ZW VIEW: We want technocrats, but we don’t want them

ED more cautious on recovery than Fin. Min Mthuli Ncube

CABINET speculation season is upon us and, once again, Zimbabweans are demanding the appointment of technocrats into Government. As if they voted for them.

Newspaper headlines are calling for these so-called technocrats. Social media is lining up a list of preferred technocrats. One would think voters actually voted for such candidates in large quantities. They didn’t. 

It is an odd side of Zimbabwean democracy; voters convincingly reject these same technocrats when they run for office, but they demand that such people be appointed to Cabinet.

The bulk of Cabinet comes from elected officials. The idea is that those who got the people’s mandate must, logically, govern. President Emmerson Mnangagwa can only appoint to Cabinet five Ministers who are not MPs. These can be chosen for their expertise. 

Looking down his list of elected MPs, Mnangagwa’s choices are thin.

The voters now demanding technocrats gave him very little such material to work with. If anything, they gave Mnangagwa an excuse to once again go with his old, tired horses. They offer nothing new, but they were voted for. 


The list of technocrats rejected by voters is long, across all parties. Amon Murwira, who as Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister was one of the technocrats in Mnangagwa’s first Cabinet, were rejected by ZANU-PF voters in the Gutu North primaries.

Credible businesspeople hardly win. The likes of Callisto Jokonya, a well-regarded industrialist and former head of the CZI, lost in the primaries, while voters chose the likes of Killer Zivhu, a wealthy and generous man with no traceable formal businesses beyond contested land deals and his Cross Border Traders Association.

Jonathan Wutawunashe, an experienced diplomat, lost the Gutu South primary to Pupurai Togarepi, whose sole claim to fame is heading the ZANU-PF youth league well into his 50s.

Jefta Sakupwanya, who was once technical director of DfID’s flagship water infrastructure programme for SADC, and has overseen key water infrastructure projects across the region, lost in Mutasa Central to Trevor Saruwaka, whose most known record in Parliament was being unfairly chucked out of the House for wearing a Zimbabwe flag-themed jacket.

In Manicaland, MDC Alliance put up Sifisiso Sithole-Barrow, a medical doctor, as a candidate. She lost to Joshua Murire, an ex-army man.

In Mberengwa East, Elisha Moyo, a former MD of Zimnat Lion who sits on the First Mutual board, was rejected in the ZANU-PF primaries.

Among the commentariat, there is a fascination with having technocrats in Cabinet, as if they are a magic potion guaranteed to solve all crises. Yet, voters don’t vote for them much.

Names being thrown around, such as Mthuli Ncube, would be hounded into the ground – even by the same commentators – if they ever stood for elections, particularly outside the main parties. If they were to run under the banner of the main parties, they must join and wait five years before they can run. One doesn’t just fly in and become a party candidate merely on the strength of their CV, however public their record is. They must spend years proving their loyalty. That’s how it is.

“the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt”

There are many angles to this. Many so-called technocrats don’t have the guts to run for office. The few that dare run are chased down the streets by voters, jeered for not having enough support and for being too academic and elitist. That is how democracy works. In the end, the people must choose.

Back in 1933, British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote an essay, “The Triumph of Stupidity”. It was an essay on the rise of the Nazis in Germany, an era that was to define Europe and perhaps much of the world.

Where were all the intelligent people in Germany while such idiocy was on the march, Russell asked.

“Those elements of the population which are both brutal and stupid – and these two qualities usually go together – have combined against the rest…they have subjected the intelligent and humane parts of the nation”.

He then made this famous quote: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world, the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

This is how we end up with “the stupid” in public office, and the so-called intelligent ones out there in the terraces, relegated to a life of cynical commentary.

Illiterate council

In local government, some have suggested that given the poor state of administration in local authorities, there now needed to be a minimum qualification for people standing for office as councillors. But is that not an elitist view that defeats the whole purpose of democracy and equality? There is no viable alternative to letting people choose, warts and all.

And the warts we must live with in the name of democracy are many. At one meeting of urban councils in 2015, Ben Manyenyeni, the last mayor of Harare, said many of the councillors leading the city were functionally illiterate. The city, he has said, needed councillors with recognisable skills. That meeting did not end well for him. The mayor was threatened with violence by councillors, almost all of them from his own party. They pushed for his recall from Town House.

“Why did he say that, what is he trying to prove?” an irate councillor was quoted as saying. Manyenyeni had to apologise after the party leadership was forced to hold a crisis meeting.

Unimpressed: former Harare Mayor Ben Manyenyeni fretted over ‘illiterate’ councillors

Council works via a committee system, which oversees key tasks of the City. But when Much Masunda was mayor of Harare, of the 57 councillors that he had, less than 10 had any professional qualifications. As Masunda tells it now, no councillor on the Finance Committee had any finance qualification. There was nobody on the HR committee with an HR qualification. None of the councillors who sat on the audit committee was a chartered accountant. These were the people overseeing the City’s budget, which is $300 million in 2018.

But this is the reality of democracy. Technocrats cannot feel entitled to posts. Nobody can expect a free pass, just for having a professional qualification. It is up to the professionals themselves to convince voters. So far, voters are not too pleased with technocrats.

Party affiliation and bravado is what wins elections in Zimbabwe, even though neither of those can build an economy or ensure service delivery. All around the economy and in the cities, we see the impact of decisions made more out of the bravado and party affiliation than basic sense.

The only skill required in politics is that of knowing how to win elections. The actual skill of governing is taken only as an optional bonus. 

When we read the Hansard, and laugh at the quality of debate among some of our MPs, we must always remember Bertrand; the so-called intelligent ones were just not as sure of themselves as the so-called dumb ones were. And voters went with the latter.

In Zimbabwe, that is how we ended up with the country’s favourite sport, football, being led by Philip Chiyangwa, king of cringe-worthy selfies and the country’s most famous sufferer of mid-life crisis. When the call to lead ZIFA came, there were not many “technocrats” around to step up. He did. And now we live with the consequences. He is even an MP now. 

Chiyangwa: Selfie king, ZIFA president and now MP

As Russell put it: “Perhaps we shall have to realise that scepticism and intellectual individualism are luxuries which in our tragic age must be forgone, and if intelligence is to be effective, it will have to be combined with a moral fervour which it usually possessed in the past but now usually lacks.”

The reality is that the “stupid ones” are far more dedicated to their stupidity than the “intelligent” ones are dedicated to their intelligence. Voters agree and, as is their right, they have repeatedly chosen who they want. They want the popular ones, whatever their technical ability. 

But what voters should stop doing is to demand a Cabinet made up of the very sort of people that they repeatedly reject at elections.


  1. I totally agree with you. I ran in the primaries for the party. The two candidates who were most qualified professional with MBAs and all were booed and hackled at rallies. Bravado and sloganeering is what the masses appreciate. I decided to join seeing the calibre of members of parliament and the silly debates they engage in. I was so sure I would be chosen but was ill treated. Being a woman I felt scared and intimidated. Eventually they chose the same guy who in the past five years never uttered a word in parliament.