Case of the dog that didn’t bark in the night

THERE has been much hullabaloo about President Mugabe’s recent visit to Malawi and the decision to name a road after him. The Malawi government’s refusal to be swayed by the civil society outcry has b

een hailed in our state media as an act of great courage in the face of threats to cut aid by the EU which did or didn’t fund the road construction, depending on what version you read.

In fact this episode has been subject to the usual panel-beating. At no stage did the EU threaten to cut off aid. And the presence of their ambassadors in the welcoming line-out at Kamuzu Airport was in accordance with normal protocol. Nobody, except Malawi NGOs on the one hand and the Zimbabwean official media on the other, wanted to make more of this episode than it warranted.

The general view was that the people of Malawi should not be punished for the misplacd solidarity of their rulers.

Of course, some donors spoke out. In Scotland, where there are strong historical ties to Malawi, MPs took a robust view: “LibDem MSP Mike Pringle said (Bingu wa) Mutharika’s decision to honour Mugabe was ‘an absolute disgrace’,” the Scottish press reported.

“To give any credit to that man, who is about 10 feet away from being Hitler, and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Zimbabweans, is dreadful,” he said. “I’m appalled that the government of Malawi decided to do this.”
However, he added: “We are not supporting the government with our initiatives, we are supporting the ordinary people of Malawi and I don’t imagine they had a say in whether Mugabe was invited to their country.”

Perhaps what should be noted in all this was the pathetic relief in our government press that President Mugabe should be invited anywhere at all. When was the last time he went on a state visit? Compare this with the glory days of the 1980s when he strutted upon the world stage, consulted by all. And what exactly did Mutharika say to the Malawi NGOs that pacified them?

With a nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, this was a case of the dog that didn’t bark in the night!

Speaking during the visit, Mugabe chose to make much of his policy of reconciliation.  “We declared a policy of national reconciliation to push off colonialism much further,” he told a banquet in his honour in Lilongwe.

“Many (whites) are left, including the notorious Ian Smith,” he said.

Does a population of 30 000 constitute “many”, from nearly 200 000 in 1980? Thousands in the farming community who heeded Mugabe’s call to remain on the land after 1980 and held certificates of “no current interest” from government were dispossessed of their homes and businesses because they dared to exercise their constitutional right to support a party other than Zanu PF. And doesn’t Mugabe know that Smith hasn’t lived in this country for years?

Muckraker suspects he does know but assumed his Malawian audience wouldn’t. Mugabe said some of those opposing his visit forgot that he was “an African who did not desire to live in Europe”.

But that doesn’t explain why so many members of his party and government choose to educate their children in Europe. And why he and Grace relished their stopovers in London and Paris.

He evidently had to be on his best behaviour in Malawi. We didn’t see a single reference to Tony Blair or George Bush! And it was not lost on the international media that Mugabe was denouncing donor-dependency while his government had approached the UN to appeal for food aid.

We liked the piece in the Malawi press about policemen having to guard the plaque marking the opening of the road following the departure of the dignitaries. Of course, they can’t stand there (or reportedly in one case hide in a nearby bush) forever!

The road’s original name, Midima, means graveyard in Chichewa, we gather. Was there some hidden message here?

The Bulawayo Press Club last week showed us what they are made of. It reportedly took a single call from Bright Matonga to get them to reverse an invitation to US ambassador Christopher Dell to speak there.

Matonga was miffed that his own invitation had been superseded by that to Dell, we gather. The not-so-robust committee quickly caved in. The committee, we hear, with one exception, comprises state-media “journalists”.

What a brave lot! And what a wonderful way to celebrate World Press Freedom Day.

DStv was not much better. They like to advertise the claim that they support the media. They gave practical effect to this by cutting off transmission to the homes of several people in the independent press last week. But, let’s be fair, they had an excuse. Somebody forgot to pay the bill this month. Normal service was eventually resumed. And the office remained wired.

We can understand why many countries should wish to blow their own trumpet on their national day. It is only natural. But they should at least be honest about their past.

Marking their victory over Nazi Germany on May 9, the Russian embassy this week recalled the millions lost in German concentration camps and stone quarries performing hard labour. The embassy claimed that Russia’s victory brought freedom to Eastern European neighbours and saved thousands of British and American lives by holding down German forces on the eastern front.

This is thoroughly disingenuous. The Soviet Union most certainly did not bring freedom to Eastern Europe. It enslaved the countries of the East Bloc and established regimes there almost as brutal and abhorrent as the Nazis. Freedom for Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania only came in 1989. And while it is true Soviet forces tied down millions of German soldiers on the eastern front in 1944, those Soviet forces were equipped with British and American weaponry shipped to Russia through the Baltic at great cost to the Allies in the winter of 1941/2.

The Russians do themselves no favours by ignoring these facts. And let’s not forget the millions of Russians consigned to Stalin’s gulags in the 1930s and 40s, many of them intellectuals and communists who simply thought differently from Stalin. What about the hard labour they were condemned to?

