Maybe we are what’s wrong with Zimbabwe

It has been said that for evil to triumph, good people must sit back and do nothing. I cannot help, but think how true this statement is when we look at our problems as a country. Beyond that, I have had time to think about how we, as Zimbabweans, may in fact be our own worst nightmare minus the politicians we blame.

guest column: PAUL KASEKE

It seems to me that our mindset and attitude as a people is conducive for the suffering we experience. We make suffering a welcome reality.
I dare go as far as saying we provide an incubator and breeding ground for our continued suffering.

I generally don’t spend much time on the comments section for any post or article where Zimbabweans have occasion to respond. Why? Well, the answer is simple really: We are so trapped in a web of hatred and negativity, we hardly have anything constructive to say about each other as citizens. If you want to get a quick guide on new obscenities to insult someone with, just a glance at one of the comment sections will be sufficient. Rather pathetically, we are very good at tearing each other down when someone takes a stand or views things differently. We don’t just disagree as mature adults should, we name-call, we insult, we swear and make it a point to destroy others’ esteem.

We don’t critically engage on the substance of the matter, but like our politicians we attack the person and not their views. Take, for example, the abduction and subsequent torture of Patson Dzamara in November last year. Any article, comments or feeds containing this story are likely to include phrases like “this is what you wanted so don’t bore us with your story” or “you wanted the attention and now you got it” or something along those lines.

Instead of being enraged that something like this can happen to someone for simply exercising his constitutional rights, we celebrate when evil seems to take the lead. It such conduct that allows injustices to continue to exist in Zimbabwe and the perpetrators get encouraged by either our express support or our silence.

We poke fun at the things that should upset us, we make memes, we have WhatsApp jokes about such and, as a result, here we are. We laughed at the bond notes and made clips for them, that is why the government felt at ease when introducing monopoly money as tender.

Name-calling is the order of the day whenever something is discussed. I suppose it starts from our politicians who use social media to hurl insults and use profanity, but it is a culture I have seen spring in all things Zimbabwean. Whatever the cause may be, we have generally lost the ability to show concern for each other and engage in constructive discussion.

When Fadzayi Mahere and others were arrested late last year, the first thing I saw on social media was: “Iron lady in iron braces — fits perfectly” and I could not believe that a clearly unlawful arrest was being celebrated by the very people whose rights she and her friends sought to protect. Even if she stands for something you don’t agree with, how do we get to a point of celebrating an arbitrary arrest? What kind of sick society have we become that we enjoy the suffering of other people? This is probably why we deserve the government we have. We like to distance ourselves from them and call them names but we have in more ways than one become exactly like them.

When Evan Mawarire was arrested, the same pattern of ridicule and crude commentary followed. We all know that there were no legitimate charges, but even then, some among us celebrated the arrest and his departure after being publicly threatened by those in the upper terraces of power. Some “youths” were only too happy to issue more threats and these were applauded by their audience.

What disturbs me is not those who make these threats, but the fact that there is an actual audience that applauds such kind of behaviour. It is those that sit and cheer on that leave me with chills because it means they share the same mindset, even though they themselves aren’t brave enough to share it. They are among us and complain about the state of affairs yet applaud the same government’s oppressive acts.

When it comes to corruption, we cannot sit back and blame the government alone when corruption itself is a bilateral act that requires two parties for it to take place. If government officers asked for a bribe, but received nothing from the citizens, then no corruption would take place. The vice continues to grow because we, as citizens, fuel it and provide it with a lifeline. We pay the bribes to evade fines, to get tenders, to get projects approved and to get ahead of the pack. While we can point a finger at the government for its corruption, we must also look deeply at ourselves and ask what we have done to end corruption. In my view, we have done nothing, but allow corruption to grow by being willing actors.

Corruption in Zimbabwe is not only an upper level problem — it is systemic. It exists at grassroots level. For example, some parents pay bribes to get their children into schools outside the zoning system. As a result, the zoning system has become useless. That may seem like harmless corruption and for a good cause, but the principle is the same. Some pay to get a driver’s licence and others pay to have debts cancelled illegally. Everywhere you go, corruption has become a national language we are generally fluently conversant in. Here’s a harsh reality: Changing who is in power will not change the fact that corruption is so widespread and has become what we do. There is, of course, some truth in stating that some people have become corrupt to survive in Zimbabwe and the ultimate blame should be on the government for forcing people into such situations, but we remain responsible for our own contribution to the continued existence of suffering in our beloved nation.

Maybe we are what is wrong with Zimbabwe because we keep quiet when we should speak up. Maybe in 2017 we need to hold our leaders accountable a bit more. Maybe we need to participate in forums, meetings, parliamentary processes and others where citizens are mandated to get involved in. Maybe we need to stop condoning acts of evil and refuse to let injustices take place before our eyes. Maybe we need to rally behind people that are doing something positive for us instead of attacking them. Maybe we need to get involved in rebuilding Zimbabwe and not leave it to politicians.

My hope for 2017 is that we can look at ourselves and ask if we are part of the problem or the solution. I know we still have some very principled citizen who refuse to compromise regardless of the fact that everyone around them is. I know that not everyone is corrupt and not everyone is part of the problem, but if you are, then instead of asking how the government can change Zimbabwe, ask how you can change Zimbabwe. To those that work tirelessly for the betterment of the people of Zimbabwe, keep doing what you do even if nobody sings your praises or puts your name out there. It is more honourable to work for a cause than for applause.

Maybe we are what’s wrong with Zimbabwe, but in 2017, let’s be counted as being what is right for Zimbabwe.

Paul Kaseke is a legal adviser, commentator, analyst and sessional law lecturer with the Wits Law School & Pearson Institute of Higher Education (formerly Midrand Graduate Institute). He serves as director and current Group Chair of AfriConsult firm. He writes in his personal capacity. You can give him feedback via email: feedback@paulkasekesnr.com or follow him on twitter @paulkasekesnr

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2 Comments

  1. What legitimate means exist to challenge the status quo? Votes are destroyed or burned. Protests are shut down with threats and violence. Military and police brutalize and kill citizens for any reason they choose. Mugabe is a despot who wreaks vengeance on any individual or group that opposes him, with a documented history of many being beaten up, tortured or murdered for trying to stand up to him. Corruption that exists in the populace is largely an attempt at survival because there are no longer legitimate ways to conduct personal or business affairs. Bribes are expected and sometimes demanded. Anyone who has an iota of power uses it to establish their own security. The corruption comes from the top. Pitting citizens against each other, black against white, rich against poor, men against women, foreign against indigenous, that all comes from the top. It is the way Mugabe has divided and conquered the country. Put the blame where it truly lies, in the hands of the Zimbabwean dictatorship that has flourished since independence. Those of us that can leave, do leave. That’s you and that’s me and that’s many of us who didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives watching our beloved country be destroyed piece by piece, and felt powerless to do anything to stop it, and did not want to sacrifice our lives to make a difference. That’s what it will take. A new chimurenga is the only thing that will change Zimbabwe, and many, many will die in the process. And then, based upon a plethora of African examples, another tinpot dictator will eventually take Mugabe’s place and we begin again. I will be here in my American armchair, grief stricken and heartbroken, but I don’t have the right to judge anybody who I left behind in the wreckage or how they survive there. Do you?

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