HARARE - One of the puzzles of our post-independence is the contradiction between the material wealth of our ministers and public officials on the one hand, and the salaries they earn on the other.
Some of these people — genuine war veterans, that is — left the battlefield, demobilisation camps or exile with nothing.
A number of the senior figures in the liberation struggle were then appointed ministers and public officials in the new government. Most have been recycled ever since.
In those days, Zanu’s ethos were captured in song: “Zanu vanhu, vanhu iZanu” (Zanu is the people, people are Zanu).
A leadership code, adopted by Zanu PF’s congress in 1984 to keep capitalistic temptations in check, transformed mere song into a seemingly abiding philosophy of social equality.
But alas, then came the Willowgate scandal. Enos Nkala, Callistus Ndlovu, Frederick Shava, Dzingai Mutumbuka and Maurice Nyagumbo resigned in shame, the latter committing suicide, after using their positions to buy cars at knockdown prices for resale.
Since then, we have learnt Zanu is Zanu and the people are the people — the disjuncture has now manifested without any socialist pretensions of egalitarianism.
When one becomes a government minister, official, councillor, mayor or MP the transformation from rags to riches eventuates with disturbing inevitability.
Some will claim to have been genuinely enterprising. And they may have been.
But then it is hard to believe these politicians are exclusively endowed with some gene for enterprise that ordinary people do not possess. Or that when one becomes a public official his or her “gene for enterprise” suddenly manifests.
The answer lies simply in position or abuse of it.
The recent revelations by the Daily News about shady deals suspected to involve ministers would explain the abuse of position and the post-independence paradox of modest salaries on one hand and the wealth of our public officials on the other.
Ministers and public officials are using positions for personal gain.
Willowgate and the scandals that followed had already shown that the Zanu PF leadership had formulated a new and contrarian code of self-enrichment.
It is only the magnitude of the riches acquired that has been unknown.
On occasions, it has taken revelations by scorned spouses of ministers in divorce cases for Zimbabweans to learn of the extent of the wealth of some of the officials.
MPs are reluctant to reveal their assets.
Not so long ago, the Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Mudenda said the MPs would be compelled to declare assets. Only 25 out of 210 MPs have so far voluntarily complied.
Why would the MPs have to be compelled to reveal their possessions?
The abuse of office for personal gain knows no bounds.
It was reported last week, a chief had demanded $21 000 from a family of a tourist who disappeared in the Inyangani Mountains. It is most callous to try to profit from a family tragedy.
We seem to be a corrupt society — from top to bottom.
There is nothing peculiar, however, about us as a society.
Those that have branded us inherently corrupt are not paragons of virtue either.
Corruption or abuse of public office occurs in almost every society. What distinguishes us is whether we deal with it or not.
We do not seem to act resolutely against it. In Britain, for example, MPs were involved in what is dubbed the “expenses scandal.” Denis MacShane, a former MP and Europe minister, was jailed for six months for the expenses fraud after admitting submitting 19 fake receipts amounting to £12 900.
He was the fifth MP to get a prison sentence after the expenses scam.
Compare this to how cases of the abuse of the Community Development Fund have been handled; at best lackadaisically, at worst, reluctantly.
The discovery of diamonds has provided a perfect opportunity for some to abuse position for personal gain, as the Daily News investigation showed.
It is also most puzzling that some people with known backgrounds of financial misdemeanour would be appointed to head an institution responsible for the diamond mining.
This is as good as putting Dracula in charge of the blood-bank.
President Robert Mugabe has spoken out against corruption.
But words are not enough. People want to see action.