How well informed is Kangai?

IT must have been obvious to all but the most gullible of commentators that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan did not tell President Mugabe that he would use his office to get sanctions lifted. Why? Because the sanctions had n

othing to do with the UN and Annan was in no position to give undertakings about matters that did not concern him.

Sanctions are a matter for those imposing them and Annan would not have wanted to add to his problems just ahead of his retirement by lobbying on behalf of President Mugabe in Washington and the EU’s 25 capitals — a doomed mission if ever there was one!

Annan’s office last week confirmed to this paper that he gave no such assurance. Yet Caesar Zvayi proceeded to hold a “conversation” with Kumbirai Kangai based on the false premise that Annan would “work to have the sanctions lifted”. Kangai, who should know better, said the “efforts were welcome”.

What do we have here: a journalist and a politician who have bought the government’s spin without stopping to consider how unlikely it was.

Politicians have a vested interest in marketing a certain viewpoint. We have no doubt Annan was polite in his chat with Mugabe in the lobby of a Banjul hotel. But it is the duty of journalists to apply a measure of scepticism regarding what they are told lest they make fools of themselves.

While we are about it, this may be a useful opportunity to deal with a persistent lie that Zanu PF spokesmen peddle.

“The Labour government refused to honour its obligations to fund land reform,” Kangai told Zvayi, who looked as if he would swallow anything, “and we responded by taking land from their kith and kin.” He was then invited to wax indignant over the Clare Short letter.

Kangai must be aware that Britain gave £44 million for land reform in the 1980s and 90s, money that wasn’t always wisely spent. The Labour government, when it came to power, set aside £36 million to fulfil its obligations under the 1998 land donors accord with the Zimbabwe government. The only condition they attached was that the UNDP should certify any proposed land reform programme as viable and designed to alleviate poverty.

In the event the Zimbabwe government proceeded with a programme of land seizures that a UNDP technical team subsequently said was not viable.

Only in a state where the flow of information is strictly controlled could these facts be ignored by a journalist and a politician in a newspaper interview!

Kangai demonstrated the cognitive dissonance that is becoming the hallmark of his party when he suggested that if Britain insists the dispute with Zimbabwe is not a bilateral one, then it should “step aside and let us engage the EU to remove the sanctions they misled the EU to impose”.

This coming, in all seriousness, from the ruling party’s secretary for external relations. How well informed is he?

He was also allowed to get away with an easy question about Taiwan instead of a more challenging one about Tibet. Why does that country remain a Chinese colony (with Han Chinese literally colonising it by the day) and why doesn’t Zanu PF care?

He was however asked a good question about China using Zimbabwe as a market for its goods and not as an equal trading partner. But he quickly wriggled off that hook by claiming trade was mutual.

“Our trade is bilateral,” he clai-med. “The Chinese get tobacco from us and a few other things; we also get a few other things from China.”

So there you have it!

Perhaps the most frequently deployed accusation against the foreign press is that they have tarnished Zimbabwe’s image and that this in turn is keeping tourists away. The expression “negative perceptions” is invariably used.

In this context consider the events of last week. A handful of civic activists marched with banners to Town House to protest deteriorating service delivery in the capital. They are set upon by riot police, assaulted and arrested. Two journalists covering the event are also detained.

We must remember in all this that Harare is run by a state-appointed commission headed by an unpopular stooge “mayor” instead of by councillors and a mayor elected by the city’s residents.

The attack on the peaceful demonstration was reported around the world. Protesting against service delivery is considered a basic right in most capitals except perhaps Beijing, Pyongyang and Havana. The response was an over-reaction that makes Zimbabwe look like a brutal police state.

When somebody from the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority next naively proposes a “turnaround” strategy for the tourist industry, he should be reminded of this episode and the impact it has on “perceptions” of the country. Police wielding batons and teargas against a handful of peaceful protestors doesn’t play well, even in the Chinese press.

Why were people detained in police cells for exercising a constitutional right to free expression? Why has the judiciary failed to uphold that right when Posa clearly stipulates that police need to be informed of a demonstration, not asked for permission? Why were journalists held long after they had produced their press cards?

So long as Zimbabwe remains a country in which free expression is trampled on and people are detained for exercising their civic rights, it will get the reputation it deserves.

Muckraker has been trying to follow events at Iron Mask Farm in Mazowe. The farm was seized from its elderly but productive owners in 2002. The state media told us it would be handed over to a charity for street kids under the patronage of First Lady Grace Mugabe, with Gideon Gono as chairman of the board of trustees.

But that was the last we heard of it. Nobody ever saw the street kids. But somebody collected cheques for the produce. Then last week Grace Mugabe’s spokesman said there would be a groundbreaking ceremony at the weekend, which duly took place on Sunday.

What explains the four-year delay? And why are there twice as many street kids in Harare today than there were when the farm was seized but none appear to be finding their way to Mazowe?

We also don’t understand why it was necessary for the government to take a farm that was the product of a couple’s life’s work and give it to a charity whose work would not be necessary if the state had fulfilled its primary obligation to care for its people.

