Zimbabwean opposition MP and constitutional lawyer Tendai Biti told a Durban audience on Tuesday night that his country had invented state capture and South Africans had merely refined it.
“I come from a country called Zimbabwe, in respect of which for 39 years power has been monopolised by a political party called Zanu-PF, on which decision making has been based on the desire and agenda for power retention and the desire and agenda for personal aggrandisement.
“That which you call state capture, we invented it in Zimbabwe. You just refined it,” said Biti, to laughter from the crowd.
The former Zimbabwean unity government finance minister was speaking at the Hilton Hotel during the launch of the book Democracy Works: Rewiring Politics to Africa’s Advantage, hosted by the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, Brenthurst Foundation and Pan MacMillan South Africa.
Biti, Brenthurst Foundation director Greg Mills, former president and CEO of the Washington DC-based Newseum Jeffrey Herbst, and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo authored the book.
Herbst was not at the launch, but former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – who wrote the foreword – joined the other authors at the Hilton.
Also on the panel of speakers was leader of South African political party Women Forward Nana Ngobese-Nxumalo, who is the granddaughter of Nobel peace laureate Chief Albert Luthuli.
Biti said that while writing the book, the connection between sustainability, development and democracy was made clear.
“Here in the southern African region, the superiority of that narrative should be so self-evident.”
He said that, almost four decades after independence, 75% of Zimbabweans lived on USD1.25 per day.
“In fact, the majority are living in extreme poverty, surviving on less than 35 US cents a day, which is equivalent to R5.”
He said that 39 years after independence, only 30% of Zimbabweans had access to clean water. This was thanks to “the exclusion of consent, monopolisation of power and the denial of political space and denial of the right to choose”.
It was easy as a South African to “adopt whinging and whining” and forget where citizens had come from and what was there before – apartheid, exclusion and lack of consent, Biti said.
“Some of you don’t know what is north of the Limpopo, and some of us live north of the Limpopo. Democracy is key, the capacity to choose is key.”
He said the democracy Zimbabwe “craved”, and which the book spoke of, was more than an election day every five years.
“Democracy must be substantive, it must be more than mere mascara and lipstick. That is why the issue of making a democracy with economic development is key. The issue of ensuring that that democracy actually uplifts the ordinary citizen from poverty is key.
“Democracy must be guaranteed and safeguarded by a number of things: the first one is a good constitution. Here in South Africa you have a decent constitution, one which recognises the citizen,” he said.
There could be no democracy without the citizen, civil society, change, powerful trade unions and an independent judiciary, said Biti.
“Where I come from, the judiciary is an extension of the ruling party.”
Corruption was a threat to democracy, he said, as it was a tax that was paid by citizens. It was a fundamental issue that had to be addressed when focusing on the sustainability of democracy.