Pulling the house down

People ask why the SADC leaders continue to back our old man. Some say he has special influence on them. He has. They all rule the same way, so he can threaten to pull them down with him if he goes.

Now he wants to pull the house down over his own head, they risk their positions if they don’t let him fall.

They all work by patronage, bribing their voters to vote for them. Zimbabwe runs the greediest patronage system: paying with post-dated cheques, which can be cancelled if they don’t deliver the votes and depriving black commercial farmers of the farms they bought because they don’t depend on him.  

Botswana runs the most generous system, giving people food, clinics with nurses and medicines and schools with teachers and books, but it is still patronage.

Our old man has pushed us so far that we don’t want just a bigger slice of the cake. We want to run the bakery. As we have seen over the Chinese arms shipment and COSATU’s march in Joburg during the SADC meeting, other people in the region are getting that idea. The system is threatened in their countries too.

But that doesn’t mean they must resist change. That is what the weak do, not the strong. The tree that doesn’t bend to the wind breaks. If they stand by him till he collapses, their people could decide to bring them down too.

President Khama has seen this. He feels least threatened and can offer more to his people without visibly weakening his power. He would probably strengthen it. Some of the others are not so sure.

They need to be persuaded that this is the last desperate effort of a weak man. He daren’t bend for fear of breaking if he does. Well, his bones don’t bend any more and can break more easily than for us younger people, even if we have grey beards.

Most of the people in the other SADC countries would still be happy with a few more gifts from their governments  – a bigger slice of the cake – and most of the governments can afford to give that. They are not so weak yet that they can’t bend.

Supporting our aspirations for democracy might be enough concession. Even if some of them can’t give more food or social services, this gesture would mean something to their people. Refusing it would only make their people more impatient, leading them to insist on bigger changes. Our old man’s violence only strengthened our resistance. You catch a chicken with scattered grain, not a big stick.

When the other leaders in their meeting went back on the Memorandum of Understanding that our parliament should only meet if all parties agreed, they looked to me like the Philistines cheering the blinded Samson until the moment he pulled the roof down on them. But he hasn’t brought it down yet. They have time to get out before he does.

Post published in: Opinions

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