About two months ago, I was approached by one consultant to inform me that she was heading to my country for an evaluation.
And with a smile I wished her all the best in my beautiful country. She asked about her safety and I jokingly told her that if she was safe in my “hands” here then she would be still be safe in Zimbabwe.
“I am a typical Zimbabwean,” I boasted. “Are you corrupt like most Zimbabweans, especially those in power?” she asked with surprise written all over her face.
Her perception is based on events of the last decade. She argues Zimbabweans are known for stealing elections.
Our natural resources are not benefiting the people and for that we have climbed the ladder of the most corrupt countries in the world.
Poverty levels in the country are a result of corruption and stolen freedoms and human rights. Sadly, she thinks all Zimbabweans are like that.
When I said I was a typical Zimbabwean, she was worried as she thought I was one of the criminals.
For the avoidance of furthering an unnecessary discussion which I suspected would turn political, I allowed it to die.
A few moments later a colleague, who has stayed in Zimbabwe for over half a decade and was listening to the conversation, expressed his sadness that that is what many people out there, especially in the West, think of Zimbabweans.
Have we become such bad people? Or rather, have been made that bad? How long will it take us to become the honest and peace-loving people that we used to be?
It got me thinking about the perception people outside Zimbabwe have about us, how that affects both our personal and national development. My colleague, Thembe Sachikonye, used to remind us a few years back that public perception influences your brand and your market acceptability.
She might be right about certain things, but surely such generalisation is appalling. But maybe she can be forgiven as that is how human mind operates.
You can be judged by sins of people whose ideas you do not support, simply because you share the same nationality.
Last week again when touring parts of northern Botswana, I was reminded by my Tswana friends about how risky it is to employ and trust Zimbabwean maids.
Stories range from the theft of minor items such as school shoes to big items such as television sets, radios and sometimes all household items and even husbands.
And every time such accusations were raised they were followed by the statement: “What’s wrong with you people?” Sadly, some are convinced that every Zimbabwean is like that and it’s a perception that is hard to deal with.
Again, I remembered the words of Tendai Biti, when he said bad policies breed bad behaviour. Our political environment has pushed many people into different survival modes.
Some are good and others are bad. But much of the bad behaviour is largely a replica of our political characters.
What can stop people from stealing if they feel their votes, freedoms and rights are being stolen? Why would they care about the perception of their own image and that of the country if those in leadership positions are not leading by example?
Just few weeks ago police were deployed in Alexandra Township in South Africa to quell a potential xenophobia outbreak.
The narrative was that Zimbabweans are “stealing” Reconstruction and Development Programme (popularly known as RDP) houses from South Africans. And foreigners were asked to surrender the keys or face the “music”.
The story starts with Zimbos, as they are popularly known, “stealing” and accepting low-paying jobs.
With the meagre wages, they go on to “steal” their women with the hope of securing a permanent residence permit. With the same meagre wages, they bribe the housing officials to secure an RDP house.
Apparently an RDP house is free and reports suggest that if you “pay” you jump the long queue.
All this is happening while a South African is waiting for a better paying job, I suppose. And when that job fails to come, xenophobia begins so as to get rid of foreigners who are “stealing” opportunities.
In the US, some Zimbabweans are known for filing fraudulent tax return claims worth millions of dollars.
The money is quickly moved either back to Zimbabwe or other safe destinations where it is “sanitised” into proper businesses.
So already in that country Zimbabweans are competing with Nigerians for the scam kings tag.
What is interesting though is that while those in the Diaspora “steal” to send money back home, our politicians are “stealing” from our natural resources into off shore accounts.
Their justification is that the country is in a fragile condition and should anything happen, their money must be safe so they have somewhere to start from.
Because this money is either idle or used by countries in which it is kept, it is conclusively stealing from the people.