The Herald (Harare)

11 January 2014

Zimbabwe: Welfare Reports - When Power Bridles the Poor

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Happy New Year dear reader, and I hope 2014 carries better hopes. For me it certainly means a more vigorous debate, more virile analyses. Let's partner and see how far we go.

The boy without a mouth

Phew! What a beginning! Of course you and me cannot be talking about bedroom issues, more so when these relate to elders of the village.

That would pass for "not having a mouth", amount to being the proverbial child born when village grannies have all retired to a beer party. Absent and/or too drunk, these grannies have no homilies to dispense, no good words to give beyond the drivel of wise Bacchus.

Communal narrative has it that always, births in such circumstances never yield vana vane hunhu, children with good morals.

Necessary illusions

And this Malema boy, he is something else I tell you! An enemy you don't need in a year of elections, an opponent posing arguments that prick you to the soft marrow, while grabbing the thoughtful attention of the demos!

The background to it is that a few days ago, some so-called consultancy based in the UK and with offices in South Africa -- New World Wealth -- released a report contrastively suggesting Zimbabweans are among the poorest people in Africa, while claiming South Africans tops the continent's list of "wealth per capita".

Gentle reader, I hope you have some smatterings of economics, and know that wealth per capita, far from being an exact measure of public weal, winds up being a mathematical exercise convenient to economists intent on stochastic comparisons.

One more string on my bow

But that aside, the consultancy message was sweet music to the congenital nabobs of negativity found on both sides of the Limpopo.

Another string had been added to their anti-Zimbabwe bow for more lethal darts aimed to Zimbabwe's aching heart!

Curiously, the report suggested the policy of indigenisation would immiserise Zimbabweans all the more, as too would the absence of MDC from the new, post-July 31 Government.

You do not need to be a genius to work out the political import of such a report. Or even why it should be authored and distributed in the countries mentioned above.

Led by Business Day, our cousins on the other side of the Limpopo were treated to lurid tales concerning our ever burgeoning poverty here, all of it, it was claimed, set to worsen because of indigenisation and the electoral defeat of the MDC formations!

When it's lethal to those it praises

Of course the backdrop to the report is this renewed call for a more energetic implementation of empowerment programmes, principally in the mining sector where the big guys who control such consultancies are found.

Zimbabwe has moved beyond unionism; it is demanding an altered asset structure, something quite nightmarish to many a boardroom, a good number of which owe their origins to Rhodes and his grand pillage.

But I don't think the consultancy bolt was aimed at Zimbabweans, highly critical and even mortifying though the report may be to them. Here is one report so lethal to those it praises, so kind to those it savages.

The bolt targeted the well-off South Africans "per capita", collectively!

They have to be made to feel good in spite of their unchanged or ever deteriorating material circumstances, right from the days of colonial apartheid.

Behold our Sanlam

Chomsky has a name for it. Power reigning in asymmetrical societies always manufactures "illusions" by which it governs.

These illusions, so "necessary" to the exercise of such uneven power, imbue the poor with fumes of a success they never have, a success they never enjoy, so they live happily with the ever deepening poverty that begrimes and grinds them.

Soon they get drunk with these "necessary illusions", swearing by their poverty-slain mother that they are infinitely better off than their poor cousins abroad. Much worse, claiming that they are happily in same material league with their super-rich countrymen, all of them white.

Or claiming that in due course, they would catch up with them, right up to their graves.

Imperialism knows that revolutions are caused and executed not so much by poor people; they are caused and executed by the poor when they begin to feel a sense of injury, an overwhelming sense of unfairness.

Reports like his one from New World Wealth are of course meant to make South African blacks, for so long degraded by structural apartheid, feel triumphantly poor, and be proud and brag about it.

Aahhh, over there, piercing the heavenly horizon is our Sanlam, they happily whelp. That way the demos are kept in check!

They just don't tell us who we are, what our enemies are, who our friends should be. They also tell us that we are or should be doing fine, in spite of our circumstances. That way power veils, smothers and bridles the black underdog.

Sausages and Kings

Now this Malema boy comes in to upset the propaganda applecart: "There is no system that has worked successfully for Africans, except the Zimbabwean system . . . The Zimbabweans today can go hungry and poor, but at least they own property . . .

"You are eating pap and vleis (sausages) here in South Africa, you have nothing to show as proof that you belong to South Africa."

When power faces communication so able to turn the otherwise esoteric discipline of economics into powerful street lingo, it reaches for the revolver!

In such amazing common parlance, Malema has been able to convey a complex message which for Ramphele, another opposition figure, needed a whole book called "Uprooting Poverty".

Far more important than mathematically-induced perceptions of welfare, is actual empowerment founded on access to assets and wealth.

The poor are not just money-less, they are without wealth. And of course in spite of the high per capita welfare, the rand continues to slide, spewing indescribable poverty for ordinary South Africans.

Much worse, as this illusion was being cooked and served, new statistics were showing that Zimbabwe's imports from South Africa have been increasing by nearly 20 percent to R16,6 billion in the ten months to October last year, against its own exports of a paltry R2,4 billion to South Africa.

It is a staggering statistic spawning deeper concerns to a conscious Zimbabwean, far deeper than the cheap slander that he or she is the poorest on the continent.

We are becoming rich, sub-regional consumers, not strong sub-regional producers.

That is the worry, not some of these politically-induced reports.

After all poor people don't demand goods and services of such magnitude, surely? And poor neighbours don't get attacked or accused of pushing up prices in "our country", surely?

What is not a veteran

Then you have another fascinating one privileged as a headline story by some weekly: "Mugabe courts Dabengwa for VP".

Really? And that magic adverb without which journalism would die, "reportedly"! An adverb which allows you journalists to lie and still defend yourselves so plausibly.

