Muckraker

Are they all our ‘beloved friends’?


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THE Zimbabwe Independent is under sustained assault on all fronts as the state ratchets up its campaign to silence any criticism of its failed policies ahead of next year’s parliamentary poll. It seems to think that if the press is trampled on the public won’t notice the economic devastation its scorched-earth policies have wreaked.


There is also an imaginative attempt by the regime’s spokesmen to suggest the victims of the government’s current crackdown in the business sector are all friends of the Zimbabwe Independent.


“Has anyone noticed,” asked the Sunday Mail’s political editor Munyaradzi Huni, “how the Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard are failing to understand what has really hit their beloved friends in the private sector that they used to present as the cleanest sector in the land?”


So all the Zanu PF-linked businessmen who were able to build their fortunes on their links to political power and who operated for years unmolested by the state’s supervisory institutions were our “beloved friends” were they?


We rather thought we had warned of the dangers of political cronyism in the business sector and pointed to the weak institutional arrangements surrounding favouritism and selective contracting. Did we not alert readers to Roger Boka’s United Merchant Bank, the FNBS scandal and other systemic failures? Were those our “friends”?


Nice try Cde Huni. But you should be asking why it has taken President Mugabe 24 years to get around to this latest blitz. How was all this corruption allowed to grow? And why doesn’t the blitz include ministers who became very rich very quickly? Because let’s get real, while some inconvenient tall poppies may be cut down to size because they have offended the powers-that-be by distributing a few leaflets in Masvingo seeking the departure of the old guard, this is by no means an even-handed campaign. It will extend only as far as it is allowed to. The Gono juggernaut will be halted in its tracks as soon as it approaches the citadel of power.


One area in which we warned about cronyism and unregulated business activity was in regard to the DRC. We shone a bright light on the dodgy diamond deals, exposed the mining contracts, and were suitably sceptical about Arda’s role in agriculture and forestry. We pointed out that Zimbabwe’s military was unqualified to run commercial enterprises, especially when up against Laurent Kabila’s shifty ministers and vastly more experienced Lebanese.


Now our leadership is bitter that the South Africans have moved in on “their” turf. Ironically, this, we were told, is exactly what Zimbabwe went into the Congo to prevent. And it is interesting to note that the same sort of resentment that used to be directed against Nelson Mandela’s diplomacy in the region is now being directed at Thabo Mbeki who last week completed a highly successful visit to the DRC which his large business entourage took full advantage of.


Large contracts were signed in mining and other sectors, the South African media triumphantly reported.


“As he went around doing his business,” the Sunday Mail’s Huni grumbled, “did the SA leader ever stop to think what could have happened to that country if countries in the region had chosen to be cowards as his country did and refused to send soldiers to defend that country from the invading rebels?”


Ouch. Something’s hurting here.


The same author is in an unforgiving mood. On another front he is as mad as hell with gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell for his legal bid to have Mugabe arrested on human rights charges. The “gay pig” should have his jaw torn apart, Huni wrote. But not content with this savage reprisal, others who aided and abetted Tatchell should be treated to a similar fate.


“Ray Choto and Gabriel Shumba, who joined in the gay pig’s dirty game when they testified in court in the stupid case, should also not be spared,” he spat.


This jaw-breaking declaration comes as editors in the government media are due to pledge — for the benefit of South African colleagues and donors — to uphold tolerance and the “highest professional standards” in the Zimbabwean press!


The Herald’s Nathaniel Manheru showed us just what those standards are. In a poisonous diatribe he described our editor Iden Wetherell as “a colonial nomad” who the “sons of the black African soil have to suffer until the scythe of time makes its remedial harvest”. That couldn’t be soon enough he made clear!


This intemperate attack led in turn to a bitter denunciation of white liberals in the 1970s who, it was darkly hinted, were really Special Branch spies. Student demonstrations involving “Wetherell and his ilk” invariably led to retribution from the Special Branch, Manheru claimed.


“I happen to be old enough to know…A number of black students, some of them my relations, lost their lives or were disabled for life from torture.”


Who is old enough to know? Herald editor Pikirayi Deketeke gallantly told a judge at a chambers hearing recently that he was the author of the Nathaniel Manheru column assisted by colleagues at the paper. But he would have been about 10 in 1976! On the other hand the individual most closely associated with the column in media reports has been said by liberation war veterans to have made no contribution whatsoever to the war — apart from running away from it!


