Back in the days, every old, frail and ugly country woman was believed to be a witch. It didn’t matter if, indeed, she was. Her looks and age naturally turned her into that ogre that drank our blood and turned graveyards into playgrounds at night.
Corruption watch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
So, when you saw her coming from her ritual bath at the river in the evening — stooping against a walking stick and mumbling to herself as she always seemed to do — you dashed out of the path and hid in the bushes. You would rather face the venomous snakes than that “deadly” old woman who miraculously walked upright and stole your broomsticks at night to fly away to far-off places, looking for fresh human meat.
The chiefs and village heads rounded up the “witches” and banished them to the virgin but hot and tsetse fly-infested forests of Gokwe. Some of them are said to have actually confessed to witchcraft, but many went away kicking and screaming. Up to this day, Gokwe is infamous as a reported epicentre of witchcraft, but that is not what matters for now.
This reference to witches has a useful moral. It doesn’t matter whether perceptions are misplaced or reflections of truth. They are a reality, and reality is truth. Whether or not they are going to taste bad, they must be accepted as such and taken to the table for our thoughts and actions. The Zimbabwean government knows this all too well. When it recently announced that it was going to separate bank accounts by currency, people developed the perception that their savings were at risk and black market rates shot through the ceiling.
But this conversation is about “witches”, not bond notes and the black market. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has a fairly rural background and knows the story about old and ugly women who we grew up believing to be witches. In fact, his rural Zvishavane was said to hold more witching citizens per capita than any of the neighbouring districts, so he knows it all too well.
When the president thinks about his recently appointed Health minister, Obadiah Moyo, he must remember this matter about old women and witches. No, people are not exactly calling Moyo a witch. They don’t imagine him as someone who uses magic keys to open mortuary doors and mysteriously sending morticians to sleep so that he can feed on dead bodies. And they don’t think that he is raiding paediatric wards to eat newly-born babies and, in turn, spike the infant mortality rate.
Instead, they are using unflattering words like “fraudster”, “impostor” and “cheat” on him. Ultimately, there is no difference, of course. Fraudsters spook people, just like witches. And they can cause death and disease through their dishonesty. The link to death and illness is what people detest and fear most about witches. Even if we all relish going to heaven — which we must do by dying as we were told growing up — we never like dying, so you are easily detestable if you are seen or thought to be in the habit of killing others.
Here is the story about Moyo. Uninitiated citizens hailed him as one of the well-meaning technocrats in Mnangagwa’s cabinet that was announced after the July 30 elections. But just overnight, his rivals leaked the earth-quaking details about his professional background. They said he wasn’t the man he was making us believe he was. They pulled out his CV to support their allegation that he is a conman who rose to that level on the basis of a litany of calculated lies.
On his CV, the minister claims that he has a medical doctorate obtained from somewhere in the West Indies. The typical CV states, which university you got your qualification from and when, but his is untypical because it doesn’t say.
Some cynics have, in fact, gone as far as researching on that and insist that there is no university in the West Indies that offers a medical PhD (MD). Secondly, Moyo is not registered with the Medical and Dental Practitioners Council of Zimbabwe. He should if he is a practitioner as his résumé claims. But nobody knows where the gook about his dental background is coming from.
The last time he practiced, Moyo was a dialysis technician at Parirenyatwa Hospital where he took care of Sally, ex-president Robert Mugabe’s first wife who later died of renal complications. It seems he jumped from being a technician to a medical PhD after that, sometime around 2004. United States spooks stationed in Harare outed him in 2008. They did their own checks on him and found out he neither earned a PhD nor a medical qualification. They quickly wrote to Washington to tell on Moyo’s fib as if he was, in fact, the axis of evil that the Americans were talking about back then. His third sin is that most of the international institutions that he claims to be affiliated to on his CV have disowned him.
Die-hard loyalists of the new dispensation are trying to poison the conversation around the appointment of Moyo as a cabinet minister by tossing a red herring into it. They are saying whether Moyo has medical qualifications or not is neither here nor there because ministers are not necessarily appointed on the basis of their professional qualifications. That’s misleading.
These loyalists are failing to distinguish between an elected legislator appointed as a minister and a non-constituency appointee. We all know that we have all manner of ministers who were given portfolios that did not resonate with their professional backgrounds. Ndombolo dancers have been made ministers of Information before, so have lawyers been given the Finance ministry. But, when it comes to the five non-constituency ministers, section 104(3) of the constitution says they must be appointed on the basis of their professional skills and competencies.
Moyo is a non-constituency minister. If he actually misrepresented his skills and competencies, then his appointment is legally null and void. Keeping him in his position is, therefore, unconstitutional and impeachable, all other things being equal.
What matters, too, is the ethics. You don’t want to appoint a crook to take charge of any ministry or station if you are worth your cooking oil. This applies particularly to sensitive calls like the health portfolio and comes with numerous distasteful implications. Universally, dishonest people can’t be trusted with anything. So, if Moyo indeed lied about his qualifications, he is dishonest and, therefore, untrustworthy.
A dishonest minister can throw tenders to benefit himself, have our hospitals stuffed with expired drugs and even steal some of the medicines for a measure. He will find it easy to appoint plumbers as nurses and doctors and nice up their CVs if that is going to help him and them. A dishonest Health minister will perpetuate drugs shortages and the sorry state of the health delivery system. Who is going to fund the resuscitation of hospitals and clinics if the ministry is being headed by a liar with the potential to do all sorts of bad things with the money? Since the perception of Moyo as a crook is now deep seated, what chances are there that the World Health Organisation and other donors will release money for critical projects? It won’t matter if Moyo is actually as he says he is. Perception rules, just as in the case of the old ugly women and the witches. The fact that he or his principals are not coming out to defend him or clear the air on his moral suitability doesn’t make things easier.
In fact, Moyo is now an albatross politically weighing down Mnangagwa. Because Moyo has been condemned through the perception of him being a fraudster, the tag is rubbing off onto the president. That is bad for the statesman’s credibility and legitimacy. For a long time, Mnangagwa has been huffing about fighting corruption. He has been doing a bad job of it, of course, but the Moyo issue makes matters worse. You see, a person who gets appointed on the basis of lies is corrupt. It’s a contradiction in terms to be saying you are fighting corruption when you are busy appointing corrupt people to key government stations.
And the appointment forces another lethal question: What’s there between Mnangagwa and Moyo? Remember, Moyo stood as a candidate in the July polls. He lost. Yet, Mnangagwa still insisted on making him a non-constituency MP. And, so reports say, the president was warned of Moyo’s likely fraud, but shoved the advice aside.
By keeping Moyo in government, Mnangagwa will have only himself to blame. Perception is truth. Yes, politics is about juggling things, but when you fail to notice that you are doing that on the cliff, you will tumble over sooner or later and the witches will fly away to another graveyard.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org