Fault not in the stars but in decayed institutions

My first column in this superb newspaper. Thanks for your attention.

Zimbabweans need to cultivate a culture of healthy dialogue. As the history of nations has shown, there’s no substitute for open, civilised and constructive discourse. Long after the teargas has dissipated into nothingness and the water cannons have run out of blue chemical, people must sit down and chart the way forward. In nation building, everyone matters — from the poorest villager under the sun to the highest office in the land. We all have a stake in Zimbabwe Incorporated.

Candid Comment,Brezhnev Malaba
bmalaba@zimind.co.zw

My first obligation is to the truth. I subscribe to a brand of journalism that is at once constructive and scrupulously irreverent. The two are not mutually exclusive. Although I am alive to the perils of what Harold Rosenberg calls “the herd of independent minds”, I am equally aware of my constitutional duty to hold our political leaders to high standards. I can be stalwartly bohemian, mawkish, sentimental and even rigorously provocative, but here is the deal: we must defend everyone’s constitutional right to be heard. Too many have suffered persecution on account of their views.

Last week I was astounded by reports that desperate families in the Lowveld and other parts of the country are now staving off hunger by hunting down and eating baboons. These people, dehumanised by poverty, have a right to be heard, but is anyone listening at all?

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission says the distribution of food aid has been politicised. If you are a member of the political opposition, you starve. The life of a citizen has become that cheap. The rights commission is not the only institution to robustly pronounce itself on constitutional matters this week. High Court judge Priscilla Chigumba on Wednesday re-asserted the independence of the judiciary, reminding the executive that nobody is above the law.

Of late, the government has been caught offside on several occasions for brazenly violating civil liberties. What we must all accept is that the authoritarian template is out-dated and no amount of Machiavellian sophistry can mask the symptoms of institutional malaise in today’s Zimbabwe.

Repressive institutions inevitably lead to stagnation, dysfunction and decay. Without fundamental political change, even a World Bank from planet Mars has a snowball’s chance in hell of resuscitating Zimbabwe’s vandalised economy.

The nation is crying out for pro-growth political institutions. Tragically, Zanu PF has created feeding troughs for parasitic elites who rig the rules to enrich themselves at the expense of impoverished, baboon-eating citizens.
Zimbabweans are wallowing in poverty not because of climate change, geography, disease or cruel providence but owing to failed institutions and toxic politics.

The ironclad grip of a vanguard party was useful politics in bygone days, but in a 21st century setting it has become increasingly tenuous, not least because the leaders are hopelessly stuck in a time warp. The citizens — mostly young and frustrated — have lost all confidence in organised politics. The official thinking, it’s abundantly clear, is that the impoverished masses cannot be trusted with bourgeoisie freedoms.