A good leader is someone with vision, and is able to mobilise the whole nation towards its attainment, no matter how, at times, it might seem as if it would never be achieved.
However, we have a leadership that merely thinks about how they can please the electorate and get votes today, with scant regard of the negative consequences of such policies.
One of the most notable of such shortsighted policies was the ill-planned and chaotic 2000 land reform programme.
This was something that the ZANU PF government had no plan whatsoever of implementing, and yet, when faced with imminent defeat at the June 2000 polls by the 9 month old MDC, they panicked and instigated chaotic and murderous farm invasions.
The party barely garnered enough votes to stay in power, but the country has suffered immeasurable harm ever since.
Immediately afterward this chaos, the country began on its economic downward spiral – which it is yet to overcome, and into the foreseeable future.
Food shortages, hyperinflation, company closures, and intensified oppression of the disgruntled masses became the order of the day.
Needless to say, the implementation of shortsighted and people-pleasing policies started all the way back to the 1970s liberation struggle – when ZANU promised all sorts of unrealistic, mostly communist-oriented, policies, which had no future in improving the lives of the people.
The people were promised free health care, free education, and even the electricity and water utilities were taken over by the government – so that people could pay cheap and below cost rates.
Who would not vote for such a party to take over the government?
However, 37 years later, what has become of all these policies?
Free health was not sustainable, and today hospitals and clinics are mostly derelict, and have no basic medication.
Free education has resulted in poor educational standards, as schools lack even the very basic stationery and equipment, such as textbooks.
Water provision has become a nightmare for most urban dwellers, as the cheap water they were provided proved uneconomical – as local authorities fail to upgrade the infrastructure to meet today’s demands.
Electricity supply also became a living hell, for the same reason, as the power utility failed to improve its services – such that, even today, rural areas do not have any access to the national electricity grid.
So how did these shortsighted populists ideologies benefit the ordinary people – who are obviously worse off today, than they were at independence in 1980?
This proves that such a myopic leadership is disastrous for the nation.
However, one might argue that the main reason for such policies was to ensue that the majority of the country’s population had access to such services, and that, corruption and mismanagement were the major factors behind their failure.
I both agree and disagree.
My strong belief is that visionary leadership would have seen that, in the long-run, the privatisation and commercialisation of such service would have ripped more benefits for the people – although, seemingly painful at first.
The immediate benefit of privatisation would obviously had been very professional management, that practised world-class governance – ensuring state-of-the-art services and productivity.
The second medium to long term benefit would have been affordable, accessible and yet high standard services, due to economies of scale.
Here I need to give a practical example.
When mobile phones first hit the Zimbabwean market in the mid-1990s, they were very expensive and obviously beyond the reach of most Zimbabweans.
That is how they acquired their Shona name, ‘runhare mbozha’, which literally means, ‘a phone for the wealthy’ – despite the fact that the phones could not do anything much, except make and receive phone calls.
I remember buying an Econet Buddies SIM card at Park Station in Johannesburg South Africa in 2007 – as they were not easily available in Zimbabwe – for R600.
I will not even mention how expensive buying airtime was.
This would have – at first glance – being perceived as a ploy to marginalize the poor – and I am very glad that the opportunistic populist ZANU PF government did not try to nationalize local mobile phone service providers, so as to make them ‘accessible to all’.
If they had done so, as they did with education, health, water, and electricity, today we would not be having any mobile phone services in Zimbabwe, as all the companies would have become bankrupt.
Nevertheless, a few years down the line, not only have mobile phones become so affordable to almost all Zimbabweans – as it is estimated that there are an average of two mobile phones to every person – but have access to the most advanced smartphones.
Even school pupils can afford smartphones, but textbooks are out of their reach.
This is largely due to the fact that, although mobile phones were initially very expensive, this enabled the service providers to not only recoup the money they had invested, but also could afford to greatly invest in infrastructural development, and improved service delivery.
This led to costs gradually reducing, whilst services improved, resulting in the situation we have today.
The same concept could have been used in 1980 if we had a strong visionary leadership.
In spite of the initial shock to the health, education, water, and electricity sectors – whereby, they would seem unaffordable, and beyond the reach of the majority – today, these services would have been affordable to all, and of world-class standards.
A good leadership would have been able to convince and mobilize the nation behind such a vision.
A strong visionary leadership is not there to just please people with empty, meaningless, and disastrous policies, just so as to secure votes.
That is not only cruel, but the highest form of betrayal of the people.
Being entrusted with leadership is a huge responsibility, which should only be handled by mature people who – like parents – would do what is in the best interests of the nation, regardless of how it may appear at first.
However, as a loving parent, these polices are not merely thrust upon a population with brute force, but are explained with care, honesty and patience.
Today, the ZANU PF government is in trouble with most youth for falsely promising 2 million jobs, during their 2013 election campaign.
Moreover, a country can never prosper due to handouts, and as such, there is need for strong visionary leadership that sets the way for self-reliance.
Populist policies of dishing out free residential stands, and others things is not only unsustainable and uneconomic, but entrenches a dependency syndrome, which is counterproductive to this country’s development.
We need policies that encourage national prosperity, whilst promoting a culture of self-reliance and productivity.
I need to live in a country where I can provide for my own family, not for the government to do it for me.
If I want a house, I should be able to work hard for it, not be given.
That is not the government’s responsibility, as it is only there to put in place a conducive environment for economic development.
Such is the folly of trusting populists, and people who come promising heaven on earth.
Zimbabweans should be wary of such politicians in the forthcoming 2018 elections, as we would rather believe someone who tells the brutal truth, even if it may not yield immediate results.
The truth of the matter is that Zimbabwe has gone too far down the pit, and is at the very bottom – and anyone who comes promising all sorts of ‘miracles’ of millions of jobs, or opening the taps of investment, and so forth, should be treated with suspicion.
The people need to hear concrete and pragmatic policies on how the nation of Zimbabwe is to come out of this quagmire.
Additionally, this is a collective effort, and each and every Zimbabwean has to know what their role is, as it would be foolish for us to sit back and expect the new government to do everything for us – then we just rip the rewards.
No one needs to wait till ‘zvinhu zvanaka’, or when the situation improves.
Improved by who?
We all have a responsibility in the development of this country, and only when we work with a strong visionary leadership can Zimbabwe have any hope.
° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. He is available should anyone invite him to speak at any event or gathering. Please call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: [email protected]