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Corruption WatchNews

Corruption is complex, multifaceted

Corruption cannot be solely ascribed to any particular social class, it is a pervasive issue that cuts across all social classes, rich, poor, or middle income. The perils of dishonesty and greed that transpire in different social classes have different outcomes.

In many casual discussions among citizens today, corruption is usually defined as the domain of powerful elites as shown in the recent Gold Mafia documentaries, or of large-scale scandals exposed by mainstream media.

The elites are usually referred to as “varikumusoro” in the local parlance to mean, “those at the top”. It is often argued that this group sometimes engages in dodgy deals and activities that undermine national development for their personal gain.

There is indeed overwhelming evidence to back this argument, but it is problematic for one simple reason; it limits the scope of corruption to those in higher positions, thereby gatekeeping the identity and class of people who can be considered corrupt.

Though popular, such apprehension is misleading, corruption is a systemic, holistic, and widespread aspect of human behaviour and consciousness. Like octopus tentacles, it is spread all over!

The eminent 19th century English philosopher and psychologist, Herbert Spencer, was right to point out that, “leaders are products of the society they live in”. It is indeed a society that determines the greatness of leaders and not necessarily their individual or innate abilities.

Our social environment is instrumental in shaping their qualities, thoughts, ideas, actions, habits, and behaviours. It is not a secret that some of our business magnates and government leaders are corrupt, but one ought to ask, at what point did they become corrupt? How and where did they learn to be corrupt? Who taught them to be corrupt? Are they the only ones who are corrupt? Who is not corrupt?

The answer to these questions makes many, if not, everyone uncomfortable because it reveals the hypocrisy of our society today, the toxicity of our minds, the impurity of our hearts and the breakdown of our morals as a people.

It is very easy to point fingers at our political leaders, but they are not the only culprits in this intricate matrix of corruption. They are just an enlarged image of the dishonest practices that every other person is doing in some capacity somewhere somehow.

The general public is guilty too because corruption is rooted in mentalities and human consciousness. We are all entangled in it in some way, shape or form, but are we ready to admit it? Hell no!

Some lyrics from the song Chiremerera by contemporary singer Jah Prayzah can best illustrate this point: “Iwe neni tose tiri vatadzi, kungoti zita rangu ndiro riri pamhene. Rangu zita rinovanakidza kurireva. Neanoritaura wacho inga ane twake. Haunone zidanda riri muziso rako. Unongoona katanda kari muziso rangu.”

It is true that many of us are obsessed with pointing fingers at others to the extent that we have become oblivious of our own fair share of wrongdoings which also play a part in destroying our nation. Nobody wants to see themselves as corrupt, so everybody makes excuses, and this leaks over into the rest of our lives.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa was right to point out that, “nyika inovakwa nevene vayo”, but the reverse is also true, “nyika inoputswa nevene vayo”.

Corruption cannot be solely ascribed to any particular social class, it is a pervasive issue that cuts across all social classes, rich, poor, or middle income. The perils of dishonesty and greed that transpire in different social classes have different outcomes.

The corrupt behaviour of individuals in a particular social class is reflective of the crooked patterns particular to their social context.

For example, cabinet ministers can only be corrupt to the levels corresponding to their government elite status; school teachers can only be corrupt to the levels corresponding to their classroom or school setting.

Bus drivers can only be corrupt to the levels corresponding to their terminus dynamics; and vendors can only be corrupt to the levels corresponding to their marketplace politics; domestic workers can only be corrupt to the levels corresponding to their home workspace.

When discussing corruption, we must not restrict our attention to ruling elites alone. We should think of that VID inspector who is conniving with driving schools to demand bribes for learners and driver’s licences. We should think of that Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) border official who is taking brown envelopes from truckers to facilitate passage of a vehicle without it being subjected to physical examination.

We should think of that church treasurer who is under invoicing the pledges made by congregants. We should think of that university lecturer who asks for sexual favours from students for passing their exams. We should think of that schoolteacher who is leaking Zimsec examination papers to students before the examination date.

We should think of that police officer at a highway roadblock who is soliciting bribes from unlicensed drivers. We should think of that headmaster who is soliciting brown envelopes for student admission.

The laundry list is indeed endless, but it presents a snapshot of the widespread nature of what we like to call the “zino rangu” culture of bribes and palm-greasing that has destroyed our society today. The legal consequences of all these various examples are different but they reveal that our country is dysfunctional at all levels, from the top to the bottom.

The corruption mentality among our people is, indeed, inherently widespread. We cannot measure these various acts of corruption by non-elites in terms of numbers, because most of them are usually underreported and do not often receive the media attention that elites get.

This distinction enlarges the corruption by the elites, but it does not mean that non-elites are not corrupt. In actual fact, they are mostly likely to accelerate their corruption to the levels corresponding to elite status if they gain it.

The tendency to be corrupt is, therefore, a typical feature of human behaviour in all social classes. Corruption grows like mold; it affects everyone around it forcing each contact to become part of a corrupt system and once corrupted there is no escape.

In this regard, it is important to emphasize that corruption can only gain a good deal of power when individuals in a particular social class think that being corrupt is more viable and rewarding.

These thoughts are usually induced by poverty and political pressure. Again, it is critical to note that both public officials and ordinary citizens are more likely to engage in corruption when they do not define it as wrong, and when they perceive that corrupt behaviour is widespread among their peers.

However, social proof appeals to people for doing things, but it does not make wrong things right. As a people, we are only right when we do the right things. One can by no means be right by doing the wrong things, even if everyone else is doing it. In the end it is important to note that to understand corruption is to understand its complexity, its fluidity, its diversity, and how it manifests in varied forms. If we understand this, we will be able to solve the problem in a complex way. We will not attack corruption in a particular social class but across all social classes. – (The Independent)

Murimbechi studies Applied Cognition and Neuroscience at the School of Behavioural and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas in the United States. Chikumbu is a historian, columnist and lecturer. He is currently a teaching associate, PhD (Abd) candidate and Frederick Gilbert Bauer research fellow in the Department of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, also in the US.

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