RECENT media reports in Zimbabwe show that primitive consumption by Zimbabwe’s political elite hasÂ reached unacceptable levels that reflect not only seriously misguided policy, but also the unscrupulous and insensitive nature of our government.
Like political violence, this cancerous evil of conspicuous consumption has slowly eaten into the heart and soul of our national politics which has increasingly become bereft of morality, conscience, focus, purpose, and hope for the millions of impoverished and starving citizens.
In the first week of August, the Herald reported that the RBZ had pampered judges with 16 brand new top of the range Mercedes Benz E280, 42 inch plasma screen TV sets and satellite dishes, and generators. It stated that apart from these classy Mercs, the judges also already had one more generous donation of utility trucks such as Toyota IMV and Isuzus and that all these benefits are provided after every five years.
By end of that week, the Zimbabwe Independent exposed that RBZ was also allocating Westgate houses, built from the Homelink scheme, to the High Court and Supreme Court judges. Barely, a fortnight later, the same newspaper uncovered another shocker of a whopping government expenditure of US$9 million to be spent on legislators’ so called all-terrain vehicles.
Add to that the unsustainable allowances that the MPs are expected to get, then you will know that we are not only faced with a morally bankrupt political system, but also a leadership that is completely out of touch with the dire state of the economy and the poverty that is gripping nation.
The irony of policy failure and misplaced priorities in a government that provides its elite classes with plasma screens to be run on generators and latest models of Mercedes Benz to be run on potholed streets is breathtaking. This spectacular but inexcusable ineptitude that is taking place right before the gaping wounds of economic ruin the nation incurred in the past 10 years, shows how greedy and dehumanised our leadership has become.
This is certainly jungle politics run by jungle politicians churning out jungle policies characteristic of the dog-eat-dog world that has become of our nation. How on earth does it happen that a country with four million people living on donor aid, with a growth rate of -6%, unemployment rate of 80%, life expectancy of less than 34 years, and with 80% of its people living on less than US$1 a day, afford such expensive and luxurious life styles for its judiciary and politicians?
How can government negate the development and poverty alleviation agenda bequeathed on it by the electorate only yesterday in the harmonised presidential and parliamentary elections, to concentrate on the leisure life-styles of its political elite?
These experiences show that, even after the installation of the GNU, civil society must get ready to fight to put a stop to this soap opera of “eatertainment”, consumerism, and excessive self-indulgence by our politicians who are clearly living in Cloud cuckoo land. Zimbabweans must not make the mistake of thinking that the presence of both formations of the MDC in the GNU will naturally yield a new politics that is people-centred and development-oriented.
Politicians the world over have a penchant for not only stealing from the poor and the suffering, but also for doing so with brazen impunity where civic activism on public policy has died. The proposed US$9 million expenditure on MPs cars – if indeed it will be effected by government – must therefore come as a wake-up call to ZCTU, Zimta, PTUZ, ISO and other related civic groups to reclaim their space in the political landscape of the country to advocate for the rights of the poor workers and others to a dignified life.
In fact, the spirit of the talks must have long breathed life into civil society to remobilise and organise in anticipation of the immediate and long-term challenges that will be occasioned by the GNU. Without a strong civil society to play the role of a watchdog on the rebellious and insatiable appetite of politicians for wealth, Zimbabweans are likely to drown in the disillusionment akin to that faced by the Zambians under Fredrick Chiluba who wedded the state and the market forces in an all-weather union of consumption and self-enrichment by the political and business elite.
Development and poverty alleviation programmes must not be left only to the NGOs because the acute state of underdevelopment and economic collapse in Zimbabwe demands of the government to bear greater responsibility not only in accountability and transparency, but also in giving its politicians modest packages that are in line with the economics of the day.
Across Africa, there is an emerging consciousness especially in governments that have been through the ravaging experience of conflict to reduce expenditure on trifles and misplaced priorities of appeasing the elite. Countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, DRC and even Nigeria have consistently focused on Small to Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) as a way of empowering their people. These small businesses, which would benefit immensely from an amount like US$9 million, are certainly not the panacea to poverty eradication, but do create employment, income and reduced dependence for citizens.
If the GNU becomes a success, civil society must use the proposed extravagant parliamentary expenditure as a litmus test of the sincerity and integrity of Tsvangirai and Mutambara’s brand of politics. We must refuse and denounce more of the same junk politics where politicians outspend celebrities in ephemeral personal needs that are clearly beyond our national economic capacity.
For every child that dies of malnutrition in Zimbabwe, for every woman that dies while giving birth, and for every patient that dies from preventable diseases, their life will be a big question mark on what Tsvangirai and Mutambara’s politics brought for Zimbabwe’s long forgotten underdogs. The MDC must avoid the risk of jumping into the bandwagon of splendour, consumption and self-enrichment by forcing government into a u-turn to focus on rebuilding public infrastructure such as roads, schools, and hospitals.
l Moyo writes from Wales, UK. He can be contacted on email: email@example.com