The high cost of Mugabe’s patronage


By Chido Makunike

ONE of the most effective ways President Robert Mugabe has been able to retain power has been his brilliant skill at dispensing patronage.



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So despite a consistent decline in the well-being of the nation and evidence of the resultant public disillusionment with him over the course of his long tenure in office, his careful choosing of people in his inner circle has stood him in good stead. His cabinet, the armed forces, the top levels of government service, parastatals are all full of people who have been given good material reasons to remain personally loyal to him despite the decline all around us.

When foreign currency is tight, a minister paying school fees for a child at school in Australia, Spain or the UK is assured of getting easier and cheaper hard currency than an average citizen for example. You all know how so many of Mugabe’s “revolutionary” cronies love all the trappings of the life of the “imperialist, racist” countries they like to please Mugabe by pretending to hate!

If you have always had visions of being a gentleman farmer, you are among the list of people to take over the white farm with the nice bungalow, a built-up barn, swimming pool and assorted equipment expropriated from the previous owner. Various support facilities in place that are touted as being for the “new farmer” first go to known Mugabe cronies while the “landless masses” have to contend with starting from scratch on some barren piece of land with no infrastructure to speak of.

So political ideology and conviction aside, being on the good side of His Imperial Majesty has tremendous benefits, particularly in a poorly performing, highly-politicised economy where merit and hard work count for nothing.

If one is willing to forget the state-sponsored violence of the last several years, the ever-increasing repression under the guise of a spurious Africanism, the intimidation and shutting down of dissenting voices and the sharp decline in the economic prospects of most of the population and pledge undying loyalty to the reigning fiefdom, why then life can be very good!

Why rock the boat by bringing up the unpleasant realities of how things really are, when looking the other way as the country declines and singing the praises of the king can be such an easy ticket to the good life?

If there is still any defining ideology that binds the top echelons of Mugabe’s support base, it is an aggressive self-interest bereft of any pangs of conscience at the ruin that Mugabe has visited on Zimbabwe. It is not at all accidental that Mugabe’s closest aides are no longer people who shared the sense of sacrifice and principle he once exhibited in the ancient days when he was a figure of admiration, before he demoted himself to being just another African despot presiding over the deprivation and misery of his people.

Instead the calibre of people umdala Mugabe most trusts these days are the mafikizolo mercenaries running from their sordid pasts, hiding behind his skirts to get at their enemies.

Jonathan Moyo, of all people, has overshadowed liberation-era icons like Joseph Msika and John Nkomo for Mugabe’s attention. He recently became apoplectic when it was suggested that he had a son from a previous liaison that he disowned.

As an indication of where Moyo’s mind “is at”, the Mugabe propagandist “defended” himself by protesting that he was nowhere near the scene of the alleged union at the material time, but was in the region of Las Vegas, the gambling and prostitution capital of the US! Wherever he goes, he seems to attract trouble and dishonour, having been accused of big-time financial improprieties in a number of countries. He does not appear to firmly hold any convictions, saying one thing today only to spout the exact opposite the following year.

Assuming he wins his way to parliament next year as the MP for Tsholotsho, I cannot see how I would be able to refer to him as “honourable” Moyo. Yet it is people like Moyo who are thriving in Mugabe’s end times!

But wait, there is a down side to these seeming benefits of throwing one’s conscience out of the window in order to have a moment of prominence in a dying, corrupt dispensation.

Look at poor James Makamba, Chris Kuruneri and Kindness Paradza. These are all people who benefited to various extents from being part of Mugabe’s ruinous system but in one way or another didn’t quite follow all the unwritten rules to continue feeding from the high table. As a result they are all in the dog house to various extents.

The “sins” they are being crucified for are minor compared to those of many more senior members or appendages of the Mugabe regime who are smart enough to prostrate themselves before the throne more fervently in direct proportion to their dirty deeds. Yet these three and other poor slobs to surely come are the ones who have been thrown to the wolves for entirely cynical political and other ends that have very little to do with the ostensible official charges against them.

The three have some things in common. They are all smart, of above average education and men of the world who cannot claim with much credibility to believe that Mugabe’s destruction of Zimbabwe is part of some grand design to empower and lend dignity to the African cause. Yet they chose to acquiesce in the diminution of our liberties by a brutal, cynical regime they benefited from aligning themselves with. When the going was good it didn’t occur to them that the repression and selective application of unjust laws that many Zimbabweans have been protesting against could one day be used against them.

Comrades, the rules are that the good times will keep rolling for you as long as you don’t utter even a mildly critical word of the authorities who allow you entry to the corrupt good life; and if you are up to any suspicious financial deals and are careless enough to be discovered by some well-read foreign newspaper, you are on your own and have to be sacrificed with nowhere at all to appeal to!

It’s a dangerous high stakes game. Make a wrong move and you could be facing months in jail with no legal recourse for alleged crimes others who still occupy high office have committed a hundred-fold and continue to benefit from!

Your silence in the face of the disgracing of your country before the world and your implied agreement with the embarrassment of a ruler that Mugabe is may seem to benefit you today, but it could be a case of flying high in April only to be shot down in May.

* Chido Makunike is a regular Zimbabwe Independent columnist.