Money the Root of Many Evils

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By Andrew Matjila A criminal investigating officer, dressed in rags to blend with the local underworld, winks an eye at a hobo who has been eyeing him from under his large hat for some time. The hobo is lying on a park bench full length, enjoying the winter sun, so that no one else should share it with him. His sharp mind has been telling him things about the behaviour of the man pacing up and down the footpath. One thing for sure, he was definitely not a hobo. He was not an actor either, for that breed only disguised on stage. So, thought the hobo man, the guy can only be a policeman investigating a case. Without a word the policeman put a ten dollar bill in the hand of the hobo. “Where does Timo Dagrasco hand out?” He asked the idle man. After examining the money the hobo threw it back to the owner. “He ain’t worth ten dollars that guy. You know him well?” The other dropped a fifty dollar bill in the hand, and was duly given an address. In another episode, an official of the Diamond Branch cornered a hobo and said: “You see those two guys in the car over there? Take this little bag. It’s got five diamonds in it. You offer them the diamonds at ten thousand dollars each. When they pay you, I move in and arrest all of you. You will be released privately afterwards with a five hundred reward.” The man moved and did as he was told. Later an arrest was made, and he was duly rewarded and released. A minister meets a Member of Parliament in a local hotel. They belong to separate political parties. The minister would very much like to talk to this particular MP about certain political issues, and luckily the opportunity has presented itself like a blessing from the gods. “Can I buy you a drink?” “Sure!” The MP feels he should taste a bit of the ministerial pay. A half an hour later both tongues are wagging and they are sharing party strategies. The bill? Already in the three hundred region. The minister leaves smiling: It was worth it. A cigarette can source information where everything else fails. A smoker in trouble can only overcome his/her trauma with the inflow of cigarette smoke into his/her lungs. When deprived of cigarettes for a long time, smokers will tell just to get a cigarette. The same thing applies to drug-slaves and alcoholics. They can be bought for a song with the items of their dependency. Others even tell lies merely to get the drugs, or the booze, or the cigarette. All over the world, men and women use money in their daily activities, and in whatever occupations, to either buy their way through, or to get what they want. In Africa, many leaders and even Heads of State, have trusted friends or servants who “arrange” things for visitors, business people, etc., for a fee. In one country a senior official had to flee to Great Britain when he had finally laid his finger on the raw nerve. At a border post of an African country, the four immigration officials watch the approaching Land Rover with trepidation. The five white occupants are tourists no doubt, the men in the Immigration Office talk in whispers. These African officials earn the equivalent of sixty US Dollars per month, which, according to their currency, runs into several million things printed on paper. If their pay comes in a full wheelbarrow, the thief takes the wheelbarrow and leaves the money. And so the tourists come into the building, armed with their Passports. The senior of the four officials’ heart misses a beat Americans! He bursts out almost gleefully. The juniors keep put of it spontaneously. Big brother will take care of them, they know for sure. “Every Passport holder must pay Border Tax,” he tells the visitors. “Fifty dollars US,” he says. He soon has the visitors on their way, with the rented Land Rover roaring nto the now corrugated road, never resurfaced since independence thirty years before. What is fifty dollars to an American tourist anyway. That night, all four 1.O’s, each with their fifty dollars now cashed into the local currency, go home with more fish from the market, and other snacks which they are usually unable to buy. Happiness fills their homes. In the African context it is called “washing someone’s hands.” ‘Letsogo le tlhatswa je lengwe’, (Setswana): ‘Izandla ziya gezana’, Zulu/Xhosa (hands wash each other): and so with many African languages. A man may help another to acquire a government tender. The other may feel he owes the other a good turn as well later and invite him for a drink. There he produces a thousand dollars and says: “Man, you really did me a good turn. Here’s my show of gratitude. Someone looking on from a distance will definitely interprete the scene as ‘paying the other for services rendered,’ and thus a corrupt practice. These things take place from Japan to San Francisco on a daily basis. Police have informers who are paid for giving information. These informers are not employed by the Government, nor are they known in ministerial circles, but they are there. They feast on taxpayers’ money year in year out. Spies cross-border on behalf of their governments, sometimes carry huge amounts of money. They buy their way out wherever they go, a favour here, a favour there. Even the person in charge of investigations into corrupt practices often has to bribe someone to get information. Politicians get entertainment allowances, which they utilize to ‘entertain’ a select few, or their trusted friends. Outsiders may be given a treat for special reasons. What I’m saying here is that we should have clear, unambiguous and understandable guidelines and parameters that define corruption. The law must say what it means and mean what it says. A slight hiccup in the why’s and wherefore’s will not only confuse the public, but will be challenged in court with disastrous effect. A black farm worker stole some bread from his white master’s kitchen because the master had left him to look