Contrary to Manheru’s assertion, Wetherell made no claim about Zapu. That came from wire copy. And since when has Manheru been a Zapu spokesman? But the malevolent columnist is nevertheless bent upon “retributive justice”, suggesting access to the weapons of state power. Let’s hope they don’t include a scythe!


Muckraker feels it is time Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo was interdicted from interfering in council affairs, especially those of an administrative nature. Two weeks ago Harare councillors gave town clerk Nomutsa Chideya sweeping powers to implement council policies. According to a Herald report, Chideya was given full powers to hire, fire and restructure council in line with its objectives to deliver efficient service.


The following week Chombo resurfaced at Town House to order that some 22 employees dismissed or sent on forced leave in 2002 be reinstated because the reasons for their dismissal or suspension were “non-professional”. Yet Chideya’s mandate now, according to the Herald, is to “eradicate indiscipline, insubordination, laziness, absenteeism and any other forms of misconduct”.


Muckraker wonders whether Chideya will finally be allowed to carry out his mandate without waiting for political orders from Chombo who doesn’t appear to have better things to do. And why does he want all issues of “personnel nature” directed to his office for approval when there is a fully elected council to carry out people’s wishes?


Only last week Chideya reported that council was paying up to 700 workers who were “sitting on abolished posts”. Most of these employees, revealed Chideya, “only reported for work but quickly disappear to do their private jobs”.


Surely there is need for an inquiry to find out if council is providing sheltered employment for certain people and what Chombo’s interest is. After all, it is ratepayers, not Chombo, who pay their salaries.


So good news on the economic front. Inflation is down from 620% to 598%. And the Zim dollar is firming against hard currencies. Foreign currency rates have taken a “massive dip” against the local unit, we are told. On Monday the US dollar traded at $3 842 compared to $4 177 last week.


In what other country in the world would the official press be able to get away with claiming that a reduction in inflation from 620% to 598% was good news? Or that the local unit, that was worth more than a US dollar in 1980, is now trading at $3 842 to US$1?


As all the ingredients of inflation are still feeding into the system, most notably government borrowing and money supply growth, there is not much light at the end of the tunnel. Forex inflows remain well short of what is needed to fund imports and our inflation rate is hugely out of sync with those of our main trading partners.


The black market may have been temporarily dampened, but does anybody really think Gono is able to resuscitate agriculture or persuade his friends in Zanu PF to get the macro-economic fundamentals in order? And why do we have to live with arbitrary crackdowns and blitzes instead of consistent, predictable policies?


Air Zimbabwe is threatening to sue the Zimbabwe Independent for suggesting, it claims, that its managing director and board of directors are “weak and inefficient managers who buckle under pressure from politicians”.


Just to show this is not the case, the airline rushed to tell the Herald of its action before the Independent had been given an opportunity to respond!


The airline claims that all but 18 of its passengers who were due to fly to London on January 5 were contacted and told of the rescheduling. Those that turned up at the airport were either provided with accommodation or returned to their homes. There were therefore no passengers who were stranded, Air Zimbabwe says. During the week the president was away no single Air Zimbabwe flight to London was cancelled or materially affected except for the rescheduling that occurred on January 6, it says.


Any passengers who feel they were inconvenienced on this or any other flight as a result of President Mugabe’s use of an Air Zimbabwe plane should contact this newspaper with the details. So should travel agents. We may need to challenge the airline’s explanations. Your replies will be treated in confidence.


In the meantime, Zimbabwe Inde-pendent readers should be remi-nded that when making their travel plans they have a choice as to which airline they use. This particularly applies to Zimbabweans living abroad and foreign visitors to this country. Do you agree with Air Zimbabwe’s threats against the Zimbabwe Independent? Do you agree that passengers are not inconvenienced during presidential charters? Do you see the airline as efficiently managed and free of political pressure as it claims? Tell us what you think. And remember, you can make a difference when booking your next flight.


Muckraker’s tailpiece: Q: What’s the difference between Zanu PF and a Blair toilet?


A: The Blair toilet has improved the lives of millions of Zimbabweans.

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