Not too far back, we had the President bemoaning the breakaway politics of certain war veterans, until now brought up under the command of late Vice President Nkomo.

I am sure the occasion had to do with the unveiling of the statue of the late great.

Such veterans, the President moaned, broke his heart. They had to come back, they had to rejoin the party, he pleaded. Of course the call embraced people like Dabengwa, but never his "Zapu" which is not a war veteran!

Saluting erstwhile juniors

Rather than responding as a war veteran, Dabengwa decided to respond as or through his "Zapu".

I can follow his calculations, or his politics, when he decided to respond within the framework and milieu of a party. He hoped to force the President to recognise his party, as that would impart consequence to his cause, however lonely, dejected and rejected.

Above all, having given his party the acronym Zapu, any engagement with him within the parameters of his party would give an illusion of a second "Unity Accord", something Dabengwa hoped to achieve had he or Welshman Ncube, or both, mastered a sizeable vote in the just ended harmonised polls.

Well, that did not happen.

Equally, Zanu-PF will only engage him as Dumiso, never as Dabengwa, president of some contortion or contraption called Zapu. And he knows that.

If our journalism was observant, it would have noticed in "Zapu's" official response to the call for unity by the President that there was a small line, seemingly inconsequential and even out of place, which bemoaned the fact that the President was still to communicate that invitation "officially".

Zapu was pleading for a formal approach which has not come, which will never come.

The front page story in question is an attempt to goad it without losing face. Dabengwa is dying to have Zanu-PF vice presidency while eating it!

As I have written before, indeed as has Conte Mhlanga, simply by creating Mavambo, then leaving it to create this contortion he calls "Zapu", Dumiso lost a golden chance to have become a Vice President of this country, under terms of the Unity Accord of 1987.

That chance is gone, gone forever and no amount of headlines will redeem him. Today he is fated to salute his erstwhile juniors. Sorry Sir!

Tsvangirai's caricature

And Comrade Madhuku? What is the professor up to? Someone must tell him it is very easy not to want to be like Tsvangirai, but quite difficult not to be him!

That seems to be the bind my good professor seems slowly fitting into. I hear the NCA wants to join the electoral fray by fielding candidates in the forthcoming local government elections. Good!

They are eyeing Sunningdale and Zaka something, I am told. Again good! They go campaigning, in Mbare one afternoon.

By sunset they emerge out of it in a scatter, bawling the tired yarn of Zanu-PF violence, but their bawl far, far inferior to that usually done by the master-bawler, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai and his MDC-Him party!

I am tired of calling it MDC-T! It is very difficult not to be a Tsvangirai, far much easier to be a caricature of him! Is that the professorial goal? I wonder.

When Hamlet has no successor

The world has changed, dear professor. In the first place your appeal in Western eyes is very low, and not many there would weep if a bad wasp stung you.

That can't be a new insight, surely?

I thought in that year of Zanu-PF misfortunes, you walked out of jail together with dazzled Morgan, your shapely head equally banged and bandaged.

But the cameras shunned you, caught you with the fleeting clarity and sharpness of an unlit corner. You were not a sentence, not a phrase. Not even a comma, let alone a full stop.

The Western world had its own Hamlet and the play wore on.

It is true that Hamlet has stumbled, died even, before the drama has ended, before the paid-up audiences have reached catharsis.

And the machine has jammed, and so can't produce a god to rescue this Hamlet disastrously dying so prematurely!

There is no deux ex machina, no god from a machine. But hey, get it from me, you won't be the new Hamlet, whether for the old MDC-T, or a new one.

The West will not be a god emerging from a machine to rescue you from a runaway plot. So no need to ape, you are no new Morgan.

Find new politics, new image and new tactics, prof.

Swooping down wingless

Much worse, and that beats and boggles the mind, why would your entry point be local government elections? Why?

The politics are grassroots, literally. Small, localised politics concerning small people grappling with very parochial issues that cry out for small, practical solutions, or small, practical illusions!

There you are, a whole cerebral party of high flown lawyers, intellectual activists, leftists and constitutionalists, swooping down wingless into the shallow muck below, hoping to trawl up jurisprudential nuggets, sorry maggots!

Oh my word!

Look, I was the first commentator to wring out to the full the portentous result your NCA got from the constitutional referendum.

From where I write, it was impolitic, even dangerous for me to concede that. Yet I did.

You had the spread, geographically, something that took many people aback, I ungainly said. You also might have commanded the quality, thinking vote, something which could see you far in opposition, comparatively.

Monarch of the Mind

But to seek to equate the earthy preoccupations of neighbourhoods with an invitation to cast a vote on an abstract and cerebral matter as in a constitutional referendum, is surely to transpose oddities?

Voting for a new constitution was an intellectual matter, or an exercise in loyalty where intellect lacked.

But local elections are pragmatic propositions, are about the search for community leaders. Is that the ambition, the right ambition for a party seeking to launch itself?

And you know you have no language for the village, you who hail from the lecture room, and itself the damning metaphor for your NCA party.

Or you did not know that?

Zimbabweans love you making those incisive and penetrating comments on larger issues of law; they never regard or image you as their President, MP or councillor one day, all of which you should never be.

You are Plato's philosopher-king, a monarch of the mind and that's it.

It was, by the way, the same mistake which Morgan Tsvangirai made, the same Morgan you like to be different from.

Zimbabweans cherished him for being the hand with which to whip the overly complacent Zanu-PF, and for as long as he was that, the sun shone on him.

The moment he aspired for much higher, not even Elizabeth would vote for him.

He misread 2008, missing a very basic point that it was Zanu-PF which lost that poll, never MDC-T which won it.

The referendum result could be comparable. And so would the two fates: his and yours. Recant.

Icho!

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