We were however impressed by the dexterity of the president in linking the Iron Mask scheme to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. This at a time when a growing number of children are dropping out of school because their parents cannot afford to keep them there and standards of living have plunged to pre-1953 levels.

You have to admit, government is good at spending money. It has splashed $400 billion on luxury vehicles for members of the anti-corruption commission. What we liked in this report was Minister Paul Mangwana’s remarks.

“Do you want them to walk on foot?” he asked. “Are you sure they should be pedestrians?”

Perhaps Mangwana should be asked why the commissioners who include Eric Harid (chair), Johannes Tomana, Kuziwa Nyamwanza, Retired Brigadier Elasto Madzingira, Alice Nkomo, and Rungano Wutaunashe, don’t already have cars? Whatever the case, this example of state extravagance is an inauspicious start to the commission’s work.

A fuel allowance we could understand but $44 billion each for new vehicles! That works out at US$444 000 each at the official rate.

What we know is that the commission is struggling to obtain a secretariat and a departmental head. But in Zimbabwe cars always come first! Members of the senate are demanding all-terrain vehicles, we gather.

The commission will have a formidable task. RBZ governor Gideon Gono, speaking to journalists last week, said corruption spurred by selfishness had now become the Number 1 enemy, rather than targeted sanctions imposed by the international community.

“Corruption has become a millstone around our necks,” he said. “It’s worse than the sanctions.”

“Some were benefiting from the situation,” he pointed out, “a few in positions of authority.”

Surely not!

We were intrigued by Alexander Kanengoni’s piece in the Sunday Mirror headed “Several hours with Mugabe”. This was the occasion when Mugabe admitted he was “very worried” about the economy, and then blamed the problems on everybody else.

Readers will recall Muckraker commenting last week on the absence of challenging questions during this curious get-together. Kanengoni describes the session as an “interview”. But he doesn’t say what questions he asked!

Later it turned into a three-hour “conversation”, we are told. But still we weren’t told what was asked. And these were journalists!

We did like the bit, however, about the Iranian president’s speech in Banjul being cut short by a breakdown in the public address system. And about an uncle telling the young Robert, stuck up a tree, to get down the same way he got up.

Isn’t that what the nation is telling him now?

But we should curse Zinedine Zidane who lost Zimbabwe a fine deal. Mugabe supported Italy during the World Cup final while his son Bellarmine (9) supported France. If France won, the youngster wagered his father, they would trade places, he to Munhumutapa Building to become president and the old man to Hartmann House to become a primary school pupil.

It was an exit made in heaven — and then Zidane blew it (or is it Bleu it?).

Now we may understand why young Chatunga wanted to leave Hartmann House. His father is refusing to pay his school fees because they are too expensive! According to a London-based website he told the school authorities he could not pay over $100 million when his other son, Robert jr, required only $25 million at Kutama.

Congratulations to Victoria Ruzvidzo for her company-spo-nsored trip to Dubai. She “discovered” that most Zimbabweans travelling to Dubai buy “trinkets” such as clothes, power generators, food, television sets, toys and chocolates, among other items. Her view was that the “billions of dollars in foreign currency” could have been used to buy spare parts for Air Zimbabwe or to import fuel or power.

Muckraker has lots of sympathy for Victoria’s patriotic journalism, that is provided she is able to answer a few questions honestly. What useful items did she bring back herself from her trip? Did she buy the $258 million ticket or was it sponsored by the state-run airline? Is she aware that most of the expensive “trinkets” are purchased by well-heeled government employees and those in the ruling party who can afford them?

Those are the people who can still afford toys and chocolates and luxury vehicles. How many ordinary Zimbabweans can afford a Mercedes Benz S600? Yet we see them all around the capital.

Victoria must have also been miffed that people prefer imported clothes when our flea markets are full of zhing-zhongs from China. She is also missing something. A short trip into the industrial areas will show Victoria that there is very little manufacturing going on. The formal sector is severely crippled and Zimbabweans are forced to spend millions of dollars importing cooking oil, soap and toothpaste when our own workers are being laid off. We are fuelling an industrial boom in neighbouring countries while our own economy is shrinking. That’s how dangerously shaky our sovereignty has become, underpinned by empty slogans and blind journalism.

We were surprised to read in the Herald that government had “resumed” land allocations. We weren’t aware that there had been a temporary halt to the chaos of offers and withdrawal of letters.

What we found interesting was the admission by President Mugabe of a bitter home truth — not everyone is a farmer. If this obvious fact had been appreciated from the beginning there would have been no need for the destruction called “fast-track” because it would have been possible to identify people who had an interest in farming and allocate them land.

Mugabe told chiefs and other traditional leaders in Kariba last week that land uptake in the seven years since 1999 was only 40%. He said people got land on the basis of “ambition” alone, which was not good enough.

“You need capability, money and labour. Not everyone can be a farmer,” he said.

Does one need to be a rocket scientist to know that? It appears the chickens are coming home to roost.

Finally, Muckraker loved the story doing the rounds that Gideon Gono asked to resign. The president agreed on condition that he restored inflation to where it was when he came into office.

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