Today we welcome Guest Blogger Andrew Field from Zimbabwe.
Recently, the South African newspaper, Mail and Guardian, took the government to court to sue for the release of an official report by South African election monitors about Zimbabwe’s most violent and rigged elections back in 2002. The Mail and Guardian won its case, but this was appealed in the Supreme Court of Appeal, in Bloemfontein, by no lesser office than the President. South Africa’s Promotion of Access to Information legislation, which encourages transparency, was the key to the Mail and Guardians’ case.
Many will question the presidential appeal. The Mail and Guardian initiative has aroused much interest, since many believe that exposure of the report would confirm deep set suspicions of collusion between the South African regime and Zimbabwe’s ruling party, then desperate to sustain power. The report would highlight, more particularly, the cowardice, purposeful lies and deceit of then incumbent South African president, Thabo Mbeki. He turned a blind eye to massive election irregularities and a pogrom of violence, which twisted the poll in favour of his old liberation chum.
In a more subtle way, the appeal, upon which judgement has been reserved, might let on to the extent by which the now toady executive and the judiciary are beginning to bootlick their political masters. Are South African politicians on the verge of adopting the cover-up tactics of their northern neighbours, and have they learned too much from their friends in Harare? Only time will tell.
The lack of transparency has long been an issue in Zimbabwe. The assault upon the media by then information minister, Jonanthan Moyo, to suppress the truth and hide the grime was highly successful. Zimbabweans were left almost with a state run, blinkered press, which would toe the party line gullibly, and for good reason too. This allowed certain individuals and groups to make their nefarious gains under cover of such media darkness. It fomented the environment for patronage, filth and corruption to breed.
Enter the non-governmental organisations, such as Transparency International and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, to mention just two. The former, an apolitical global organisation, is dedicated to the cause of anti-corruption, enhancing public transparency and accountability in public affairs, all in the face of some rather obscene and conspicuous irregularities by the regime. The latter, with apparent opposition connections, also espouses the transparency and accountability line. Not surprisingly, both are the victims of attack and ridicule by those who may now have substantial wealth to lose if uncovered. Loss of political power will result in an unveiling of the truth.
Clearly there is a correlation between the perceived high levels of corruption and the lack of government transparency. Zimbabwe ranks 134th out of 178 in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index, an improvement over prior years. One might ask, has not an entire executive of mostly the party faithful succumbed to the rich gifts of land for their patronage to both party and president? If not, consider then, why any attempt at a land audit by anyone outside the patronage system has never seen the light of day. Just too many people would have been embarrassed by their massive growth in the wealth, not to mention their part in alleged human rights abuse.
Obviously the conspiracy is not quite as water tight as some in the regime would like. There were recent revelations of a Zimbabwean government minister’s huge growth in wealth, during messy divorce proceedings. He rose from poor rural teacher to United States dollar multi-millionaire and polygamist too, in just 10 short years of suck-up patronage. The ’empire’ exposé listed farms, dozens of urban properties, scores of motor vehicles and other assets too, demonstrating greed and gluttony beyond the imagination of most poor Zimbabweans.
Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, demanded that the unfortunate minister account for his wealth. One would guess, correctly so, that Tsvangirai’s call will fall on deaf ears within the ranks of a still very partisan, land owning, government executive. Things do not bode well for those likely to fall victim to ‘nationalisation’ of their business interests, the latest racist ploy by government to acquire majority indigenous stakes in white owned businesses.
The platform for looting is just too well established for this to be anything other than pillage. The patronage system will ensure filthy rich politicians, and their sycophant followers, get the cream of the crop, empower them to asset strip and destroy while amassing untold personal wealth. Ordinary people starve. Little wonder, therefore, that even foreign interests are beginning to express some alarm at the lack of transparency.
Only in September, US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray, released a statement on the Harare Embassy web page, concerning transparency in government. He made a few pertinent points, one of which was that,
“unethical behaviour, like fungus, does not grow well under bright lights”.
He suggested that governments should adopt the default position of full disclosure of any decisions or deliberations that impact on the lives of its citizens. He is quite right. And thus we return to South Africa. Will those learned judges, who reserved judgement in the Mail and Guardian case, succumb to political whim and circumvent huge embarrassment to both the government and African National Council? This will be an interesting barometer of South African transparency. We wait with baited breath.