The ZANU PF regime has been, for decades, almost to the point of irritating intoxication, telling us about the virtues of Zimbabwe’s friendship with China. By now, every school going child should know that China supplied us with weapons and training during the liberation struggle. Students of economics are routinely reminded that it is glorious to be friends with China because they are not only the fastest growing economy on the planet, but also that their investments in Africa are calibrated in billions. Small business persons at flea markets know better – that goods sell faster because they are cheaper.
And so when President Robert Mugabe gloats about ‘looking east’, in mind he has this illusion that whatever has been starved of us form the west, we can get from China, an all-weather friend. Most of the accolades piled onto China are correct, yet there are things that our rulers choose to ignore. China is a mixed economy but more inclined towards regimented, centralised state capitalism. Zimbabwe has a mixed economy leaning more towards free markets.
If China is a perfect example of how capital and labour are combined to produce exponential growth, we cannot ignore that its labour force is treated like a disposable commodity, which means labour rights are permanently lurking in the zone of violation. Even their investments in Africa, good as they have been said to be, are littered with despicable labour rights abuse. Moreover, China might be an economic role model, but their human rights record is as woeful as Zimbabwe’s.
Actually, in a case reminiscent of our ‘own’ Gukurahundi genocide, Frank Dikötter, a Hong Kong-based historian is quoted as having said during the time that Chairman Mao Zedong of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was enforcing the Great Leap Forward in 1958, in an effort to catch up with the economy of the Western world, he was responsible for overseeing starvation and death due to hard labour of millions of citizens up until 1962.
Amnesty International is on record as saying the United States – yes – that supposed citadel of freedom and democracy, has the highest cases of state-sponsored executions, around 45 annually. However, I can safely conclude that none of the executions relate to cases of corruption and abuse of authority. China’s appetite and taste for lethal justice is not something to emulate. Xi Jinping’s war on corruption is a net reflection of his country’s sha ren chang ming, the Mandarin equivalent to “an eye for an eye”.
This means that almost three thousand ‘officials’ are executed annually on account of economic, social and political misdemeanors. Once in a while one gets insight into high profile cases like the vice mayor of Hangzhou, Suzhouand the director of the Chongqing Justice Bureau. The outstanding case is that of Liu Han, a 49-year-old mining tycoon once worth 8 billion US dollars, alleged to be one of five mafia kingpins to receive the death penalty for corruption, gun-running and murder.
Why am I saying all this? There is not a single day that passes by when Zimbabweans are not inundated with one case or another of corruption. It has become part of our DNA, where government and parastatal officials thrive on diet of corruptive behavior. Despite the existence of a myriad of institutions meant to safeguard public funds and act as moral guides for good corporate governance, we are not making any headway.
Only last week we read about prospects of Bulawayo’s Egodini developments being dim because of alleged cases of corruptive behavior in Bulawayo City Council. Councillors parceling out expensive real estate amongst themselves without going to tender. We also read of almost five million US dollars paid out to a contractor by Zimbabwe Power Corporation without due diligence. Two CMED managers are on the run after taking almost three million dollars from that company. A few months ago, President Mugabe claimed that fifteen billion worth of diamonds have been taken out for the country illegally.
Our government, our police, our Parliament and even the Anti-Corruption Commission, have clearly documented cases of high level corruption, and yet no culprits are apprehended. Zimbabwe is ranked 150 out of 167 on the corruption perception index, so without conceited effort in enforcement, we remain bogged down on rhetoric.
There is no will on the part of the ZANU PF government, to eliminate corruption, because party cronies are beneficiaries. I am not saying we should execute culprits like our Chinese friends, but we need a hard line approach towards offenders. There is no evidence that death penalty reduces incidences of murder, rape or corruption, but an effective legal system that applies the rules equally and fairly is a good start. Africa loses billions of dollars annually through corruption, never mind increased costs of goods and services. We need a more civilized brand of sha ren chang ming, perhaps.