We enjoyed the story of the MDC factions in the Herald on Tuesday in which the rival camps were said to be at “each other’s throats” ahead of the Budiriro parliamentary by-election.

The candidate for the Arthur Mutambara camp, Gabriel Chaibva accused his former colleagues of intolerance and of launching “a hate campaign” against him. They had destroyed 200 of his posters in Budiriro valued at $16 million, he said.

“This is the barbarism of the MDC anti-senate faction,” he said. “It explains why we have differences. They are not a democracy at all.”

One could not miss the glee in which all this was written as if to prove that Zanu PF is not the problem but the MDC factions. Since the candidate representing Morgan Tsvangirai’s camp’s posters were not destroyed or defaced, who was at whose throat we wonder? 

Nelson Chamisa allegedly dismissed the “allegations” as baseless, concluded the Herald story. Which allegations were those?

The National Aids Council has made a huge policy shift. Instead of supplying food packs and home-based care to people living with Aids and orphans, they are supplying farming inputs to chiefs under the so-called “Zunde Ramambo” concept.

The executive director of the NAC Tapuwa Magure reportedly said the supply of farming inputs such as fertiliser and seed would enable Aids-sufferers to produce food for themselves instead of relying on handouts.

He also said chiefs were closer to the people and were aware of the deserving cases.

“Instead of giving people food packs, which are sometimes not even adequate and consistent, we now want people to be empowered enough to produce their own food …” he said.

How are people who are already bed-ridden expected to “produce food” for themselves when we contribute money towards the Aids levy so that such people receive care? And we are not strangers to the operations of chiefs under the Zanu PF patronage system. Soon all the sick and the aged might have to buy a party card before they access food. There is no better sign of the collapse of the national health sector than this example of dereliction of duty.

Johannesburg Sunday Times editor Mondli Makanya is a well-established observer of the Zimbabwe political scene having spent many months in the country as a correspondent for South African papers in the late 90s and early years of this decade. As editor of the Mail & Guardian he continued to follow events closely giving generous space to the Zimbabwe issue. Which is why his editorial of May 7 is particularly salutary.

The Sunday Times referred to the recent street protests in Kathmandu that obliged Nepal’s king to abandon his royal despotism and allow the people of Nepal to embark on the road to democracy.

“The international community owes that country’s people maximum support in this endeavour,” the Sunday Times editorial said this week, “as they showed no cowardice during their three-week uprising. They owned their revolution and did not just sit around begging for foreign help. And when they triumphed over the monarchy they took pride in their achievement.

‘We have forced the king to his knees. It shows the people are the actual power,’ opposition activist Rajan Sreshta was quoted as saying.

“Now, is there not a lesson in this for the people of Swaziland and Zimbabwe,” the Sunday Times asks, “whose only indication of unhappiness with the dictatorial regimes running their respective countries has so far been lamely appealing to others to free them?”

Thanks for that reminder, Mondli.

Muckraker is reminded of film footage of Allan Boesak, Desmond Tutu, civic leaders and others, locked arm in arm, marching into Cape Town in the late 1980s. They set an example of bold peaceful protest to their followers. The role of marshals was critical in all this.

Can you imagine Pius, Welshman, Morgan, Moyo and Mutambara doing the same thing? Hell would first have to freeze over before our opposition and civic leaders provided the nation with an example of solidarity and courage.

Returning to South Africa, Muckraker is not in the least bit disappointed that Jacob Zuma has suffered a terminal reversal in his presidential prospects despite a court victory this week. His reputation has been indelibly stained by a series of maladroit moves, not least his playing of the ethnic card.

Would you want to be governed by a leader who believes HIV is prevented by a shower, allows his followers to carry placards saying “burn-the-bitch” in reference to his accuser, and can’t even manage his own bank account?
We liked David Bullard’s reference to the former deputy president’s followers as “Jacob Zuma’s Barmy Half-Wits Band” (sung to the tune of Sergeant Pepper) and just hope his acquittal this week won’t persuade him that all is okay now regarding his prospects for the top job.

South Africa, with its first world economy, needs to be taken seriously by the outside world. The politics of crude ethnicity and casual abuse of women, however unreliable they may prove in court, cannot be a part of that country’s “Proudly South African” profile. Nor can the fact that Zuma’s accuser must now be given a different identity and a new life abroad because she is no longer safe in South Africa.

Did you notice how cleverly the Herald on Wednesday juxtaposed its “Plot to kill president exposed” story borrowed from the Sunday Times (which bit did the Herald reporter contribute apart from the prefix “Cde” to Mugabe?) with its “Mutare arms cache: Trial date for Hitschmann set” report anchoring the same page?

The Herald would not normally dream of publishing anything coming from Peter Stiff’s stable but this particular piece was grist to its mill in attempting to pump up the credibility of the Mutare “plot”.

Hitschmann by the way is invariably referred to as “a former Rhodesian soldier”. But wasn’t he a Zimbabwean police reservist for a much longer period?

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