MDC-T joins scramble for the gravy train
By Nevanji Madanhire
In Zimbabwe poor people can become not only rich, but stinking rich, when
they enter politics. In other countries one has to be rich first before
seeking public office; often becoming poorer for it.
Public office is a burden which only a few individuals are willing to carry;
most of us would rather live in the comfort of our poverty, just managing to
At Independence in 1980 rich black people were few and far between; that was
because the colonial system intended it to be so.
The only people we considered rich were probably not rich at all. They were
small traders owning small dealerships in rural outposts or in locations
dotted around urban centres. Some had bus fleets which carried us to and
from our rural homes.
They drove cars and had all the trappings of the rich such as big radiograms
and television sets. They also had several wives each. These were the status
symbols we associated with the rich. In fact they were not rich at all, only
abusing the little loans they got from friendly banks.
So it can safely be said in 1980 all black people — except a handful — were
In the first decade of Independence public office was not rewarding.
Government officials’ dealings were always under public scrutiny. There was
also a leadership code that Zanu PF sought to impose on its leaders.
There were scandals of course as the former leaders of the liberation
struggle sought to live in some comfort after years of penury in exile.
There was the Sampson Paweni scandal and also Willowgate. Many others such
as the War Victims’ Compensation Fund and the VIP Housing Scandal came and
But as the millennium turned, it came with a new bug named PMM (politics
Public office became a means for self-aggrandisement. The motivation for
joining a political party was the possibility of making not just money but
Ironically the desire for riches had been the same motivation that had
driven some highly-qualified individuals to join the struggle in the 1950s
The colonial system had ensured that no matter how educated an African could
become he never got the money. People with doctorates in their chosen fields
only became civil servants. Even when they became medical doctors or lawyers
the rewards were poor.
They joined the liberation struggle to correct this but they never really
wished to be obscenely rich.
But why did the PMM bug take root? By the 1990s the then ruling party Zanu
PF was living in a comfort zone. It had achieved a pseudo-one-party-state
system, so it was going to rule forever. Most prominent Zanu PF politicians
of the 1990s — especially the true veterans of the struggle — were and still
are poor. They were prepared to continue to survive until the end on the
pittances they earned.
The coming of the MDC and its victory in the constitutional referendum of
2000 rocked the boat. Suddenly these politicians realised they had all along
been living in a fool’s paradise. Their cheese could be eaten by someone
This gave rise to a new breed of “evangelical” politicians. This breed did
not understand why the veterans were poor when there were so many
possibilities in government; and time was running out.
I call them “evangelical” for their crusading nature. They coin
great-sounding phrases and turn them into slogans which they shout at the
top of their voices using all means necessary to convert or coerce the
common people to support them. All the time they won’t be meaning what they
They have preached land reform and indigenisation saying we would all
benefit and we all supported them but as it turned out, they were the sole
beneficiaries of these grandiose projects. The people’s support, voluntary
or forced, became the tithes that the “evangelists” reaped.
While the people were shouting their slogans, these politicians were looting
left, right and centre. Soon they splashed their megabucks around and
changed the culture of hard work that had been the backbone of the
Zimbabwean psyche. The new culture they introduced was called kiya-kiya or
runnings which both mean “shortcut to wealth”. Street lingo changed. “How
are the runnings” became the common salute.
But no matter how good the “runnings” were, the real money was in politics.
Ask the MDC!
Just as evangelical churches compete for congregants to reap more tithes,
politicians of both camps were also campaigning for the rich pickings of
There are rich people in the MDC already. Ten years ago they had nothing to
their names. Most of them were students wearing the same underwear without
change for a week. They have never been formerly employed; they know not the
Zimbabwean culture of hard work and honesty. Some of them have outdone their
Zanu PF counterparts in spite of the fact that the latter had a head start.
For the past decade or so Zanu PF has been known for factionalism and
intra-party violence. The reason for this has been pretty obvious — those
who control government also control the purse strings. The dog-eat-dog
culture in Zanu PF is singularly motivated by this philosophy.
The MDC has joined the bandwagon; why else were they at each other’s throats
before and during their elective congress held in Bulawayo recently?
The party rank and file have seen how former comrades-in-penury have arrived
at the gleam. They want to get there too.
They see Zanu PF’s demise as being just around the corner. They are already
anticipating the time — not very far off — when their party will be
populating the corridors of power and hence pulling the purse strings. No
one wants to be left out. That’s the motivation of the skirmishes we
witnessed recently around the country and in Bulawayo.
As long as our politics are driven by individual pursuit for riches that
come with public office, political violence will remain at the core of our
MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai says he will do something about the violence
that stained his party congress. “We know those people causing violence …
we don’t tolerate violence and party leaders sponsoring it face expulsion
and will be investigated thoroughly,” he said.
But he ought to honestly investigate what drove the MDC-T leadership away
from its founding ideals into the PMM rat race.
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