after the house, but with no food. “Three months’ imprisonment, no fine,” said the magistrate. The man did his time. Black people in Africa have been subjected to suffering, humiliation and deprivation since the coming of “money”. Every tribal group coined its own name for the animal: ‘Mari, “madi,” “imali,” , tshelete,” “omaliva”, and many other names to the north of Africa. Within two to three centuries, it had established itself in the African diaspora as the most important thing in life. In fact, money became “the” most meaningful possession in life, opening doors or closing them at will, marrying beautiful women and breaking hearts, starting wars or ending them, creating enmity between brother and sister, causing others to sell themselves to get it. Throughout the world of today, even in countries where President George Bush is hated like Satan and people spit on his picture, the only thing that makes even Arabs to smile is the American dollar. The green back opens all the doors even where Americans are pelted with stones. I saw that in the Middle East some years ago. For our people who never really had money, the turn of the tide, i.e. exit colonialism, meant only one thing: the financial woes of our people are over. Everyone expected a better way of life because the white people, who had been depriving them of the good things in life, were gone. Money had to come to every home, the good things, furniture, cars, riches, good food, the lot, were on their way. It is the failure to acquire the goodies in life that has brought about what the educated people refer to as “corruption”. The poor refer to it as “brood/bread”. Ask the man in the street who is looking for a job. The first thing he will ask black employees when looking for a job in a firm will undoubtedly be: “Is daar brood hier?” (Is there bread here?), meaning: Is there any possibility of stealing something. Why is it like that, you’ll ask. Simply because the pay is very small and one is not able to make ends meet. If the reader saw a recent M-Net Carte Blanche documentary on the strike in South Africa by security guards, then the reader will understand just what I mean. Politicians in so-called third world countries stand for election very often because politics grants them ready access to a job. In many western countries, people who enter politics are already wealthy men and women, who will not be tempted by the state treasury to help themselves like Idi Amin, Sese Seko, et al. The failure of many African economies, and the mountains of debts that have accumulated over the years are examples of what happens when poor people find themselves in the driving seat, or in the house that was once occupied by the White Governor of the colony. Another school of thought points at the lack of good education as the major cause of the failure of African economies. But let us for once picture the scenario of an Idi Amin, or a Harvard/Oxford economist for that matter, becoming Head of State in Africa. Born and bred here, the person comes from humble and destitute beginnings. Overnight, the colonial Government hands over the keys to the treasury to this person who has never owned a million, let alone a hundred thousand US Dollars. The temptation to open bank accounts in Zurich will become reality in no time. The tragedy of our situation in Africa in particular is that even after colonialism: – The poor remain poor, because there are no concrete plans to reverse the tide by those in leadership. – The new leaders ape what the masters did, without an African plan of action. We can only copy. – Even the Parliaments make white laws. Tourists from abroad find nothing African about the laws in the countries they visit. We even look down on some of the cultural practices of our ancestors. – Big men rape children. Women are beaten willy-nilly. Three months in jail. Our ancestors would have flogged them until they howled, never to repeat it again. No, those times are passed, we are told. – Criminal elements have the laws to protect them. Victims must tread warily before the courts. These are structured European style by the way, and not for African culture and civilization. What civilization? It doesn’t exist. – For lack of a proper direction, we’d rather keep out old traditional courts, but where in the myriad intricacies of the legal crossword puzzle, we are not so sure. One foot in Africa, the other foot in Europe. The Asians have their own way of doing things. – Political structures in Africa baffle the beholder indeed. In the north is the Arab world, and in Sub-Saharan Africa to the south, a mixture that virtually refuses to mix. Franco-phone, Anglo-phone, Afro-Portuguese and some bit of Afro-Arab. Talk about African Unity. These are issues that should be taken seriously into consideration when debating “Corruption”. Perhaps for the next hundred years, as long as those who bring themselves forward as leaders of the people to rule over them, are not capable to turn the tide of poverty, people will help themselves where the opportunity presents itself. We need a real blueprint, based on African needs for African people, to fight poverty. The word corruption is a misnomer in the times that we are moving in our history. Poverty is the culprit. I say let us fight the evil by all means at our disposal. But let us first define, identify and put a finger on the beast. Then, the sheep must be separated from the goats. ‘A hungry man is an angry man,’ says the reggae singer Jimmy Cliff of Kingston Jamaica. We must address the woes of the hungry, the destitute. People must find employment, and let this not be misunderstood. Gone are the days when employers were white people only. People in the north must employ their sons and daughters as herd boys, shopkeepers, cleaners, etc. and not let them migrate to Windhoek to stand idle in the streets. There’s a lot of work out there. But it needs some thinking to organize. We can do it if we want to.