Whose reality counts: Evidence or the sweet arrogance of privilege?
…The overclass has multiple interlocking privileges, securities and advantages which keep it on top; and the underclass has multiple interlocking disabilities, vulnerabilities and deprivations which hold it under…”
This is the view of Robert Chambers in his seminal book “Whose reality counts? Putting the first last”. Here, Chambers is trying to explain how privileged classes enjoy benefits in society to the disadvantage of the poor classes and how these binary groups exist at mutually reinforcing axis with the wealth and advantage of the “overclass” serving to ensure the “underclass” remains poor and remains and a class under the privileged class. From the day I came across this statement, I have tried to always introspect when my actions are based on my securities, advantages over other people’s vulnerabilities and deprivations. I have been taught in class and cultured in life to identify where some people are disadvantaged by the same things which appear beneficial to me. Despite contestations of “hunhu”, mores and “right and wrong” behaviour, there exists a compass that, points for the majority of us, which is the best way to live in harmony with other human beings in our society “kuti tisadye zvevapfupi nekureba”.
This past week, the Speaker of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, Mr Jacob Mudenda announced his incredible suggestion for the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) to charge 150% duty on all used cars bought by Zimbabweans who cannot afford the brand new luxury that he gets from taxpayers’ money. When the Speaker said this, my mind raced to Chambers’ summative analysis and analogy of an overclass and underclass. The Speaker’s logic of taxing the already over-taxed citizenry when they buy used cars from Asia testifies of the distance between him and the realities of the people whose lives should be simplified by the parliament that he leads.
While the Speaker gets close to $100 000 worth of cars every four years at taxpayers’ expense, communities are ravaged by high unemployment, collapse of industries which used to employ entire communities, declining incomes from artisanal mining and recurrent droughts. Widow-led households are sinking in the highest incidences of poverty recorded across the whole nation, rural women still deliver babies without the care of a health professional, several urban and rural households’ main sources of energy for cooking are paraffin and wood and millions of people still do not have access to clean piped water. Some surveys still report that there are huge numbers of stunted and underweight children. Rural hospital and clinics lack basic provisions such for tetanus, malaria/fever and over 3 people on average sleep in the same room in the country. The Speaker of Parliament chose to place the blame the problems faced by the country on those citizens who are successfully struggling to buy used cars from Asia. These are the people who cannot afford to buy the kind of cars that he is given. In making such pronouncements, is the Speaker using informed analyses or is he just speaking from the sweet arrogance of privilege?
The Speaker needs to be brought face to face with the ordinary people who are working day and night to provide for their families, have to queue at the banks days on end to try and withdraw their meagre salaries, families that are hard hit with water shortages, a defunct health delivery system, a collapsing education system which deems it more important to learn about Mass Display than History and Geography. The Speaker, needs to take a stroll along Robert Mugabe Way at 10PM to see the hundreds of vendors selling bananas, second hand clothes, tissues and toys and so clarify, test and reconsider his assumptions about life so that he can be grounded and turns away self-deception. Perhaps it could be opportune to point out now that while he can speak in parliament, the public knows about the gestation, life-cycles, and dangers of living aloof outside realities on the ground while enjoying taxpayers’ money.
We require him, as the head of parliament to take the lead in identifying how government can address the vulnerabilities and deprivations which ensure that the poor remain poor. With ZISCO, Willowvale, ZUPCO and NRZ on their knees, kombis competing with the ZRP to kill as many people as possible, we expect the Speaker to be working flat out to seek solutions to these problems and not to deepen the gap between the rich and the poor. We do not expect him to willingly desire to add to those problems. We expect him to actively seek new perspectives and strategies to closely examine challenges and proffer solutions to improve local and national government, to improve nutrition for poverty and drought-stricken districts. Rather, he has unfortunately chosen the path to make it difficult for people that are already reeling from historical, seasonal and current deprivations and maladies.
Mr Speaker’s shocking thoughts lead us to wonder if the privileges of working for the establishment have made him arrogant given that we all know the hefty packages that accompany his office courtesy of taxpayers’ money who themselves take years to raise enough funds to purchase a basic Ex-Japanese car for basic use. This leads one to ask whose reality counts in coming up with national policies. This is a call to every person in authority: Are you making policies to improve lives of all Zimbabweans, the lives of your subordinates or you speaking only from the sweet arrogance of privilege.