By Tinomudaishe Chinyoka
As the year comes to an end, we must face the stark reality that despite the President’s clear agenda to fight corruption, we don’t have a single corruption conviction despite spending a lot of money capacitating ZACC and the Special Anti Corruption Unit.
As the year comes to an end, even ZACC knows that it has failed: the Chairperson was pointing fingers at the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) the other day for not prosecuting at least 100 cases that have allegedly been fully investigated.
Of course, there was an interviewee for ZACC Commissioner (who Parliament thought was ‘too anti-corruption’ to nominate) who pointed out that unless ZACC got powers to prosecute on its own, there would be no progress in bringing the corrupt to book.
But, as the year comes to an end, it is not the singular lack of a conviction that should shame ZACC. Instead, it is the stark reality that in an attempt to seem like it is doing something, ZACC has shamelessly resorted to that old schoolyard tactic: bullying.
The dictionary defines bullying as ‘seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable.’ Bullies never pick the strongest person to intimidate. This makes sense, because bullies are almost always insecure and weak, and try to project an image of strength by terrorizing someone they think will not retaliate.
As the year comes to an end, we must accept, as a nation, that we are the country that has people so corrupt that whole institutions and parastatals have been gutted and hobbled to empty shells, but that our anti-corruption watchdog chose two mothers to make an example of in 2019.
And, while there are reasons for thinking that what Mai Mupfumira is charged with sounds like corruption (but a conviction is doubtful), any lawyer who thinks that Mary Chiwenga has committed corruption needs to go back to their law school and ask for their fees back.
Although she described her role as ‘Second Lady’ and even had stationery made indicating an ‘Office of the Second Lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe’, the truth is that Mary Chiwenga was a merely a housewife and a mother.
Now, since the law under which we charge people with corruption is called ‘criminal abuse of office’, which office did she abuse? She might have had VIP access to state functions and went about throwing her weight around at the Harare Agricultural Show, but Mary Chiwenga has no public office. She cannot therefore be charged with abusing something that she didn’t have.
In any event, if someone applied for foreign currency from a bank to buy business things, where is the law that says they can’t change their mind and use the money for something else like houses and curtains? The whole thing speaks to the rank stupidity and institutionalized corruption in the Reserve Bank’s foreign currency allocation system and not about Mary Chiwenga. She merely (if true), used the system to her advantage. Deplorable, yes. Frustrating, completely. But not corruption: she is a housewife, not a public official.
As for the attempted murder thing; let me refuse with my words. Besides there being no corruption in wanting to murder one’s spouse, there is the small matter of evidence. Plus, what has ZACC got to do with what happens in people’s bedrooms?
ZACC arrested many men in 2019, and the NPA released them or failed to prosecute somehow. A fair few got refused bail, but were promptly granted the same by the High Court within days, sometimes hours.
But not so for Mai Mupfumira and Mary Chiwenga. For these two mothers, we as a country deployed the ‘full weight of the law.’
The vast majority of the people of Zimbabwe are or have some connection to Shona culture. ‘Kurova Mai’ is considered the most heinous crime, for which even society did not have a punishment, leaving it instead for your ancestors to deal with you. For atonement, one needed ‘kutanda botso’, which meant spending a whole year going around like a beggar and people doing with you as they pleased.
Now, I am not one given to superstition and other claims of miracle money or refined diesel oozing from mountains but I do believe that the way we treat our mothers and the mothers of our children in this country is shameful. If there is a deity responsible for rains and good harvests, then one must concede that She (I always think that my young brother Chamisa, who religiously assumes that his god is a HE, will be shocked when he meets HER), might be a touch perturbed that we have devised ways to terrorize mothers just so that we play ‘pretend anti-corruption’.
Visiting the kind of tribulations that we have on Mai Mupfumira and Mary Chiwenga does not make us serious against corruption. It just makes us a nation of bullies. Denying Mary Chiwenga bail just so that we enjoy watching her inform body ‘rot in jail’ at Christmas is not justice: it’s criminal and corrupt abuse of office. Besides the fact that she cannot be convicted of anything she is being charged with, where might she run off to? Leaving her children? How is a whole occupant of the Office of the Second Lady of the Republic a flight risk? Vanhu! Pamberi nokukwana.
For the record, I particularly think that if both Mai Mapfumira and Mary Chiwenga did what they are accused of doing (and my instinct is to suspect they did, at least the money things, not that attempted murder nonsense), they are very bad people. But, we don’t build institutions based on bullying, and there is no other way to look at ZACC heavy handedness in their treatment but as bullying.
In 2020, let’s try and do better. Let’s not traumatize children by throwing their mothers into prison on stupid charges or denying them bail on cruel certificates issued by an otherwise incompetent NPA. Let’s treat mothers with respect and avoid picking on them just because we suspect that they won’t retaliate.
Because nyika inotsamwa tikapera nokutanda botso. Hamhenho.
Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is a qualified lawyer and social worker, living in Harare where he practices as an Advocate. He is a member of the ruling ZanuPF. Follow him on @TinoChinyoka