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Like Chief Nanga in Chinua Achebe’s ‘A Man of the People’, today’s politicians in Zimbabwe ‘preach one thing and practice another’, writes Levi Kabwato.

In Chinua Achebe’s ‘A Man of the People’, Chief Nanga, a rather interesting character, is described by the narrator Odilli as a man of the people, and indubitably the most approachable politician in the country. He is also Nigeria’s minister of culture in the novel, set in this country. His greatest asset is the ability to be a very good orator and it is little surprise, therefore, that his speeches mesmerise many and he easily gains the trust and admiration of the masses. He got into his position in government in the same way – saying what ‘the leader’ wanted to hear regardless of the negative impact it usually had.

Be that as it may, Odilli tells us that this man simply does not practice what he preaches. For instance, Chief Nanga abuses state resources to build himself private property, some of which he rents out for his own profit. Part of the tragedy is that he is convinced of his entitlement to public resources for personal gain. So he goes back to his ministerial mansion after addressing poverty-stricken masses and sleeps in obscene luxury with no hint of trouble on his conscience.

Through his writing, Chinua Achebe is widely recognised as a more precise political prophet than most of Africa’s political scientists, after Frantz Fanon of course. So prophetic is his account of the political situation that is now familiar in most of postcolonial Africa – particularly in Zimbabwe today – that you would be forgiven for thinking that he had been taken to heaven at some point and shown the future of things to come in Africa.

So, like Chief Nanga, our politicians in Zimbabwe today preach one thing and practice another particularly when it comes to social and economic policies. At one time they had a Health for All by 2000 campaign which, at the turn of the century, some humorously decided to rename Death for All by 2000. And then there was that Vision 2020 – nothing but hot air.

All these campaigns and more have fallen by the wayside even as the government of Zimbabwe attempted to right a colonial wrong of land dispossession by using another – some have even suggested worse – wrong. While many have focused on the violence and human rights abuses suffered because of a chaotic land reform programme in Zimbabwe, there has been little focus on the need to pressure that government into releasing the land audit report.

For as long as that report is deliberately kept hidden from public scrutiny, there simply is no way of hailing land reform in Zimbabwe as a success. This clandestine concealing of a document that is supposed to show how public resources have been shared amongst citizens is solid confirmation of corruption and hypocrisy on the part of the ‘men of the people’ who during the day preached the gospel of ‘one man, one farm’ while in the night helped themselves to multiple farms.

So Frantz Fanon was right after all, the struggle has been betrayed. A secret envy of the wealth the coloniser had amassed for himself guided the aspirations of some comrades as they neatly aligned themselves to become the new ‘white man’, the coloniser. It has become clear, after all, that they were not fighting for social justice, for equality, for the dignity of a people, but for their own selfish interest. These interests are unashamedly couched in ‘empowerment laws’, which are crafted to ensure that only those who sing for their farm from the treacherous hymn book of national betrayal are rewarded.

So, the rich get richer and the poor taste more and more poverty. The poet Dambudzo Marechera observed accurately:

‘Her vision’s scrubland
Of out-of-work heroes
Who yesterday a country won
And today poverty tasted’

If only those we trusted with power could understand that you cannot feed a nation by filling the silos at the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) with rhetoric alone. The struggle for Zimbabwe’s independence was never about accumulation at the expense of the citizens. It was much more than that. But who would have agreed with Marechera when, so early into our independence, he screamed and begged us to ‘lynch those who horde our national dream…’

The so-called custodians of the struggle have remained silent as they refuse to acknowledge the massive accumulation happening around them. Former teachers have become overnight property moguls while government officials have become business entrepreneurs owning countless properties and assets while cherry-picking the best farms for themselves and their relations – mistresses and all!

‘We ignore man's basic nature if we say, as some critics do, that because a man like Nanga has risen overnight from poverty and insignificance to his present opulence he could be persuaded without much trouble to give it up again and return to his original state,’ says Odilli in the Achebe’s book. With recent revelations of the Marange Diamond Fields and the subsequent rush to loot the mineral wealth there, this small passage can help us understand what exactly we are dealing with at this juncture in Zimbabwe.

Most politicians at the centre of controversy in Zimbabwe today rose overnight – or so it seemed – from poverty and insignificance to opulence. The former ruling party, ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front), is reported to be getting stronger and stronger as a result of financing from looted diamonds. Hence, to now ask this coterie of avaricious politicians to part with their ill-gotten wealth by going back to their old state is to ask for too much from them. So the nation is held at ransom. That is the height of selfish interest.

And wrapped in that is the how the colonised has successfully become the coloniser by making sure that he has followed – to the letter – all necessary steps to accumulation while poverty springs up on every corner. But the contradictions remain. You hear how the West is evil because they put ‘illegal’ sanctions on Zimbabwe and its hurting the economy is bad. Could it be time now to call this bluff, advocate for the removal of targeted sanctions and see if there will be any reforms from those claiming sanctions – and not their own looting – are what is impeding progress in Zimbabwe?

Of course, no one must get excited at the giant prospect of this clique being removed from power by allegedly progressive forces in Zimbabwe. That is the current temptation – to put hopes, dreams and aspirations of a nation in one person. Unless emphasis is placed on preventing the birth of many more Chief Nangas in Zimbabwe (and Africa for that matter) by strengthening institutions and shaping newer ideologies which are more sincere in their efforts to uplift communities and address critical issues of living, tyranny will always reign.


* Levi Kabwato is media & communications officer for the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition’s regional office. He is also editor of Zimbabwe in Pictures.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.