A BULAWAYO man was arrested this past week for selling a strange breed of day-old chicks to unsuspecting poultry producers.
At first it sounded to me like a routine case of banal criminality. Well, that was until the police spokesperson began describing in astonishing detail the basic elements of what must surely rank among the most brazen crimes in recent times.
The bizarre chicks, he explained to a stunned nation, “feed a lot … do not grow … fight a lot”. For a moment I thought he was describing the behaviour of political leaders.
For a whole year, Zimbabweans — much like the hapless poultry producers — have moved heaven and earth, making immense personal sacrifice to ensure that the country gets a generous supply of essential nation-building nutrients in the form of goodwill, hope, optimism and active participation in civic and electoral processes.
But what have the long-suffering masses reaped in return? Crazy price hikes, televised killings, fuel queues, kombi fare increases, company shutdowns, doctors’ strikes, healthcare collapse and general economic despair.
Like those weird chicks from Mzilikazi, our leaders feed a lot — and not just metaphorically but quite literally. The Blue Book shows that the average monthly salary in the presidium is a cool US$17 000 (before perquisites), compared to US$390 for a medical doctor at a public hospital. Over and above a mouth-watering salary, a VIP in Zimbabwe is lavished with hefty allowances and all manner of sumptuous trappings of office. The gravy train is not a figment of the imagination. A single foreign trip, for example, can deliver a personal windfall ranging between US$5 000 and US$2 million to a senior official — in hard cash. From that perspective, the recently announced 5% “salary cut” for ministers and top bureaucrats is, with all due respect, a monumental non-event.
Zimbabwe has plunged into a crisis of catastrophic proportions. Everywhere you look, there is evidence of economic rot, political decay, festering corruption, official paralysis and a suffocating sense of hopelessness. It is a foregone conclusion that, to the average Zimbabwean, there is no festive season this year.
What has worsened the situation is that there is no respite in sight. The ruling Zanu PF, instead of expending its energies on finding solutions, is wallowing in empty sloganeering: “ED Pfee 2023!” Why does President Emmerson Mnangagwa find it useful to be at the centre of a crass political campaign, four months after the July 30 election? How does that help a broke, impoverished and economically troubled nation? Indeed, at what point will Zanu PF get on with the important task of governing?
We have seen self-styled war veterans demanding amendment of the minimum age for presidential candidates from 40 to 52 years. How on earth does that create jobs or stabilise the economy? Everyone can see that their outlandish demand is solely targeted at opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.
The grotesque irony is that although it somewhat feels relatively easier to approach ministers and convey grievances in the Mnangagwa administration than under the Robert Mugabe regime, the current economic suffering has reached another level, reducing an entire population to a nervous wreck.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube can go to America and tell CNN’s Richard Quest that things are looking up and that a lot of Zimbabweans have been jailed for corruption in the post-Mugabe era, but the brutal reality is that nobody back home will ever believe him.
Stuart Doran, an independent historian and political analyst, this week commented on the situation in Zimbabwe and his conclusion was emphatic: nothing has changed.
“A year on from the coup that ousted Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe remains perched between piecemeal reform and old ways that are as intractable as they are destructive. That’s because the country is ruled by a clique with a partial and conditional commitment to change — and a total, obdurate determination to retain and enjoy power,” noted Doran.
Which brings us to the two biggest questions in politics today: is Zanu PF capable of reform and is it still true that “nobody is worse than Mugabe”?