotten the art and the importance of persuasion in their statements.
More often than not we are treated to corrosive, abusive bile from officials not just against foreign governments and well-wishers, but against fellow citizens. A blind loyalty to a system that is so obviously not working is how “patriotism” is now defined, not a love and devotion to one’s country that goes beyond kissing the asses of brutal incompetents.
In bringing about this sad impasse between the citizens and the rulers, the latter carry a greater part of the burden for the state of the relationship than the former because they hold so many more of the cards. When a government works as hard to alienate a significant proportion of the citizens who have a different view of the state of the country as Mugabe’s regime does, it creates for itself enemies within that no amount of harassment, imprisonment and killing can ever permanently put out.
This is why the regime of President Mugabe must spend more time, effort and resources looking over its shoulder in paranoid fear of all the enemies it is creating even within its own ranks. They recognise that they no longer rule by moral authority and the cheerful consent of the ruled, but by the threat of the means and willingness to inflict pain and misery. This accounts for the frightened, abusive and trigger-happy actions of the government we increasingly see.
The demoralisation of which I speak does not just affect the oppressed majority, but the members of the regime and its support structures who mete out the abuse. They too are dehumanised, as shown by how they enthusiastically carry out the abuse on behalf of their masters, when out of uniform and work hours they
suffer as much from it as everybody else and know what they are doing to be evil.
We see ministers whose moral compass has become so askew that they are forced to utter public statements that are the exact opposite of the reality they see for themselves in front of them. They may carry prestigious sounding titles and enjoy the
material perks of their positions, but they have been stripped of the dignity that should accompany their positions because of the evil over which they preside.
None of them dare to declare that they swore to uphold the national interest which is being compromised by the decisions and actions they slavishly agree to implement.
Watching President Mugabe’s frantic efforts to try to bandage all the deep wounds that the country is experiencing as a result of his having been asleep at the wheel for so long is fascinating. But his regime and many of the citizens are now too far adrift of each other for his desperate running around to do any deep or long-term good. It is a fundamental contradiction to beat up and oppress people and then expect them to genuinely and enthusiastically support you in your efforts to cover up the widely apparent and growing signs of your having long outlived your usefulness.
* Chido Makunike is a Harare-based writer.