During the long break, I met a Cabinet minister. He was free-spending, living large and enjoying a mouth-watering holiday. From what I saw, the “shefu”, as the Zanu PF fat cats call themselves, did not give a hoot that civil servants had gone to Christmas empty-handed and would only receive their December salaries in January.
Editor’s Memo Brezhnev Malaba
There is a deeply troubling moral paradox at the heart of our so-called constitutional democracy. In the past, political leaders would tell lies in hushed tones; today they peddle falsehoods in broad daylight.
Many politicians have a totally phony public persona. If ordinary citizens really knew the true character of these whiskey-guzzling chaps, mass riots would break out overnight. Perhaps a cynical way of looking at this sordid reality is to surmise that, in this country the hypocrisy, lies and deception of politicians play a vital role in maintaining public order. There is, after all, no comfort in the truth.
A popular joke is doing the rounds on social media these days: How can you tell when a Zimbabwean politician is lying? When his lips move. Beyond the banter is an abiding truth about people’s perceptions regarding the sincerity (or lack thereof) of political leaders.
The double standards in Zimbabwean politics are unsettling. I find it utterly nauseating, for instance, that while our self-important rulers are cobbling together the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill which will consign a hapless citizen to 10 years in jail for “possession of pornographic material”, the same holier-than-thou political leaders are making a killing from operating strip clubs and brothels. You want to condemn ordinary people to 10 years in Chikurubi for “pornography” yet you are exploiting naked young girls who are stripping for a few bond notes in your dingy pubs? Comrades, who is fooling who?
I am reminded of Hannah Arendt famous truism that: “truthfulness has never been counted among the political virtues”.
Hypocrites in politics come in all shapes and sizes. There are the moralising adulterers, the clever-by-half thieves, the soft-as-wool murderers, the mudslinging do-gooders, the innocent crooks, the smooth criminals, the double-faced bigots. The list of pretenders is endless.
But make no mistake, there is a price to pay for lies and deception. Hypocrisy, famously described by Thomas Hobbes as “double iniquity”, can anger and provoke people beyond measure. By hiding their godless vice behind a cheap mask of pious virtue, politicians are insulting the intelligence of citizens.
In that connection, it will be remembered that last year’s wave of unprecedented protests resonated with public opinion that mainstream politics in Zimbabwe has become a monumental failure. The new methods of dissent we witnessed in 2016 point to a re-configuration of political thinking, especially among frustrated, poverty-stricken segments of the population, mostly comprising people below the age of 40 who are so dehumanised by misrule they have nothing to lose anymore.
The power of social media has frightened the living daylights out of Zanu PF’s repressive apparatus. After realising the futility of trying to gag social media users, our rulers are now intent on enacting Kafkaesque laws to threaten and punish Zimbabweans for the heinous crime of exercising their constitutional right to freedom of association and assembly. It is outrageous that political thugs who murder in the name of party ideology are roaming our streets unmolested and yet a gang of overfed politicians can decide that a Zimbabwean “armed” with a notebook will soon be declared a “computer terrorist” and sent to prison for 20 long years.
While progressive nations are crafting policies and laws to enhance the use of information communication technologies, Zimbabwe is regressing 50 years to the primitive days of totalitarian repression and unbridled state terror.
As journalists, we have a vital responsibility in 2017 to peer behind the mask, peel back the layers of deception and reveal the truth—ugly and unpalatable as it may turn out to be. The idea, as always, is to demystify the bogus politician by yanking off his mask of superior morality. We have no apologies to make.