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Soul of the nation

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The recent imprisonment of Osward Lutepo— one of Cashgate’s main figures— has attracted both public repudiation and approbation. Some feel eleven years in jail for someone who mercilessly snuffed out K4.2 billion from an economically thin nation like Malawi is just a peck on a baby’s cheek, while others will tell you that jail term is perfect for a wheel-chaired man who has lost his spine and shows al l signs of remorse.

With time, just like it has happened before, Lutepo and those who have been, and those who will be jailed sooner or later, will be forgotten and life will go on. Some of the loot may be recovered and some people will have the gratification of seeing those who notoriously stole tax payers’ money being kicked into jail one after another. But the painful truth is that Cashgate has left a cut on the nation’s psyche that will take generations to heal.

For instance, the moniker-Cashgate City-which we have given our Capital City, Lilongwe, may seem like another fleeting joke to many, but it is a subconscious acceptance and confirmation that we ever had a Capital City that was infested by thieves of irredeemable proportions. Posterity will learn of the name Cashgate and realise that we, meaning you and I, lived in a time of savage looting and incessant crookedness that even Satan could abhor.

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Elsewhere, and sadly because of a few damned thieves, our nation has earned itself an unenviable reputation of being a den of thieves: a place where thieves are canonised and put on the altar to be worshipped and emulated. We have lost the halo of a meek and honest nation such that even donors can no longer entrust us with a dollar.

Yet, if you look around, we have come to this state because of a few selfish individuals whose love for shortcuts to prosperity or mere greed has tainted our good name. What hurts is that there is a man somewhere who wakes up at the break of dawn to till his unforgiving land just to survive while another woman elsewhere sells her vegetables to find school fees for her children yet both are now wearing the tag of a people belonging to a nation of thieves.

Because time has his own way of healing wounds, people will soon begin to sympathise with Cashgate convicts and wish they were given lighter jail terms. I refuse to feel sorry for those who, in their time, mercilessly and knowingly stole our money unmindful of people who were dying in hospitals while dead bodies were decomposing in mortuaries because all the money meant for buying drugs and maintaining mortuaries found itself in the pockets of a few devilish thieves.

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These thieves—for that is what they are — once created a bad culture of quick but crooked ways to accumulate obscene wealth thereby creating a lazy generation of shysters who just found money in their car trunks, bank accounts and even toilet seats without even working for it. These are people who made some of us who earn honest money look like lazy brats who can’t even have a slight idea on how to prosper in life.

And back then, when you happened to meet one of these lousy bad thieves— now given the respectable name of Cashgaters—you could feel their impudence all over the place, their stinging mockery to those living a modest but honest life could almost kill one’s soul. They created their own group of untouchables and lived as if this country belonged to them and them alone.

The irony of it all is that, with their stolen money, these Cashgaters managed to build mansions whose existence not only remain a constant reminder of how a people can become demigods with ill-gotten money but also mock the squatting sharks of those who live honest lives. With money stolen from us these Cashgaters managed to send their children to good schools to get a decent education and the children eventually became bosses of children whose parents lived a clean life. That is how cruel corruption can be to those living straightforward lives.

As I said earlier, I have no iota of sympathy for those who are now experiencing public embarrassment or being sent to rot in jail for their Cashgate sins. Let them feel the pain equal to the lavish and happy life they lived when they were mocking us and inhumanly stealing while the nation was losing its people at supersonic speed.

If you asked me what I think of Cashgaters, my raw answer is that these are people who danced to dirges and wails of mourners who lost their relatives because they couldn’t access drugs in hospitals. These are bad men and women who took selfies on tombs of those who died from hunger. These are people who mercilessly raped the soul of the nation.

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