There is a very unproductive culture that abounds in African politics; a culture driven by irrational emotions to the ultimate end that it strangles the very subjects it seeks to benefit. This culture is firmly embedded in the African politician and, to a huge extent, spells out why the continent remains in the grip of underdevelopment.
guest column: LEARNMORE ZUZE
With the election year, 2018, peeping, it has been reported that many residents in the city of Harare have abandoned payment of rates in the hope that government will emerge again next year with another debt cancellation directive as it did towards the 2013 presidential elections. Under this unproductive culture, politicians, for obvious reasons, make outrageous promises to the electorate. In 2013, the Zimbabwean government wrote off all debts owed by ratepayers between 2009 and 2013. The very rates essential for facilitation of service delivery were cancelled. The directive was conveniently issued on the eve of the 2013 harmonised elections with disastrous consequences on Zimbabwe’s struggling local authorities. The evidence is with us today; it is everywhere in Zimbabwe’s cities.
The bills cancellation directive by the government brought relief to residents, who had incurred unimaginable debts during the era of the worthless Zimbabwean dollar. It had become virtually impossible to pay rates. The populism-inspired move by government made news and was lauded by “analysts” as indicative of a government that cared for its people. In their short-sightedness, many people thought this was a noble move. However, to the discerning eye, nothing could be further from the truth; election time in Zimbabwe has always sprung such moves of “generosity” from the government. The land reform programme, which I agree with in principle, was, as critics have argued, not necessarily an act borne of a genuine desire to distribute land with equality. It was rather a swift response to the influence of a fast-rising opposition movement that had its feet firmly planted in labour. The haphazard land distribution was meant to neutralise the huge effect of the opposition movement and, to a large extent, it can be said that the exercise achieved its intended purpose. Again, it was only the discerning eye, which could see beyond the land distribution hype.
The very manner in which the land reform programme was carried out bears testament to the spontaneity of the whole exercise; it was a knee-jerk reaction. No wonder, in the process, lives were lost; the law was trampled upon, people were displaced, crops, livestock and people were burnt.
More often than not, the government’s impulsive nature towards elections brings joy in the short-term, but the trail of disaster left is felt long after the elections are gone. Politicians care little after elections and that is a self–evident truth. One would think that masses would have seen through this by now, but alas, the same trick is used with startling success after every five years.
Another fine example of this unproductive culture with ruinous consequences was the brazen promise of two million jobs by Zanu PF. It’s almost five years on and what we see, on the contrary, are retrenchments galore and massive job losses. Nothing has happened in the direction of job creation. It is apparent that the desire to lure the vote by all means, fair or foul, dominated. One is also tempted to cast blame on the citizenry for blindly jumping on to things that would haunt them tomorrow. There are certainly no politicians affected by the false promise of two million jobs. No politicians, whatsoever, was displaced in the chaotic land reform exercise. It is the man in the street; the downtrodden who feel the effects of these empty promises.
Coming to the bills “amnesty”, by now, only simpletons would fail to see the catastrophe of such a move. City council directors have been the recipients of serious backlashes for failed service delivery. The easiest thing to do is to slam local authorities for failing on delivery, but honestly how do people expect service delivery from local authorities without paying rates? An inquisitive mind would have seen the tragedy that was created on the eve of the 2013 election; it lives to date. Surely, refuse can’t be collected on time, street lights can’t be fixed when no rates are being paid. It is always heartrending when politicians resort to populism without regard to the repercussions in future. It is time people refused to be fooled by cheap politicking. Policies and proposals advanced at election time must be sound and meaningful. Political parties must be held to account for their promises. This unproductive culture of allowing chaos before elections is tantamount to fraud. Election promises must be anchored in truth and real desire to uplift the quality of life of the masses.
While the incumbent minister of local authorities, Saviour Kasukuwere’s rejection of another bills “amnesty” deserves adulation, it may well be early to praise this stance. Election time is always full of surprises in Zimbabwe. Kasukuwere was quoted last week as saying: “The law is the law until it is changed.” He also stated that payment of bills was a legal obligation. Now it would not surprise if all this falls away hours before the 2018 election. It has happened before and it can happen. But the truth must be told unreservedly, a government is doing its citizens and its cities no good by cancelling debts. Services must be paid for. This bills “amnesty” culture is akin to killing service delivery in cities. I have always found it very lame to blame officials in councils; these are people trying their best under a very restrictive and poisoned playing field. People may hammer town clerks in various capacities, but the fact of the matter is that these people won’t be able to deliver anything meaningful for, they are playing in an extremely uneven field. It’s the government, through such populism, that has destroyed its local authorities.
Learnmore Zuze is a law officer and writes in his own capacity. E-mail: email@example.com