JUST as mourners were about to leave for the village graveyard to bury the deceased, a black Ford Ranger drove into the homestead and drew the attention of the sombre gathering.
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
Despite the availability of parking space outside the fence, the local legislator behind the steering wheel took about five minutes to find a suitable parking spot for his vehicle, reversing and forcing his machine to roar-perhaps to announce his presence.
“The MP has arrived, make sure he delivers a speech,” one of his runner boys, who had arrived at the funeral earlier in this rural constituency, said.
With storm threatening, the bereaved family was left with no option, but to bury their loved one before the rains pounded.
“The rains are about to come and we are behind time. Maybe we can give the MP an opportunity to speak one or two words at the graveyard,” a family spokesperson said.
At the graveyard, his runner boy made sure that his boss got the chance to deliver a speech.
The funeral wake turned into a rally, as the legislator, after showering praise on the deceased, who he hardly knew, began chanting party slogans.
This has become the norm with many legislators in rural areas, who have turned themselves into professional mourners, attending almost every funeral in their constituency to ensure visibility ahead of the 2018 elections.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) journal, Mandate and Duties of a Member of Parliament, outlines the roles of a legislator.
“The roles of a parliamentarian are often summarised as lawmaking, representational, financial oversight and policy oversight,” the journal read in part.
Attending funerals and burying the dead seems to the latest role for parliamentarians, who at times leave the august House to attend a funeral, while others send representatives just to make their presence felt.
Harare social commentator, Admire Mare, says rural legislators, unlike their urban counterparts, who can effectively use social media platforms to communicate, are now taking advantage of every gathering, including funerals to sell themselves.
“Basically, taking advantage of communal gatherings like funerals to mobilise and charm voters has become the norm.
As we draw closer to 2018, more and more aspiring candidates in rural constituencies will certainly leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of votes,” he said.
“It’s not necessarily out of sheer love for voters, but in pursuit of political capital and self-interests. Unlike urban candidates, who use social media platforms, door-to-door and town hall meetings, rural constituencies have different dynamics. Funerals, food-for-work events, traditional meetings and rallies provide ideal platforms for voter mobilisation.”
The ZLHR journal observed that the rural electorate has developed a dependency syndrome with legislators being regarded as saviours during times of crisis.
Addressing people during the official opening of Chivake Bridge in Chivhu last year, First Lady Grace Mugabe urged the electorate to respect their MPs and stop disturbing them “during the night” on funeral issues.
She said MPs are mandated to represent them in Parliament.
Buhera North MP William Mutomba (Zanu PF) said legislators should attend funerals out of love. He said attending funerals should be a spiritual duty rather than come from “natural pressure” from the constituents.
“Love thy neighbour the way you love thyself, therefore, one is commanded by the Almighty to mourn with those who mourn and celebrate with those who celebrate. Attending funerals must be taken as a spiritual duty than natural pressure from the constituency. Leaders are appointed by God, therefore, leaders are expected to fulfil this divine obligation,” she said.
She described using a funeral to campaign as unholy and a sin.
“It is unfortunate that the ordinary sons and daughters of God are incapacitated to notice the difference between true love from love with expectations, which is false love. It must be clear to you that when you love to get that is not love at all. God’s love is unconditional, so likewise if as a leader you manage to attend to a funeral, it must be out of the heart,” she said.
As the 2018 elections draw closer, a number of aspiring candidates have begun making inroads, appearing in public spaces, including funerals, where they donate foodstuffs to get votes in return.
Mutasa Central legislator Trevor Saruwaka (MDC-T) says it is not the duty of MPs to attend funerals.
He, however, said the electorate thought that MPs should “bury their dead,” which was wrong.
“It is not part of our mandate to attend or fund funerals or weddings. That’s the responsibility of the affected families. However, most people actually believe it’s our mandate to bury their relatives, get their sick relatives treated and send their children to school. This is because of a dependency syndrome created and promoted by Zanu PF and to some extent non-governmental organisations,” he said.
Saruwaka said it was absurd that some aspiring MPs made impossible promises during campaigns, where they present themselves as capable of doing everything for their constituents.
“Moreover, it is poverty rendering constituents poor to fund these events. As a result, an expectation is created among constituents that MPs should attend funerals in their constituencies. Even if one wanted to do it, it’s practically impossible to achieve that feat because every day there is at least a funeral in a constituency,” he said.
“Our mandate is to represent the people, make laws for the good governance of our country and oversee how government is running the country against its stated policies. It is a good thing to attend these events whenever it’s possible because it offers one an opportunity to interact with people at the grassroots level, thereby making one in touch with issues affecting the various communities.”
The time is now for villagers to dip their pockets into the hands of both the incumbent and aspiring candidates through having funded burials.
It is now well documented that local legislators and politicians cry more than the bereaved, especially, towards election time.