Chaos out of order

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Eighteenth century French clergyman Henri Grégoire, who was the Bishop of Blois, coined the term vandalisme to describe the destruction of artwork following the French Revolution.

The term was quickly adopted across Europe as Grégoire associated the pillaging and destruction of French royal antiquity with the ransacking of Rome by the Vandals and Goths in the fifth century.

Vandalisme then gave rise to the idea that the French mob was a barbaric gang with a taste for blood and destruction.

Historically, vandalism has been explained as the destruction of civilisation during periods of war and conquest.

Vandalism has since ancient times not only been a political statement but has also assumed an artistic dimension that has often been used as an expression of contempt, creativity, or both.

For instance, private citizens have committed vandalism by wilfully damaging or defacing property.

Other more serious forms of vandalism involve the destruction of public and private property.

While in some cultures authorities worry about graffiti, defacing of street signs and billboards, vandalism has in Zimbabwe assumed quite a serious and distressing dimension. It is committed extensively, often violently and as a vocation.

On Tuesday NewsDay carried a picture of Lovemore Garanewako who was badly scalded after his quest to steal oil from a Zesa substation turned tragic.

He will live to tell the horrors of what it perhaps feels like to be cremated alive and, more importantly, reflect on the genesis of his felony.

Zimbabwe has always had a history of vandalism, both the artistic and criminal forms.

The latter form was however given impetus by the jambanja mode of execution of the land reforms more than 15 years ago.

Vandalism and destruction of basic and critical infrastructure together with violence accompanied the wave of dispossessions. The sum total of that became Zimbabwe’s land revolution, the so-called Third Chimurenga.

Looting and vandalism of farm facilities generally went unpunished. It became a form of protest which political leaders and perpetrators thought was a way of dismantling colonial symbols.

Aluminium irrigation pipes were dug up and brought to Harare’s backyard foundries where they were forged into coffin handles and three-legged pots.

Electricity transformers were drained of oil which was sold cheaply on roadsides and tractors were pillaged of critical parts like starters, alternators and batteries.

When pipes ran out, aluminium road signage and bridge rails were targeted to feed the furnaces.

Overhead electricity conductors were next. The vandalism moved seamlessly from protest to theft. It is now widespread.

The most emblematic demonstration of this is the theft of 300km of National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) copper cables on the line from Harare to Gweru. All electricity-powered NRZ locomotives are now redundant.

Key national figures have been fingered in the theft of cables but they remain protected in the cocoon of politics.

The wave of vandalism has become a vocation supporting the informal sector where the bulk of goods sold in home industries can be traced back to vandalism.

Zimbabwean Vandals have also targeted graves, public lighting systems, water pipes, centre pivots, parks equipment, bronze plaques on gates and road signs.

Evidence of this is abundant at Siya-So where aluminum and copper conductors and circuit breakers are traded openly. Barbed wire and poles looted from farms are easily available.

Traders do not hide their activities. They are still in jambanja mode.

The lawlessness has also come at a huge environmental cost.

Dams are drained by fish poachers and animals have been wiped out on game farms. Poaching of big game is out of control.

The authorities are fighting a losing battle.
The Zanu PF government justified the jambanja concept as a way of creating order out of chaos, but we now have chaos completely out of order.

There is nothing revolutionary, artistic or constructive about the vandalism being experienced in this country at the moment. The government appears powerless to stem the scourge.

Architects of chaos in this country, those who thought violence, disorder and lawlessness are critical traits of the land revolution, should be held accountable for this chaos.

Local authorities are spending almost as much in replacing vandalised equipment and infrastructure as they are in installing or upgrading services.

This is driving up the cost of the projects as contractors keep replacing stolen material and redoing work.

In certain instances, contractors have to use extra concrete and bigger bolts to secure pipes and cables, which is much more expensive.

All of this is impacting on budgeting processes, service provision, and is wasting funds.

But our rulers do not care. In fact they are not afraid of running projects to train citizens of this country — especially youngsters — to loot and vandalise on a national scale, all in the name of trying to address historical imbalances.

It was firstly land reform and now indigenisation.

Economist John Robertson in 2005 said: “The government is now the victim of its own policies — the only word that comes to mind is state-vandalism.”