It was just after 7 pm when I reached for my phone to check on my WhatsApp messages. I had spoken to Tafie earlier that day, we had promised we would meet for dinner. Three missed calls, my screen flagged. I sighed in frustration as Tafie had attempted to reach me, franticly sending WhatsApp messages:
17:15: “I need your help”.
17:25: “Please call me back I am in trouble”.
18:20: “I have been arrested by the police, I am at Rhodesville Police Station”.
18:21: “The cops want US$ 1000 – please pick up your phone”.
I frantically called Tafie’s family and friends in an attempt to see how much we could contribute so she would avoid going to jail. In a country with a fair judicial system, when a person is convicted their human rights are respected as they serve their time. However, the judicial system in Zimbabwe is wanting, while the state of prisons is deplorable. A person can be held on remand for years while they await their case to go to trial.
In 2018, a report was published by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum on the conditions of Zimbabwean prisons1. The study showed how on numerous occasions several inmates on remand had awaited trial for at least seven years. In several instances, the inmates either did not know the date of trial or had missed trial due to a lack of fuel for the police vehicles. In 2021, personal accounts on the deplorable conditions in prisons were published by notable Human rights journalist Hopewell Chinono2 and opposition party spokeswomen Fadzayi Mahere3. In both accounts, they reported on poor sanitation conditions, open sewage in eating areas, lice-infested blankets and no social distancing in overcrowded prisons. No one should have to experience such atrocities. I did not want Tafie or anyone that I knew to go through the same experiences.
“$1000 is a lot of money, would they be willing to negotiate”? I asked Tafie when I spoke to her the next day.
“Have they processed the paperwork yet, is there a docket”? I asked her.
“No, there is no paperwork. They want mari yedrink, so they know how to write the docket”.
1. If you are going to pay a bribe, you need to know the language. In Zimbabwe, a bribe is called ‘mari yedrink’.
Corruption is endemic in Zimbabwe. In 2020, Zimbabwe was ranked amongst the 30 most corrupt countries in the world. A 2016 Transparency International report highlighted that the police force was the most corrupt organisation in Zimbabwe. Corruption and accepting of bribes have become deep-rooted in the fabric-of-society, simple acts of kindness like helping an elderly lady carry her groceries to her car attract a mari yedrink. No one helps anyone for free; charity is a tradable commodity. As a people, we have become deeply entrenched in poverty that the Bantu concept of ubuntu is lost as we strive to emancipate ourselves from the grips of poverty. Our moral compass is broken and is easily tradeable. We are so focused on getting on ahead with life that we have become desensitised to corruption. The hardships of life have permeated into the judicial system corrupting its impartiality – it is no longer about justice for the wronged. Justice is a tradeable commodity auctioned off to the highest bidder.
2. If you are going to pay a bribe, factor it into your costings.
A few years ago, while farming, I started a horticulture project. I used to farm lettuce, onions and tomatoes. The tomatoes and onions were easy to sell, while the lettuce was difficult because it needed to be refrigerated. The largest buyers of lettuce in Harare were fast food outlets. Procurement managers of national fast-food outlets behaved like demi-gods. In one instance, I submitted my lettuce samples with their quality satisfactory for them; I became a registered supplier. However, the procurement manager refused to give me an order even when I knew they were about to stock out of lettuce and I had the products readily available.
“When you cost your product, you need to factor in your cost and profit, tax and my money for giving you this opportunity to make money.”
That is the reality in Africa, sometimes the best tender bid never wins, most times it is the biggest bribery cheque that gets the opportunity to make money, even if the quality of service or product is substandard.
3. If you decide to pay a bribe, the best price to pay is always nothing!
Corruption has been normalised as a way of business in Africa and is used as a tool to feed the greed of those who weld power. For some, it is easier to draw the line in the sand and decide they will never pay a bribe. While for others, the waters are a little murky as their livelihood or lives depend on paying off a bribe or two. If the opportunity ever arises and someone in a position of influence asks for mari yedrink, always remember: the price of a clean conscience is free.
- Zimbabwe Human Right NGO forum, RIGHTS BEHIND BARS A 2018 Study of Prison Conditions In Zimbabwe “http://www.hrforumzim.org/publications/rights-behind-bars-a-2018-study-of-prison-conditions-in-zimbabwe/” Accessed 5 March 2021
- The Guardian “https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/oct/02/hopewell-chinono-zimbabwe-journalist-prison-conditions” Accessed 12 March 2021
- New Zimbabwe “https://www.newzimbabwe.com/mdc-alliance-spokesperson-fadzai-mahere-relives-prison-nightmare/” Accessed 12 March 2021
- Transparency International “Zimbabwe – Transparency.orghttps://www.transparency.org/en/countries/zimbabwe” Accessed 14 March 2021