By Chido Makunike
WHETHER or not we agree on the causes or what should be done about it, most Zimbabweans are deeply unhappy about the way the country is faring. Economic hardships that
have seen the quality of life significantly deteriorate, constant and great political tension, joblessness, hyper-inflation, a growing distrust of public officials, a state media that churns out hate speech under the direction of top bureaucrats, persecution of groups of citizens and international isolation are just a few manifestations of how the Zimbabwe of today is far removed from what many of its people would have hoped the country would be at this stage of its progression.
Whether we are involved in agitating for change from this state of affairs or not has often depended on how well we think we are doing under these conditions of confusion.
Many of those who may agree that Zimbabwe has strayed from the ideals of the liberation struggle but have at least a fairly comfortable middle-class lifestyle feel they have no role to play in helping to bring about a better society than we have under the renegades of the revolution who rule over us today.
Those who consider themselves to actually be thriving under the present conditions may feel that rather than protesting at the state of the country, they have a stake in the repressive, corrupt status quo.
Yet in recent months we have seen many examples of how even those who consider themselves part of the system suffer from living in a police state in which arrest and torture can be arbitrary and cruel with very little recourse for appeal anywhere. We have seen how those who thought great wealth protected them from the depredations many other citizens endure daily can have their whole lives turned upside down on the whim or suspicion of some politician.
We have learnt that midnight arrests, detentions over weekends that are not meant to serve the cause of justice, torture and incarcerations on a politician’s whims for reasons of harassment or personal retribution are very much part of life in Zimbabwe. All these issues have to do with the way Zimbabwe is governed, and are therefore political.
None of us has the option of “not being interested in politics” as you will sometimes hear people say with their noses high in the air. We only have the option of what level of involvement we choose, and even trying to keep one’s head down to escape the repressive notice of the authorities is a deeply political choice.
Interest or involvement in politics need not mean all of us becoming politicians or running for office. It can mean merely voting, attending a city council or ward meeting for whatever it’s worth, or writing a letter to the editor. All of us, of whatever political persuasion, have a stake in doing our little bit to bring about a better Zimbabwe based more on fair play, justice, a chance of prosperity and protection from abuse by fellow citizens or agents of the state.
Over the last year Zanu PF MP and provincial chairman Philip Chiyangwa has spent several weeks in jail on various charges, the latest one being espionage. He has used his closeness to the centre of power to aid his business efforts very well, and has been an obedient rubber-stamper of many repressive laws passed in parliament.
But now there are widespread rumours that he has been severely tortured in detention, with some alleging he even suffered a mild stroke as a result of it. His arrest and detention was a matter of speculation for a couple of weeks, with the authorities outrightly lying that they knew nothing of his whereabouts. His family members were intimidated and humiliated into pretending all was well and he was at home when he had long been abducted.
Why should this be? Are we still living in the dark ages where a citizen can be secretly spirited away and disappear for weeks without the public having a right to know what happened to him? I have never been an admirer of Chiyangwa’s, but the issue here is of the rights that any citizen should be entitled to in a democratic modern state.
The espionage charges against him have been made in-camera rather than in a court open to the public, ostensibly because of the national security implications of the case. But we know enough about the bloody hands of the rulers from as far back as their pre-Independence record to be sceptical that whatever Chiyangwa is alleged to have done really threatens national security.
I bet Chiyangwa’s feelings about the importance of civil liberties and the protection of a fair, just legal system are different now than when he was obediently toeing the party line to pass laws that have greatly contributed to a climate in which he has really nowhere to go if the state — or rather individuals within it — have decided to crucify him for reasons that have nothing to do with treason.
Finance minister Chris Kuruneri has been in jail for close to a year now on foreign currency charges that many top officials in government today are widely thought to be guilty of as well. Frail Kuruneri has been denied bail countless times as if he were a mass murderer, while many other top “externalisers” who for the moment still enjoy official favour roam around Harare unhindered.
Yet when Kuruneri was riding high as a Mugabe minister, if you had said to him “minister, use your influence to help the cause of fairness and the rule of law and to prevent arbitrary, cynical application of laws against citizens”, he would have probably laughed in your face.
Many prominent new bankers of recent years and other big business types ran from Zimbabwe for fear of being jailed on charges of fraud, forex externalisation and so forth. Some have protested their innocence but rightly fear that the prevailing judicial and political environment does not guarantee that they will have a fair day in court.
Yet many of these once Big Men in Town (BMIT), knowing very well the economically incompetent and politically repressive system they were propping up, were happy to pay allegiance to Zanu PF and support it in cash and kind as long as they cynically thought it bought them protection.
Many of the BMIT would have told you: “I’m not interested in politics, I’m too busy making money and living large!” Alas, but politics was interested in them!
There have been many recent reports of out-of-favour ruling party politicians who were allowed to expropriate several farms from their former white owners now having them taken from them. When the white farmers protested, it could be dismissed as historical karma and a sexy revolution.
Now some of the multiple-farm “new farmers” dare to cry “unfair” as the corrupt revolution consumes their greed, albeit after allowing them to enjoy their new unearned wealth for a while.
Jonathan Moyo, Joseph Chinotimba and other aggressive young recent recruits to Zanu PF have been whining about the unfairness of the rules and directives of their party in regard to the primary elections scheduled for this weekend that have left them ineligible to stand. These and many other mafikizolos were very effective foot soldiers in bludgeoning the country into submission to an unpopular Zanu PF during the last general election and since then, ruthlessly using all sorts of tactics of intimidation and vilification.
It is therefore very ironic that now that when senior officials in the party are no longer sure of the mafikizolos’ continuing usefulness and use under-hand tactics to edge them aside, the newcomers whine about “unfairness”!
Now that the tables they used to beat so many fellow citizens with have been turned on them, these guys who once seemed so tough turn out to be mere crybabies! Weep not, children, you are merely reaping what you sowed!
Whether you like it or not, the political causes of Zimbabwe’s decline under the regime of President Robert Mugabe affects you in one way or another. The struggle for a more just Zimbabwe is the business of every single one of us, whether we are top officials in the ruling party still in good books with the emperor, opposition party activists, businesspeople, journalists even of the state propaganda services whose time is winding up, or private citizens going about our daily business.
Zimbabweans, let us all find our own ways of fighting for a Zimbabwe run on fairly applied, predictable rules rather than on the basis of political affiliation, patronage, or the personal whim of some government official or politician.
We deserve a far better Zimbabwe than we are getting from Mugabe and company.
*Chido Makunike is a regular contributor to the Zimbabwe Independent.