BY SHARON HOFISI
We are just two days away from celebrating Zimbabwe’s independence from the shackles of colonialism. For some painful years, we have been trying to decide how best we can fight the cancerous worm of corruption.
As a polity, there is just one thing we need to know: can the fight against corruption be won? Yes, it can be, collectively! But don’t just take my hope for it. We need to check out the multi-stakeholder fights. We have heard and read many headlines on corruption fights. The result? Who is creating a deep culture of corruption in us? It’s ourselves, isn’t it? We are all greedy. Aren’t we?
We’ve amassed little powers beyond our wildest dreams. We mass pressure everyone we meet along the way, warping them big time. The whole body is full of blisters, from the head to the sore of the feet.
Corruption is now deeply normalised in our society. It even starts with, or at the grassroots level, however we choose the usage of the euphemisms.
When we normalise or devise the street lingo on kungwavha (hustling), don’t we feel like we’re idolising unscrupulous business activities; unorthodox ways of earning money; and all of the other accompanying free (effortless and prejudicial) benefits. Someone is condemned to a culture of deprivation.
Take for example the selling of money. Because of their connections, money sellers get money directly from some deeply controlled supply. I can’t access that captured money from a bank all because it has to be bought at an astronomical price. That is the same local currency I deserve to get through the formal channels. In fact, everyone seems to be buying the money which I am supposed to easily access through the normal channels of a bank.
And what do we do when we want to understand when the culture of corruption starts? The major challenge is we’ve all been systemising corruption through condoning obviously illegal profiteering. All in the name that what is legal makes you poor in Zimbabwe.
This is captured in statements such as chinosungisa ndochine mari; loosely translated to mean that crime pays. How we have sanitised corrupt tendencies! We have mbingarized (idolised) corruption by glorifying personalities even where institutions such as the Zimbabwe Anti-corruption Commission are fighting hard to end petty corruption and kleptocracy. Left to our own celebrated lifestyles, we may not pursue the fight against corruption with passion.
So should we take the course of lifestyle audits? And then? I mean if we take the lifestyle audit, are we hustling beyond what we earn? Yes we’ve all learned how to be reactive.
If we do lifestyle audits, are we not reflecting that we cannot take foundations of managing the cosmic effects of corruption through transformative shifts of our mindsets?
Now, 41 years after independence, we’ve got an anti-corruption strategy, various anti-corruption arms in the executive and the legislature, and many organisations that fight petty and grand corruption at a national, regional and global levels. I wouldn’t be writing without mentioning such strides we are making as a polity.
The institutional responses are worth it because they indicate to us how to, not we, think institutionally about corruption. If we can take it through a strong-institutions’ theory of change analogy, we should be applauded.
We’ve a development strategy, the National Development Strategy, NDS1, which speaks of the need for us to have strong institutions that can be used to stimulate human development.
The idea of institutional fights seems at first to be noble and innovative. Now though, we’ve a better understanding of the roles institutions must play, collectively. Where we have national security or interests to preserve, we may have other ways to deal with corrupt tendencies in public spaces.
Across the Limpopo, we’ve seen the state capture inquiries. Prolonged, aren’t they? Elsewhere, we’ve heard of talks beyond state capture: deep state allegations in the United States of America or state abuse elsewhere or dark ages politicking in Myanmar.
Connecting with the ordinary person’s mbinga (idol) concept, helping the however-they-become-rich of our generation to promote their secret ways of getting richer, setting up cultic methods of connections for mbinga sects, and following a frenzied abnormality or deliberate synergy on mbingarising (idolising) everything are all ways to throw our polity to a culture of corruption. And it’s public popularity! We’ve enjoyed getting to give enough respect to this small group of our successful lots.
The main thing I’ve learned from our frenzied abnormality is that only can we not do everything alone, but we no longer have to try doing it all. We’ve lovely cartels that can do wonders building successful networks to immortalise their heroes. These mbinga cartels are contagious. Why don’t we start the same cartels to end corruption? We are very good at swarming the social media fraternity as a polity with comedies, fingerprinted chain messages and so forth.
Netizens know it takes more than their own thoughts to publish what interests them. They join a community of fellow netizens and follow an addictive system that helps them find solace or connect with a lot of like-minded individuals. They build their heroic cults as thriving social media users.
And they’re never alone. It’s our turn. Will we not do what those who celebrate their mbingas do and invest our energies, our media platforms, and our careers as anti-corruption activists? As members of a constitutional democracy, we may need to answer a pertinent question: when does corruption as a nemesis to good governance begin?
Collectively, we may need to start by not shifting the blame to the who’s who of this country; the runners or those with corporate power. We may want to start by saying poverty is our greatest undoing. In this way, the beginning of corruption is with us who want to benefit out of nothing. We know that I can get any service we want if we patiently wait in the queue. Alas, we choose to pay speed money by promising someone money for lunch or some quid pro quo act where we scratch each other’s back.
We seem not to be interested in getting a bribe when rendering the service yet we then ask for pocket acknowledgment when we finally render the service. We say they worked hard to get their money yet we even incriminate them when we say they invited us to dupe our employer into awarding them a tender without following procedure.
We have mastered the art of using the carrot and the stick, effectively. We know Zacc, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and Special Anti-corruption Unit and other key state institutions have been taking giant steps to end corruption at all levels.
The institutions are celebrated or hated, whether they are blending their approaches or not. Through interactive and conversational democracy, these institutions can master innovative ways to structure the anti-corruption fights beyond news headlines.
They need to accommodate joint anti-corruption fights with the people through collective fact-finding missions. Yes it’s true there are ways the public can participate in Zacc or ZRP anti-corruption tools. But there is a need to create value in the name of the anti-corruption game through integrative methods of fighting corruption. Let’s take the noble fight by the national taxman Zimbabwe Revenue Authority to confiscate the Lamborghinis of those who are mbingarised for instance.
In the business world, we know competition is the norm, but cooperation is next to impossible. Can, or rather, should Zimra’s response be used to test our beliefs and assumptions on whether our people know the celebrated mbingas are facing allegations of corruption? Can we not compress frenzied abnormalities or wild celebrations of mbingas into one or two cars that are confiscated and point to the need to collectively fight all acts of corruption? Rightly, or wrongly, confiscating property or goods that aren’t properly declared evokes images of corrupt tendencies, inflated invoices, shoddy deals, and days well spent devising ways to dodge the taxman’s calculator. We can be our own leaders in our anti-corruption organisations.
I may not need to sell to anyone the game-changing benefits of trying alternatives which are designed to help deal with complex issues. But in case we need to convince the ordinary person that we can get out of self-induced poverty, here are my five compelling reasons to stop mbingarising corruption in Zimbabwe.
Firstly, we are failing to take charge at the meal table and we continue to be part of the mbingarised meal. Secondly, we make false choices by obtaining negative peace through wire-brushing those who zone wrongly with our mbingas. Three, we devote our negative energies fighting for what’s not ours using social media arsenals.
Four, we take frenzied interest in diverse groups but may never make any valuable business contact or two from the mbinga-frenzy cohorts. Five, we deliberately cultivate a specific sense of indifference to corruption, all in the name of guarding the territory for our mbinga’s immortalisation.
*Mbinga is street lingo for someone who has become filthy rich through the proceeds of corruption but is generally idolised by society and is untouched by the law.
Hofisi is a transformative transitional justice practitioner, normative influencer and disruptive thinker