By Chido Makunike
IN evaluating how we are doing as a country, the easiest parameters of measurement are those we can put at least approximate numerical values to. For instance, what the rate of inflation is
today compared to a year ago gives a rough guideline of one variable that is important to the quality of life.
But if there has been such a drastic drop in inflation as it is said there has been in the last year, why is there no collective sense of euphoria in the country? Why is the general “mood” of the country no better now than a year ago when inflation was ten times today’s rate?
One obvious answer is that inflation is only one measure of how a country is doing. Many of the other immeasurable parameters of the quality of life have not changed for the betterment at all.
“Quality of life” is a broad concept that encompasses far more than just economic parameters, important as they are. So the general feeling about the decline in inflation is relief at the return to a very relative “normality” in this important but limited regard. But no one has any illusion that it means we are anywhere near where we would like to be as a relatively normal, peaceful, confident and hopeful society.
One way that is not easily measurable of how in recent years we have strayed from many of the things that were positive about Zimbabwe is the distortion of our value system. For instance, we have gone through periods in this country where violence was very much state policy against groups of citizens. This began during the days of Rhodesia but there was a presumption that Independence and majority rule would mean a “people’s government” that would rule by a higher standard and value system than the Rhodesian one. In the 1980s we had the massacres in Matabeleland that the ruling authorities only grudgingly admitted to having been “ a sad chapter” many years later.
That belated admission did not mean that those tactics had been learned from and put behind us however! Just five years ago we again experienced a situation where the government and its various arms sanctioned and instigated widespread violence against certain groups of citizens.
Fast forward to election season, 2005. Much has been made of how President Mugabe has called for “zero-tolerance” of violence and for a peaceful poll. The rest of the state machinery has dutifully taken up this call. But this is sending very confusing signals to society.
Which is the real Mugabe? The one who has previously boasted of his capacity for violence and sanctioned its use against groups of citizens who disagreed with him as is their right, or the now “peaceful” Mugabe who has sometimes been said to be a “devout” Catholic? Has he seen the error of his ways in this regard and been “born again”, or is this just the latest in a long line of tactics to control, confuse and oppress us? How does one reconcile the Mugabe who spews frightening hate and inciteful invective against citizens merely exercising their democratic rights when it suits him, but then the next minute switches to playing the role of great peacemaker? What is the value system of the president of the country, if any, and what effect does it have on the society?
Obviously the contradictions are too stark to be reconciled. This blatant hypocrisy of the whole power structure in relation to the citizenry and the mixed signals it sends out is what I mean when I say that at an intuitive level, society realises that they are being manipulated. There is plenty of evidence to justify their skepticism about how genuine the calls for “peace” are. How can the man whose incitement of his supporters and the organs of the state to violence have caused so much dislocation, dispossession, impoverishment, rape and murder now attempt to re-incarnate himself as a great peacemaker and expect to be taken seriously? The fact that our fear of the president and his whole support structure forces us to act as if we don’t see these glaring incongruities is just one of many ways in which we are a deeply abused and wounded society.
All this is part of what I mean when I say our basic value system has been distorted and corrupted. We are a society abused by those who should actually be protecting us! This cannot be changed overnight, nor is it affected by how much inflation has gone down or how some other economic parameter has improved.
We have recently seen a predictable upsurge in the arrests of opposition party MPs and other activists in the run-up to the election. Very often the charges against them are so flimsy as to cause the arresting authorities to be viewed with contempt by the public. Other times there are no charges even brought, making it clear the intent of the arrests is pure harassment and intimidation. And yet on the ruling party side we actually have aspiring candidates whose main claim to fame has been their adeptness in recent years at violence and intimidation on behalf of the government and the ruling party. No charges are brought against them or their cases are simply not processed, allowing them to act as if they are perfectly respectable members of society.
There is not even an attempt to try to cover up these obvious contradictions in the way rules are applied, perpetrated by the same system we would normally hope to appeal to for fairness and reprieve from abuse. What does it say about our value system when someone is jailed for rape in one circumstance, but in another circumstance and time widespread rape is considered a perfectly legitimate political tool, as was the case around the time of the last general election?
Cases of thievery are some of the most popular human-interest stories in the papers, and they have clearly been on the upsurge in recent years. But what does it mean that a bank teller, store clerk or security guard is jailed for theft when the ruling authority admits that there is far bigger and widespread corruption within its ranks? How then can we possibly have any respect for that ruling authority?
*Chido Makunike is a regular Zimbabwe Independent columnist.