via The Arrogance of Power | newzimbabweconstitution 10 December 2014 by Alex T. Magaisa
Sometime in 2013, as the country hurtled towards what would turn out to be a controversial election, it was obvious to me that the political landscape was still seriously uneven and required a lot of work. But time was running out.
In the four years that the Inclusive Government had existed, progress in political reforms had been painfully slow, thanks to resistance from the forces of the old order which was dominated by Zanu PF. Power in many areas was still very much in the hands of Zanu PF through its functionaries who controlled most areas of the State. Key institutions were still controlled by Zanu PF appointees and cardholders. They work in accordance with instructions of the ruling party.
Just witness how on the President’s birthday or even a mere graduation ceremony of a leader, these state-owned companies fall over each other taking out large amounts of space in the State media, offering their congratulations and other sweet words. They are expected to do so, as a sign of loyalty. They compete over who takes out the biggest advert, or writes the sweetest words and some even go to the extent of taking out a whole supplement.
Today, the former Minister of Energy, Dzikamai Mavhaire and his Deputy, Munacho Mutezo, are being accused of directing the state-owned energy company, Zesa to donate money to Zanu PF, which money was subsequently misappropriated. But they will probably be feeling hard done by, pleading that they were not acting outside the norm but that instead, they were merely following tradition. Their problem in this case is that they have merely found themselves out of favour with the leadership of the ruling party. An independent and thorough investigation of state-owned companies would reveal far more of this type of conduct over the years.
That is the way Zanu PF and the State are closely wedded together. The boundaries are very fuzzy and it is easy to fall foul of the law when you think you are actually doing the right thing for and by the party rules and expectations. Indeed, if they had not directed Zesa to make the donation, they might have been accused of sabotaging the party!
Anyway, back to the main issue on the arrogance of power. I thought it was necessary to reform these institutions and the culture under and by which they operated. I thought, in the circumstances, it was necessary to engage State institutions and work with and incentivise them to discharge their functions fairly and more effectively. It was in this fashion that we began to engage institutions like the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the Registrar-General’s Office principally because they had a big role to play in elections. But as things turned out, this was too little, too late. Nevertheless, it was something that we tried.
I have to say I was quite impressed by the then Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa’s professionalism. This may surprise those who have watched him in interviews, especially that infamous 2012 interview on BBC’s HardTalk programme where he was ranting and raving. But in the corridors of office, he was a different character. He never sought to stop ZEC, which administratively falls under the ministerial jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. He may not have agreed with us or the then Prime Minister but he upheld protocol and was very respectful.
The other institutions we wanted to engage were the Zimbabwe Media Commission and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe. The parent ministry for both institutions was the Ministry of Information and Publicity, the propaganda ministry that was under the stewardship of Webster Shamhu. We were particularly keen to engage them because of the power that Zanu PF derived from the information structure. The State media was so obviously and unashamedly biased and it was an area that needed reform.
At one point, we had an appointment arranged with the Chairman of the ZMC, Godfrey Majonga but at the last minute it was cancelled. It became clear that the impediment was the Minister at the parent Ministry. For some reason this supposedly ‘independent commission’ could not make its own decision and was controlled by the Minister.
Compared to his counterpart at the Justice Ministry, it looked like Shamhu was arrogant and a law unto himself. His attitude was to completely snub overtures for engagement, even if it was from a higher office. Even when the matter was brought to the attention of the President, still Shamhu would not budge. He was protecting power and he was arrogant about it.
Today, it is the same media that he was protecting; the same media that we were trying to reform, that is haunting him. Today, he has fallen on the sword that he wielded and used against others. And today, he has been discarded by his boss. He is open, without power and naked like the rest of us, a ‘victim’ of the same system that we were hoping to reform but one that he was jealously guarding.
There is a lesson to be learnt here: if you want to be treated well and fairly, then you have to offer the same kind of treatment to other people. If you promote and perpetuate a culture of arrogance, unfairness and impunity, you are most likely to suffer the same in time. It is a message which those who are presently celebrating their political victories would do well to take heed of. Power is not permanent – well, for most people.