The issue of inequalities, or rather the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, has long commanded the attention of the best minds in this country. It is a growing force in the thought of this country, and whether we agree or disagree with it, we have to reckon with it, and we may as well begin by understanding it.

It is a fact that the so-called growth of our national economy, instead of bringing comfort to the masses of our people, is imposing additional burdens on them. While the elite of this country is living a first world standard of life, at the bottom scale, there is a mass of increasing poverty and misery.

When you look at the amount of wealth being accumulated by the top class, one wonders if we are still living under apartheid or not. Our political leaders, especially those in government and the ruling party, continually boast about economic prosperity under their leadership. Truly, it is an undeniable fact that the lives of the ruling political elite have tremendously improved through their greater access to government funds and other resources by way of tenders or contracts, kickbacks, embezzlement and other forms of corruption. But the true test of progress in a nation is not the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, but the elevation of a people as a whole.

The saddest thing about the way we are managing the affairs of our country is that when there are benefits accruing, it is the political elite that gets the lion’s of all that. And when economic difficulties set in, it is the poor who, like donkeys, carry the biggest burden of all that.

In his budget speech last week, the new finance minister of our country, Felix Mutati, warned that we are living in “turbulent times” and “hard choices” have to be made. The Minister of Finance also warned that “we are walking a tight rope” and “we cannot spend what we don’t have”. There is a lot of truth in what Mutati is saying. But what the minister is not telling us is how each one of us will face these “turbulent times” and will be affected by “the hard choices” that have to be made. He is also not telling us how what we have will be equitably spent as we avoid spending what we don’t have. Yes, the minister is right: “we are walking a tight rope”. But who is walking on that rope?

The budget the Minister of Finance presented to Parliament last week does not put pressure or much burden on the political elite. Its high lifestyle seems assured even in these very difficult times. At least a billion dollars will be borrowed to pay the political elite for the contracts or tenders they got from the government. This will ensure that their high lifestyles continue as usual. It is not a secret that government contracts or tenders go to the political elite, especially those who belong to the ruling party. So the money that will be borrowed to pay contractors will go to ruling party leaders, cadres and supporters. But who will pay back those loans? It will be the humble worker, the ones who are benefitting the least from government contracts or tenders and the ones who are bearing the greatest burdens of this economic downturn.

And the prices of everything that these humble citizens depend on for survival are going up while their incomes are going down in addition to increasing job losses. But even with all this, more burdens are still being placed on their shoulders. Why should the government put so much burdens on the poorest and weakest part of its population? They all know the trials the poor of this country are going through and how they are bearing everything with such great patience and fortitude.

But despite all these challenges for the great majority of our people, the political elite is still wasting a lot of resources on unnecessary things, including very expensive and luxurious automobiles. Their extravagant lifestyles are not in any way changing and their being parasitic on government resources is every day deepening. But no country, however rich, can permanently afford to have quartered upon its resources a class, which declines to do the duty which it was called upon to perform. And therefore, without a leadership that is ready to change this approach, the lives of the poor will continue to be more and more desperate. Great effort must be made to change things and ensure that the wealth of this country and indeed its burdens are equitably shared among all the classes of its citizens. If there is tightening of belts, let us all tighten our belts; if people have to be hungry, let us be hungry together.

All the good things we are talking about in the economic management of our country will amount to nothing unless we secure for the common man a higher standard of living. Our leaders must think and think again how best they shall serve and not how important they are as our leaders or how they can safeguard their own positions as leaders. They must always remember that they are not elected to live like kings but to be the servants of the people. And a servant cannot live far better than his or her master.

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