Spreading tentacles of patronage
GOVERNMENT this week started to demarcate residential stands and to re-allocate
market stalls to “deserving people” in the aftermath of the
state-sponsored tsunami, Operation Murambatsvina.
Prospective beneficiaries were registering to be considered for the re-allocated
stands and stalls which the authorities said would bring order to various
urban centres. We were not however surprised by the presence of Zanu PF
sharks who ironically have contributed immensely to bringing disorder
and confusion to town planning by encouraging people to build houses on
unserviced plots and without change-of-use permission.
The state media showed Nyasha Chikwinya as one of the dignitaries at a
registration centre. Details of her illegal housing project in Hatcliffe
have been reported.
The government has said apart from demarcating and reallocating stands
in urban areas, it will publish the names of the beneficiaries in the
press to ensure equitable distribution of resources.
We will not be duped into believing that the Zanu PF government has become
a doyen of transparency and is acting responsibly. The government has
never been known to possess this virtue when it comes to the allocation
of scarce national resources. All its actions have been steeped in the
mire of political patronage.
The government of President Mugabe in its clientelist mode has built a
complex system of power largely based on its ability to co-opt interest
groups in society through a patronage system in which they exchange support
for the regime for material benefits.
In South America, the system of clientelism has been the hallmark of successive
governments who have managed to reward small interest groups such as land-invaders,
collective taxi drivers, and street vendors, to enable them to organise
and have access to public space to exercise their profession. The practice
of rewards also takes place among big business people who are awarded
state contracts or access to cheap money from governments in exchange
for their unwavering support for the establishment.
There are traits of this unsavoury practice inbuilt into the ruling elite
in Harare. The government has been very adept in ensuring that key people
across the social spectrum are adequately catered for.
It is a practice which ensures that strategic partners get prime positions
at the feeding trough. It is a system that seeks to hoodwink the public
into believing that the state is benevolent and keen to correct colonial
imbalances by redistributing resources. At the end of the day, deserving
cases have been elbowed out of the queues and those who should benefit
from the state’s welfare system are as poor as ever.
It is sad to note that those politically connected are always at the front
of the queues or do not queue at all to access state largesse. There are
senior civil servants and military, police and security officials who
have become very rich because of this patronage.
Firstly, they were allocated productive and well-equipped farms during
the ill-fated resettlement exercise. Then they accessed cheap loans from
government. Next they were in the government scheme to acquire tractors
and irrigation equipment.
They have not repaid loans but they still get the opportunity to have
another helping at the feeding trough even though there is a long list
of hungry Zimbabweans locked outside.
It is not surprising to discover that these are the same people who looted
funds from the Pay for Your House Scheme in the mid-1990s. There are still
thousands of teachers, nurses and clerks who contributed their meagre
earnings to the scheme in the hope of owning a house one day but their
dream was shattered when crooks in high office hijacked the scheme. Today
thousands of poor civil servants are still waiting for their houses. Good
luck to those who deposited millions of dollars each with a commercial
bank under government’s new housing scheme two years ago!
Chiefs and other junior traditional leaders have been given cars when
district hospitals do not have ambulances. Chiefs’ houses have been
electrified yet clinics still use candles and do not have running water.
There are also scraps for the selected lot lower down the social ladder.
These come in the form of bags of seed and fertiliser, preferential treatment
in accessing relief aid and even a party T-shirt with a portrait of Mugabe
emblazoned on it.
All these beneficiaries form various layers of support for the establishment
because their collective consciences have been bribed. That includes those
responsible for upholding the law.
It is no wonder we have become poorer by the day when the chosen few live
in a different world of unrivalled plenty. The connection between the
wealthy few and the impoverished many in a system that is unaccountable
and grossly self-indulgent should be obvious to even the most simple-minded
Operation Murambatsvina, if nothing else, has laid bare that national