By Mlondolozi Ndlovu
Zimbabwe this week witnessed what has been termed as a ‘historic’ visit by the Chinese President Xi Jinping, with the signing of the mega deals making headlines.
However, the greatest lesson that Zanu PF can learn from our ‘all weather friends’- the Chinese is the way they dealt with corruption.
As reported in the NewsDay, Higher and Tertiary Education deputy minister Godfrey Gandawa at the weekend called upon the government to introduce punitive sentences for corruption and his call comes at a better time.
As the ruling party, Zanu PF grapples with corruption as one of its election promises, it may be wise for the party to learn from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under the stewardship of Deng Xiaoping in the late 1980s.
President Robert Mugabe finds himself in the same predicament as several of his officials have made headlines for corruption.
The Deng era is known in China as the period of reform and opening. It was a sensitive social and economic environment for the country and Deng needed great political skill and patience to get his reforms past hard liners in the Chinese politburo. Deng insisted the reforms kept the Communist party from being “toppled”.
The CCP in 1982 reported that, “serious crimes of smuggling and of selling smuggled goods by some cadrés, even including some cadrés holding certain leading positions, in Guangdong province” were being committed.
In other provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions and in some central departments, there existed, to various degrees, serious breaches of laws and criminal acts, such as smuggling and selling smuggled goods, embezzlement and accepting bribes, thefts of large amount of state property, by cadrés, even including some cadrés in charge.
Taking this into consideration, the standing committee proposed that:“the whole party must grasp without relaxation this important problem that seriously damaged the prestige of the party and that had a bearing on the life or death of the Party and needed to be solved vigorously and severely”.
In 1982, Deng Xiao-ping during a Politburo’s discussion insisted that: “if the CCP didn’t pay attention and resolutely checked the trend of corruption, the party and State would face the problem whether to “change face”?
He was essentially alluding to the need by the CCP to transform its image or be removed from power by the masses. He made it very clear to the party faithful that: “the corruption phenomena that seriously harmed social morality needed to be resolutely checked and suppressed”.
The same sentiments were echoed by Chen Yun an official in the CCP when he described corruption as “the capitalist corrupt ideology of ‘money judges all that was seriously corroding the party work style and social practice”.
The party had to “keep out and eliminate these ugly ideas and acts in the Party’s construction of socialism”.
He stressed it was the job of party cadrés and of the local committees of discipline to invoke party discipline actions and administrative discipline actions on whoever violated party discipline and administrative discipline.
Relevant party organs were tasked with recommending prosecution for party members who would have transgressed the party code against corruption. These policy pronouncements on corruption by the party leadership marked a change in how the party tackled corruption and chatted a new path for the CCP and the country.
The CCP introduced a raft of measures to back its policy pronouncements. Those who had stolen from the State where encouraged and urged to declare what they had stolen and restitute the State.
Those who heeded this call would be spared from punishment and would be pardoned. However, those who ignored these calls would be pursued by the party and law enforcement institutions and natural severe consequences would flow for those found on the wrong side of the law.
There would be a zero tolerance on corruption going into the future. Corruption even carried a death penalty in China Deng Xiaoping ordered a purge of the military leadership in 1992 to intensify his transformation policies.
This policy on corruption paid great dividends as the Chinese economy boomed. In the 18 years since he became China’s undisputed leader, he presided over an economic boom that radically transformed the lives of China’s 1,2 billion citizens.
In cities and in villages, real incomes more than doubled in the Deng era. Indeed “most Chinese who have watched a television or used a washing machine or dialed a telephone have done so only since Deng came to power”.
During this era there was a shift from “central planning and reliance on heavy industry to consumer-oriented industries and reliance on foreign trade and investment”.
In 1982, “communes began to be dismantled and peasants were allowed to grow and sell produce”.
The CCPs pro-poor policies became manifest as peasant farming was promoted. The zero tolerance policy on corruption coincided with economic success in China. These changes accompanied by a booming economy strengthened the CCP grip on power. The new anti-corruption image endeared the party to the masses.
One can draw parallels between the Zanu PF of today and the corruption riddled CCP of that time. In an effort to sanitise itself, Zanu PF has introduced piecemeal anti-corruption measures which could further weaken the party.
There seems to be a serious effort by the party to stamp out corruption as even State media seems to be exposing perceived culprits. The likes of Goodwills Masimirembwa and Ignatius Chombo have been reported in the media as corrupt.
Despite all this, no tangible action has been taken. Notable cases of corruption have been exposed since Zimbabwe got its independence in 1980 from the Willowvale scandal, the GMB scandal, the War veterans compensation scandal among others.
In all these incidents Zimbabwean officials have been involved in all sorts of illegal activities from mineral theft, maize scandals poaching and most recently receiving bribes.
The recent salarygate is a clear example of the rot that corruption has caused this country. Corruption has also negatively affected the delivery of key services a situation which has been coupled by the illegal economic sanctions to cripple Zimbabwe’s economy.
Zanu PF needs to declare that those who “stole” from the state during the period of chaos and economic sanctions must restitute the state within a set time frame or face prosecution.
New standards of discipline and integrity must be instilled in the rank and file of the party. Those who comply must be rewarded by being spared from prosecution.
President Mugabe must borrow from the resilience of Deng to deal with the issue of corruption in a manner that will both strengthen the party and the economy. This a matter of necessity as an expectant electorate is hoping for a change in fortunes in the economy.
Alternatively a younger leader with the leadership qualities of Deng must arise from the party to restore order. Many have speculated that Emerson Mnangagwa fits the bill, but time will tell. As the Vice President and Minister responsible for Justice, these positions strategically place him in a position that allows him to make useful reforms targeting corruption. He definitely has many of the qualities to make a difference, but time will tell if he will rise to the occasion.