By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
The English say the grass is always greener on the other side’. The Shona have their ‘chitsva chiri murutsoka’ saying for a reason: you should travel more. But the English turn around and say ‘there is no place like home.’
Daily we are told that our country is bad, bad, bad. We are shown roads in need of repair, and prices of Lays chips and Babysoft toilet paper as an indicator of just how bad things are.
Of course, those who like to take photographs of imported potato crisps will not dare show you the price of Hanawa crisps: a very good local brand that has excellent packaging surpassed only by the delectable taste and affordable price.
These images are contrasted with pictures of what are claimed to be roads and bridges in Kenya or Rwanda or Uganda. We are force fed these images as examples of how life is so good for the peoples of Uganda, Rwanda or Kenya. We are told that Smith was better, and shown old pictures of omnibuses on clear roads and 1980 adverts from OK supermarket to see the price differences.
One thing that is obvious from these images is that those who peddle them have never travelled to these places. For every picture of Kenya you can show, l can raise you one of Kibera, and ask you if you think that driving in a well manicured highway is a fair exchange when you live in such a slum right in the middle of Nairobi. Travel to Mombasa and take a stroll from the beaches of tourism guides and venture into the places where real people live, and l promise you that those unpainted flats in Mbare you make fun of will suddenly seem very appealing indeed.
Travel the Grootfontein to Katima Mulilo highway in Namibia and yes, you might count in one hand the number of potholes you will encounter on the road. But cast a glance if you will to the side of the road and well over 90% of houses are made of corrugated iron sheets nailed to wooden poles and patched with plastic covers. The houses at our growth points are the equivalent of or better than the few ‘mansions’ you see. We have houses at Mberengwa centre right now that would be better than some in the most exclusive parts of Windhoek.
Don’t get me wrong, l am not saying that I like roads with potholes. Far from it, in fact I have lost two very expensive tyres and one rim on my car due these unnecessary and solvable problems. But, we know why we have potholes: corruption in the award of road construction contracts resulting in shoddy work as well as poor service delivery from MDC Alliance controlled urban councils, and that is something which ZACC can quickly get right if they do their work.
In other words, we can solve our potholes problem, and that is a process that has hopefully started. At least outside towns: we have road construction projects in almost every province of the country and the quality of the new roads seems better than what we have seen recently. Of course it will take a while to get urban councils to move away from a mindset which thinks that all they have to do is allocate each other stands and mourn about the Urban Councils Act, but the bottom line is that government seems to be taking infrastructure development seriously.
And to higher levels.
In the now almost comical rush to criticize everything ‘Mnangagwa’, there was something missed in the recent mini-reshuffle: the President created a Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities. One of the main manifesto pledges made by Zanu PF at the last elections was a promise to facilitate the building of 6 million housing units. Over the last few months, we have heard jeers from those who think that this was just a promise.
A ministry dedicated to nothing but social housing is the driver that was needed to make this promise a reality. Detractors will talk about bigger government but that is due to limited thinking: if the new Ministry doesn’t hire a single new civil servant but instead takes over departments from the Ministry of Local Government for example, there would only have been an additional two employees added to the public purse: the Minister and his deputy. If you counterbalance that with the numbers of construction industry jobs that the new ministry will facilitate, then that is a price well worth paying.
The hope is that the new Ministry doesn’t do a NSSA and waste its budget on expensive housing units in Borrowdale or some such places. Wasting money by building on expensive land using expensive contractors will not give us the number of houses we need. Neither would it be useful to build mansions: anyone who has a need to live in a bigger than four roomed house must have the money to do it themselves.
Instead, if the new Ministry sets itself a target to build between five and ten semi-detached houses at every school, clinic and hospital in the rural areas, we would be well on our way to get to the number of units we need. And it would have the added benefit of improving the lives of the people who would use these housing units.
As of 2012, we had 5 753 primary schools in Zimbabwe, so building a minimum of 57 530 units for teachers would go a long way to improving their conditions of service. Extrapolate that to secondary schools and clinics and rural district centres and it is clear that the benefits can be exponential.
Of course, this is one person’s idea. It can be improved upon. It can start a discussion that results in something better: l am fairly certain that the very creation of the ministry itself might have started as an idea from one person. But it has been worked on and now stands as something likely very different from the initial idea.
That is how we build a country. With ideas and constructive engagement. Not with photoshopped pictures of roads out of Uganda to the Indian Ocean without the additional information that these are developments made by oil exploration companies as part of their oil projects in Uganda.
Not by showing pictures of pristine Namibian roads without bothering to look at the shanty hovels on the sides of the road out of which the majority of the population emerges daily to a life of very little. Not by condemning everything the government does to improve lives and withholding ideas about how government plans might be improved upon.
Yes, I know that there will be clowns who will append comments about how a certain pastor won the election and claim “mupei chinhu chake agadzire zvinhu’. But, as the full constitutional court decision showed, out of the around 40,000 V11s that the pastor had, he only filed 5 which he said he had a problem with. Five. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. So you see, we really shouldn’t waste time detracting from the great efforts by the legitimate president to make this country even better than what it is now.
And what Zimbabwe is now is far less than it can be, but much much better than detractors and sellouts will have us believe. Our people should travel more.
That way, they would know that for all the claims made against this great nation, we are punching well above the levels that our shackles permit and will be an upper middle income country by 2030. And vaMnangagwa vanenge vachipo to see his work.
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a qualified lawyer and social worker, living in Harare where he practices as an Advocate. His . Follow him on @TinoChinyoka