Should it be 'our people' or 'fellow citizens'?

HARARE - With the silly season of elections now upon us, it is no longer uncommon to hear the political elite referring to their fellow citizens as “our people”.

While this might sound like a genuine slip of the tongue, in the majority of cases it is actually a true reflection of what those in positions of authority think about the generality of the country’s population.

The phrase “our people” gives a sense of owning the masses on account of either occupying a powerful office or having fought for the country’s liberation during the guerrilla war of the 1970s. It’s a phrase that removes the need to consult the electorate, which is why we now have a crop of self-serving leaders who do not think they are obliged to take counsel from those they lead.

Is it not ironic that citizens who apply for jobs through elections are no longer accountable to their employers who pay their salaries? Is it not a tragedy that some members of the Executive even refuse to appear before parliamentary committees, which are representatives of their employers?

How many times have Zimbabweans been told that amongst them are “stockholders” and not stakeholders, implying there is a special category of citizens that holds the title deeds for this republic. Whereas stakeholders must go through the front door to get even the simplest of things done, stockholders — along with their families and friends — have boundless access to permits, mineral claims, government inputs, and other privileges funded by the taxpayer.

Because they don’t think they are answerable or accountable to those who voted them into office, the result has been poorly-crafted policies and programmes that stink to high heaven.

For example, despite “our people” saying no to the reckless indigenisation exercise where foreign-owned companies were compelled by law to give up controlling stakes to blacks, the “stockholders” felt otherwise.

In 2000, despite international calls for government to put a human face to its land expropriations, the “stockholders” did not take heed because what mattered to them at the time was not the fall in production, but hitting back at the minority whites for funding Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party.

And around 2007/08, government came up with price controls which destroyed many businesses, resulting in supermarkets shelves running empty. To this day, some of the businesses have not yet recovered from the price controls whose warped reasoning was to make the Zanu PF government look good in the eyes of voters.

Ahead of the 2013 elections, councils and power utility Zesa Holdings were directed by the Zanu PF side of the inclusive government that ran the country’s affairs between 2009 and 2013 to write-off debts that were owed to individuals and households thus causing service delivery to plump to its lowest depths.

Instead of owning up to their delusions, the “stockholders” are quick to blame what has followed on irrational economic agents who are labelled greedy, undisciplined and stooges of the West and its allies. Really!

This is true for many other disastrous policies that have been implemented over the years.

The serious governance issues that emanate from the phrase “our people” have had adverse economic impact on the governed as they cannot question or get answers on how national resources are being utilised as well as have their views considered in national discourse.

In as much as we have replaced the word “problems” with “challenges”, we need to do the same and replace “our people”, which should have ended with the abolition of slavery, with “fellow citizens” or “fellow countrymen”.

This will have the effect of changing the way those in authority view other citizens and making them realise that they are privileged to work for their fellow countrymen. It will also help restore the dignity and powers of our citizens.

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