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MDC senators happy to be used

By Magari Mandebvu

WELL, the non-event of the senate election is over. Let’s see what we can do to go ahead without shouting insults at each other, especially if we both claim to be on the same side.

The MDC defectors showed how small their following is, so their insistence on standing for the already discredited senate should soon be forgotten, as they will be if we are sensible. The people are not with them. But let’s not fall for the trick of giving them more blame than they deserve.

Although some people have said that some of them were Zanu PF plants in the MDC from the start, I don’t believe that for a moment. How could anyone have fooled us for so long? Neither they nor Zanu PF nor the CIO are that clever. Exaggerating how clever your opponents are is a short cut to defeatism.

No spy organisation will go to the trouble of planting highly-trained agents to lie quiet for years until they can do the most damage if they can find another way of doing the job. On the other hand, every spy organisation worth the name is well-informed about its opponent’s weaknesses and knows how to exploit them.

The CIO are certainly efficient enough to do that.

They only needed to be fairly sure how certain people would act in a particular situation and create that situation and perhaps give them a little nudge to move in the direction the spies wanted. The victim need never even know he was being manipulated.

So what made it possible to manipulate the pro-senate faction?

The crucial weakness of almost all of them came from their background. It was the lifestyle they enjoyed in their professional careers and the thinking which justified the lifestyle. They were mostly academics, lawyers and NGO administrators. These people are used to fat salaries or fees, generous expenses, good cars and maybe other benefits, including the chance of foreign travel. Those things make their lives more comfortable than the lives of most of us. The people who provided them with these goodies persuaded them to justify accepting by saying these things were necessary to enable them to do the most efficient job they could, and the job, in one form or another, was to help people.

That is very seductive. It plays on the employee’s good intentions as well as on the liking we all have for a comfortable life. It is only natural that these people should accept the chance of seats in the senate. The trouble is that, that very lifestyle takes them further from the people they are supposed to be helping. A little example will illustrate this.

In the 1980s, I worked for a development centre near Harare. During that time, a donor organisation, which was based in Africa, backed us and a couple of other centres in a project to spread traditional varieties of grain seed.

As part of this, they organised a field demonstration of what some groups in Matabeleland South were doing. I was invited, along with a man from a centre in Manicaland. We were told the donor’s representative would meet us at the ticket office at Harare railway station. We met at the third and fourth class ticket office, but saw no sign of the donor. We bought our third class tickets and boarded the train.

When we arrived in Bulawayo, the donor representative was waiting for us at the entrance to the station. He said he was puzzled that he didn’t meet us at the ticket office in Harare. He was a Zimbabwean, but did not know there were two ticket offices, as he always travelled first class. He unconsciously reinforced our prejudices when, on the return journey, he apologised to us for not being able to repay us our fares on the spot, as he needed all the money he had on him to fly back to Harare.

Now, I had always found third class good enough for an overnight trip to Bulawayo, at least if I arrived early enough to get a good seat. I did use second class when travelling with delicate or old people like my mother, but never saw the point in travelling first class. And as for flying, why should anyone fly from Bulawayo to Harare? “To save time” the donor’s young man probably said, but what did he do with the time he saved?

He didn’t at that time have a wife and children waiting anxiously for “Daddy” to get home for the night and he didn’t save any working time. I always found that if I got a top berth and preferably in a fairly quiet compartment in third class I got a good night’s sleep. In those days the trains travelled more or less on time, so after a day’s work in Bulawayo or its neighbourhood, I was ready for a day’s work in Harare.

He was younger than me, so I didn’t see why he couldn’t do the same. We wouldn’t lose any working time overnight. That certainly left me wondering whether he and his organisation were really in touch with the realities of life for us and for the people they claimed to help. If they were not in touch, how could they help in ways that were really beneficial to ordinary people?

Now back to our new MDC senators. They have lived, like that young man, in the world where they have fat salaries, generous expense accounts, smart cars, foreign travel and all those benefits. Like him, they probably believe those benefits help them to work better for the people. If you think like that, you will argue that a seat in the senate provides all the benefits which help you to serve your constituents.

The CIO or Zanu PF don’t need to work very hard to push, drag or bribe anyone who thinks like that into standing for the senate. They only need to set up the situation by holding elections to the senate. Maybe they would very discreetly nudge their dupe in the direction of the right office to file their candidacy, but that might not even be necessary. They know their man and know how he would act when that particular carrot was dangled in front of him.

So that is why none of us expect anything from those senators. If really helping the people could cost them the benefits that go with a senate seat, they would find excuses for doing nothing. They would probably say acting now and losing their place in the senate would be less helpful than staying in the senate where they could hope to do something later. But what would they do later?

That is another reason why everyone who spoke to me about the senate election supported Tsvangirai. They weren’t all MDC members, as far as I know. Certainly not all were youths or women. All of them were people who know that one of these days, the new “MDC” senators will wake up on that rubbish heap where Zanu PF dump all their political used condoms.

* Magari Mandebvu is a social commentator.

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