The inclusive government’s politics of the belly.
By Takura Zhangazha.*
A friend of mine who comes from Rusape, upon reading the Daily News on Sunday, 14 August 2011, phoned me to express his anger at the story of government ministers who had been given new luxury vehicles. He explained that his anger was not simply about the fact that politicians at the highest level in a country where the majority of the people are poor had decided to demonstrate their affinity for the elusive ‘good life’. His anger was also stemming from the fact that only that morning, he had taken his father to Rusape General Hospital for treatment for a diabetic ailment and he had been told that the hospital had no drips. In order to get one, he had to go and purchase it at a pharmacy for about US$ 12. Given the state of his father he had no option but to do so. After his father had been treated, he got a copy of the Daily News and to his great dismay and anger, read the headline story on how the government had decided to purchase special utility vehicles (SUVs) at an estimated cost of US$20 million dollars to the fiscus. He asked what sort of priorities does the inclusive government have and I couldn’t answer as I too was at a loss for words.
The general impression, in most instances, is that governments that demonstrate such appetites are governments that are extremely comfortable with themselves to the extent that they show no remorse when queried about such distasteful displays of opulence.
And I am certain that the Zimbabwean inclusive government is viewing the story broken by the Daily News on Sunday as a storm that it can easily ride. This is because its various political party components will bring out their party faithful in support of the SUVs as a necessity and in seeking to drown out voices of dissent at such unnecessary state expenditure. Because our Parliament and local government have been conveniently placated by either being given lower rung SUVs and access to local council land or some other such privileges, they will also not raise their heads in protest. And all the parties in the inclusive government are not expecting too much resistance from each other on this matter. Their new mantra is probably, ‘we are all in this now, so no one will challenge our collective profligacy’. It is a mantra that borders on being contemptuous of the electorate, however divided, and a mantra that indicates a culture of self aggrandizement that is beyond belief.
It is however a culture that is premised on a number of truths about the realities that all Zimbabweans must begin to think about when it comes to how they view their inclusive government. An initial evident truth is that all cabinet ministers probably have a serious sense of entitlement to state sanctioned ‘reward’ , regardless of the electoral promises they made to the people of Zimbabwe. And particularly so if they feel they ‘campaigned’ (read arrest etc) hard to get to where they are. And the same is true for members of Parliament, and in most cases for members of our local councils. It is almost as though they are functioning on the oft repeated ‘arrival syndrome’ without knowing that every ‘arrival lounge’ is always mirrored by a departure one. For cabinet ministers, members of Parliament (MPs) to seek to justify the acceptance of such expensive vehicles and numerous other privileges on the basis of the state of roads that they should be repairing is as ridiculous as it is obscene with the levels of poverty in and around us as a country.
The second reality is that the recipients of these vehicles are probably firmly aware of the short tenure that they may serve either as ministers, MPs or councilors. They are most likely firmly intent on feathering their own nests before they either fall out of favour or lose an election. Such a potential attitude of government ministers is extremely dangerous for the country seeing as they will be functioning on a clock watch and will be consistently checking the weight of their kitty over time left before an election or a cabinet re-shuffle. This is the stuff that the politics of the belly can only be made of.
In the circumstances of these displays of wealth via proximity to political power, our country is in a deeper crisis than one would have previously thought. We have leaders that are probably not as focused as they should be on resolving the economic crisis, let alone the poverty and lack of social service delivery that is evident across the country. Every time they ride the Land Rover Discoveries, the Toyota Prados, they bring a depressing meaning to our country’s politics. A meaning that, like the last line in Orwells epic satirical novel, Animal Farm, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity.