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Zim: A landlord, tenants affair

mathabelazitha/the anvil :BY ZII MASIYE

In more respects than one, mine was as beautiful a journey as it was heart-wrenching. I set out, among other things with an express intention to “get away from it all”. The unflinching patriot in me had just thrown in the towel, and if only for a couple of weeks, I resolved to shut my senses to EDemon and all that Mthulinomic gymnastics. Even as I boarded that plane, there were no less than three inflation rates and simultaneously, a furious denial on one hand, and a hushed announcement on the other, of the imminent arrival of an illegitimate cousin of the ever moribund bond note, aka new Zimbabwean dollar-causing fresh waves of panic and pandemonium across the economy.

When I bragged of the apparent genius of Mthuli Ncube at banishing the publication of official inflation figures to “control inflation perceptions”, I received a rather intriguing, yet pretty apt analogy of the Mthuli mentality. Drawing out his hand gloves, as if to hold down my attention and resting his pointed chin momentarily on his bathroom mop, the airport cleaner retorted, “Look at it this way, khiwa-Mthuli rides his bicycle to the bottle-store across the village and buys himself a bottle of his favourite Johnie Walker whiskey and secures it ngerekeni onto the bicycle carrier. Shaking the bicycle in mock security test and engaging his prudent senses, the minister reasons and weighs the potential disaster of the bottle breaking if he happens to hit a pothole, slips and falls! There and there, a typical Professor MN Aha! moment hits him. No whiskey bottle will have to fall and break if he pre-loads the entire contents into his belly now and here, before embarking on the journey home! After all, that is the ultimate destination of the damn alcohol. Both Mthuli and Johnie Walker would get home. Eureka!” Like the lobby-cleaner pointed out to me, there is really no award for guessing the fate and great conclusion of the minister, of his bicycle, and that of his whiskey!

Suffice to point out, that in my kind of world, and bar-tenders, barbours and lobby cleaners seem to understand this without any of my probing — things are related in some logical sequence. Problems are solved by a simple systematic interrogation of the chain of factors that cause them, by committing our energies to addressing those that we consider the underlying or structural causes that underpin the problem. National hero Oliver Mtukudzi summed it aptly in that song where he preaches of the futility of continuously treating the symptoms (a headache) when you know the headache is merely reporting a deep-seated chronic malfunction in your bowels. If these little dots are so easily connected by everyday touts, how does the simple science behind them so easily escape the wisdom of a whole government of celebrated professors. It is a complete misunderstanding and wrong diagnosis of the problem when, in response to the symptomatic challenge of medical practitioners being on strike, you proceed to fire all of them, just so you can derive some weird comfort in reporting that there is no doctor on strike in your country!

You can never make the dumbest of civil servants imagine they earn a decent wage by simply legislating against the use of the United States dollar as a benchmark. They all know they don’t earn figures but value. My barber says in its warped logic, this government has a propensity to cause the unwarranted death of its own citizens, and then to host binge parties at their funeral wakes with the demented hope of fooling the citizens to embrace and celebrate their own endless funerals. Of the sensational renaming of roads across the country, the barber reminds me of the pomp, ceremony and celebratory village mood that necessarily comes with the arrival and christening of a child. It is a momentous family milestone that marks the pinnacle of a long anxious and uncertain wait — a victory over potential disaster. “Amhlophe” is the a jubilation and conquest of the community of nine months of maternal toil and potential fatal labour time — Christening and naming must be seen in the spirit of the celebration of a culmination of hard work and toil. When, out of the blue, at the peak of social woes and economic wailing, at the height of unprecedented road carnage, when the national and local road network is in evident decline and we have done zilch to construct or reconstruct, the barber thinks the naming of the patchworks of potholes and sinkholes after ourselves is akin to bringing a binge-party to a funeral wake!

My great friend Sifiso says this whole muppet show must remind us of Statistics 101 when we were introduced to types of fallacies. An example is where, every accident is reported with a kilometre road marker. Government decides to remove the km road markers and boom! accidents suddenly have nowhere to occur? The problem of road accidents is solved by that immediate magic bullet!

Stepping into a crammed tiny desert called Israel and seeing the sprawling splendour of built environment, of creative industry and booming commerce — there’s not a square metre of land that is undeveloped, down in the valleys and up on all those rolling mountains! The level of development, productivity and self-sufficiency in a virtual desert left me with a thousand unanswered questions: How is it that a nation blessed with so much idle land, so much natural resources, so much education comes to rely on imports… imported food, imported beans, maize, imported toothpicks and cotton buds, imported water and tissue paper — and literally fails to farm and feed itself when such a tiny desert island as Israel has been turned into absolute paradise? The differences are jolting, simply repulsive!

My friend sums up ours… Zimbabwe, as a typical pseudo democracy of settled bandits! Therein is found Zanu PF,a small set of privileged landlords/property ownwers on one hand and ourselves, a massive group of tenants,the Citizens, allowed rented occupancy and, now and then to organise themselves into glorified tenants’ associations, which they are happy to call political parties. The shareholders have an appointed agent that masquerades as government, which is there to routinely reign in troublesome tenants, but fundamentally, to insulate the owners from the headaches of dealing directly with errant tenants. It is not uncommon that the tenants, who regularly enjoy bthe opportunity to actually choose the estate agent, fail to distinguish between the agent and the owner, but whatever noise, kuhukura, the tenants are allowed, the fundamental structure of ownership or shareholding shall remain with the owners and signatories of +263… never the tenants!

Without clarity of the enduring demarcations, such pseudo democracies have the knack to mutate into rashly celebrated governments of national unity (fake and unsustainable paper power-sharing arrangements that placate tenants for a while), mini coups that routinely change the faces in charge, but not the systems in charge… and never deliver any palpable change (replacement of estate agent or the tenants association executive!) always giving the false impression that greater benefit will one day accrue to the tenants! Relentless effort goes into futile interventions — toothless commissions of enquiry; peace and reconciliation galleries; brokered deals to calm down irate owners fighting other owners and endless tail-chasing efforts that have the appearance of democratic reform but absolutely do nothing to the structure of ownership or to ever address the real question of how to transition from owners and tanents to effective collective ownership of Zimbabwe.

Are we committed as a country to the dream of a true democracy or our collective ambition is simply to be “happy tenants” in our motherland forever?
lZii Masiye ( writes elsewhere on social media as Balancing Rocks.

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