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Comment: A Shocking Legacy

THIS cabinet that I had was the worst in history,” said President Robert Mugabe this week after the opening of parliament.


He said most of the ministers were unreliable, they were incompetent and spent time attending to personal business. Many abused their powers to deny people food. He didn’t say who the chief culprits were, neither did he say who were the competent ones.

What is however well known is that corruption in high places has been condoned. In the case of those arrested for abusing the subsidised fuel they get for farming, they have been given such risible fines that the eloquent message was “go and steal again”.

“They look at themselves,” said Mugabe of his “unreliable” ministers. “They are unreliable, but not all of them,” he said.

It is hard to tell why Mugabe made this otherwise self-evident confession. Our best guess is perhaps to say that he wanted to look better in the public eye. Secondly, in the face of a spiralling economic crisis, he imagined that he could curry public sympathy by portraying himself as the victim of unreliable cabinet colleagues. It is by all accounts a hopeless leap of faith.

In the first place there is nothing redeeming in Mugabe’s attempt to justify the current economic malaise on the basis of betrayal by his own ministers. The least he could do would have been for him to fire those ministers who are not performers just as it was his prerogative to appoint them. But in any sane society he should have resigned for gross dereliction of duty.

Mugabe’s confession in fact amounts to an insult to the people of Zimbabwe. Over the years he has recycled the same ministers he now calls incompetent and corrupt and he begs for our indulgence in this. And while he was making the confession, he was on the other hand appointing to new positions the same people, some of whom have repeatedly been rejected by voters at every election in the past 10 years.

Furthermore, we find it deceitful of Mugabe to tell the nation that those who own businesses should employ people to work for them. The truth is that under his administration, his ministers have gotten fabulously rich without ever declaring their interests in various organisations. He has allowed this culture of self-aggrandisement to flourish among his closest associates without a thought for ordinary Zimbabweans.

Those who have so benefited include members of the judiciary who have been given farms.

Most of them were recently given plasma-screen TV sets and satellite subscriptions to enable them to perform their duties more efficiently. Not just that. They were also offered 4×4 vehicles so that they would not use their newly-acquired Mercs to drive to their farms.

In other countries such offers to members of the Bench would be frowned upon as it besmirches their reputation. But under Mugabe’s government it is business as usual. What makes it worse is that these gifts are given without conditions.

For instance, it is not clear how the judges and the ministers are supposed to divide their time between their official duties and attending to private affairs on their farms. Shouldn’t there have been a choice between those who wanted to go into fulltime farming and those who wanted to remain employees of the state to be allocated sufficient resources for their tasks?

So what does Mugabe promise toiling Zimbabweans as he contemplates a new cabinet?

He had a ready answer too, except that even here he has no time to reflect on his own limitations. “I need managers. I want workers –– people who take people to work. I do not want people with their own businesses. I want one business –– people’s business,” he said.

The focus is completely mistaken here even if we give Mugabe the benefit of the doubt that he wants people who will devote all their attention to government business. The parlous state of Zimbabwe’s economy needs more than ordinary workers and managers. The country is in desperate need of strategic thinkers who can see beyond tomorrow. It needs people who can think beyond political patronage for them to survive.

Quite contrary to what Mugabe is thinking, the economy needs the skills of those who have already succeeded outside political favours –– entrepreneurs who are prepared to serve the people because they already have enough for the good life.

It is unfortunate that our politics are so tainted that they cannot attract such people. It’s much worse that politics has been demeaned to a sport of the poor and corrupt who seek to make a living out of it. The interests of the people become no more than a convenient cover for self-enrichment. Mugabe has turned this disgraceful behaviour into a national culture. That is a shocking legacy.


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