Home Affairs minister, Kazembe Kazembe, must be watching quite a load of blurred James Bond comic strips under this partial lockdown.
This dude drew out a limping stunt last week. In the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, Kazembe—to read the surname, not the first name—pitched up at the passport offices veiled up under a face mask.
What does he do? He looks for one of those hobos who are helping people jump queues—“tips” included—for an early chance to apply for a passport.. What happens next is not exactly clear, but what we know is that Kazembe arrested the good-for-nothing tramp and got him abducted to Harare Central police station. In no time, the tout was a celebrity, his pictures under police custody all over the internet.
It’s also not clear what the tout’s crime was, but we have been fed this mumbo jumbo about him asking for a US$30 bribe to get Kazembe to the front of the queue. If this version is true, the lazy loiterer must have fallen to Kazembe’s premeditated trick, as these street money-mongers are always wont to do. Kazembe offered him US$50 instead, so the rumour mill goes. Well, some of us don’t know the law that much, but, by the time of going to print, it couldn’t be established if the US$50 that Kazembe offered would constitute an exhibit in court.
The little knowledge that bush lawyers like me have doesn’t give much confidence that the exhibit will hold in a competent court of law. Criminal procedure and evidence management wouldn’t want to work like that. Was this a trap? Is the tout being charged with asking for a US$30 bribe or a US$50 one? Or are we reducing everything to the criminal intention, not exactly the amount that was received?
The bottom line is, Kazembe—an otherwise affable fella by plains standards—was just trying to take us for a ride with that stunt on the tout. In fact, we are talking of a badly scripted stunt that left the author with big egg in the face. To start with, it would always be a mystery what Kazembe was out to holler about with that sort of thing.
You are a whole cabinet minister—never mind the fact that this is Zimbabwe where anyone or anything can be a minister. You go out to one of your departments to do a citizen arrest on a bribe-seeking loafer. What does that say? Of course, both of you are loafers. The only difference is that the one loafer has slept in the street and can do with a US$30 bribe from the other loafer who has slept at home, eats well and has no problem abusing taxpayers’ money to loaf at an office which he is supposed to be running.
Talking about running things, several issues come to mind here. It’s clear that Kazembe has always known that there are problems at the registrar’s office. He must just cut the pretence, but he very well that people were queuing for passports, sleeping at the office gates and offering money to jump the line.
He knew—and still knows—more. That when people jump queues at the passport offices, worse things follow. That the touts who make people jump queues use part of the bribe to pay the office staffers who are just too happy to process those people’s applications for backdoor “fees” running into hundreds of good money. That, in the same vein, a person who comes today can get a passport in a week or less if he or she pays the right quid, ahead of people who applied two or more years ago. As it were, there is a passport backlog of more than 200,000. That the jumping of queues, therefore, happens with the full knowledge of both junior and senior staff at the RG’s office. And Kazembe knows that he knows that too.
Here is the point. You can’t be a good fisherman if you will only go for the sardines and skirt the big fish. What does it add up to, then, to swoop on a bedraggled, foul-smelling tout who is not employed by the passport section, leaving out his own staff? You would have expected that Kazembe was going to be patient enough to follow the trail and then get good evidence of corruption at the RG’s office.
Surely, Ian Fleming must be squirming in his grave at this base trivialisation of James Bond by Kazembe. The proper thing that Kazembe must have done, and must do, is to carry out a thorough investigation at the RG’s office, not these back-alley stunts that get us nowhere. He has a good pool of detectives under his portfolio. These guys can do a pretty satisfactory job going to the bottom of the graft, all things being equal. And you have Zacc and the Special Anti-Corruption Unit too.
You see, it’s not like we haven’t been there before. There was a time when corruption at the RG’s office had become the norm, rather than the exception. But we came to a stage when some people decided to broom up the mess and the office became such a big joy to watch. If the office could be cleaned, it can be cleaned once again. And not through circus stunts like the Kazembe one.
The problem with our leaders is their huge appetite for cheap publicity. Kazembe knew that he was going to appear before a parliamentary committee on the same day, to answer to issues relating to the passport mess etc. Somehow and weirdly, he thought that bits of drama would aid his appearance before the committee. The only possible thing is that the minister assumed people were going to hug him for doing what he did. A self-serving gesture in other words. But then, who will hug you for confirming that there is a mess at your office?
This is the reason why Zimbabwe is in such a deep mess. A political leadership that majors in self-preserving trivialities.
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on email@example.com