Hoax and fantasy – from land to bank notes

By Michael Hartnack

FOR 25 years, while Zimbabwe sank into its present mess, the true nature of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party was ignored. Gross human rights abuses in the party began even before Independenc

e in 1980, and since then Zanu PF has used the rhetoric of socialism and black empowerment to gain control, for the party, of the entire economy.


The aim is simple – to make it impossible for an independent-minded person to hold any job from street sweeper to chief justice.


It was not until 1998 that the Western diplomatic world was forced to face the fact that, in Zanu PF, it was dealing with a political entity that was something between a con-artist and a pathological fantasist. At a specially convened conference in Harare, the Zimbabwean government accepted a UN Development Programme plan for reviving land redistribution, backed by Western funding. The agreement, freely signed by Mugabe’s government, recognised that the main cost of successful reform was providing infrastructure for incoming settlers, not compensating the departing white landowners.


Mugabe’s administration also implicitly conceded that efforts since 1980, which had received £47 million, had faltered due to diversion to the urban elite of land bought by donors for the rural poor. However, Zanu PF, in tones of passionate sincerity, continues to tell the world that Britain “reneged on 1980 promises to support land reform”- and many, especially in South Africa, still unthinkingly accept this.


Again, apologists accept Zanu PF information secretary Nathan Shamuyarira’s claim, repeated last week, that Zimbabwe’s shortages and rapidly accelerating inflation arise from American, British and European Union “sanctions”. The fact is that Western agencies, the United States and Britain, are pouring food and other humanitarian aid into the country.

Only the foreign bank accounts of the political elite have been frozen, together with their right to travel. The “sanctions” alibi is thus a downright fraud. The latest deliberate official hoax was a warning issued through the state-run media that the largest denomination bank-note – $500 – was being withdrawn from circulation ahead of the release of new $1 000 and $10 000 notes. The public was urged to surrender $500 notes before they ceased to be legal tender.


Bank notes, especially $500 ones, have been in desperately short supply since May as the regime ran out of imported paper and ink to produce sufficient to keep up with runaway inflation. Many banks have limited clients to withdrawing $10 000 (10 loaves of bread, in real terms), and riot police were called to control angry people who waited all day, vainly hoping to cash their June pay cheques.


Bank executives went to the back doors of supermarkets pleading to “buy” their cash takings for more than the face value. In other words, even money is being traded on the black market. The $500 hoax was perpetrated, with complicity of the state media, just as the presses were printing the first $4 billion of $24 billion in new $500 notes.


The prosecution of retired High Court judge Fergus Blackie was a similar criminal fraud, finally exposed last week. Last September, police snatched the 65-year-old jurist from his Harare home in the early hours and forced him to spend three nights in a filthy cell. The pretext was a spurious charge that he showed racial bias in upholding a white woman’s appeal against a year-long prison sentence for theft.


The regime’s motive was revenge. Lies were invented that the judge had an affair with the woman (whom he had never met, and who was not in court when her appeal was argued). These allegations were contained in a remand docket which was leaked to the state-controlled media. The charges, withdrawn last week in the presence of international observers, were utterly without substance. The persecution of the retired judge was as unlawful and unconstitutional as the three-year state-sponsored reign of terror which has claimed the lives of at least 200 opposition supporters.


Ex-policemen who have fled to Britain have started telling newspapers there how they were ordered to pervert evidence to make victims look like criminals. In much the same vein, the state media last week claimed that US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s article on the Zimbabwean crisis, printed in the New York Times ahead of President Bush’s African trip this week, was written by Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner “to protect white farmers”. As well as carrying a tirade of racial abuse against Powell, the state media also alleged that Kansteiner’s wife was “a Rhodesian with links to the notorious Selous Scouts”. This fabrication may have been inspired by some vague memory that Chester Crocker, Kansteiner’s predecessor in the post from 1981 to 1989, is married to a member of the well-respected Baron family of Bulawayo lawyers. – ZWNews.

* Michael hartnack is a veteran Zimbabwean journalist and foreign correspondent.