What sort of electoral commission is this?

IT is remarkable how delusional our 81-year-old president remains. He returns from an entirely unsuccessful foray to Rome, where he had hoped to meet European Union leaders and persuade them to lift san

ctions, and attacks the inhabitants of Zimbabwe’s cities for voting the wrong way!

He called them “habitually fickle”.

Responding to suggestions that he would have been better advised to have identified ways of defeating poverty and hunger instead of fighting Tony Blair, Mugabe defended his decision to take on the British leader who very sensibly declined to lend himself to the president’s grandstanding in Rome.

“Contrary to what our detractors said, our deliberate choice of the anti-Blair theme was correct,” Mugabe, in defensive mode, told supporters on his return.

“Blair has been a negative intrusive factor in our country and it is important that this message is sent to him and his cohorts.”

What message? That Mugabe lost the towns and cities; that his call for an unambiguous response to Blair was ignored in the country’s urban heartland? And now he resorts to insults and bile because they remained impervious to his facile conspiracy theories?

That’s the only message to come out of all this.

And for those “third way” illusionists who think Mugabe is amenable to negotiation, the president had this to say about the MDC which he described as “Britain’s prime instrument” for realising its goals: “Until it renounces and forsakes this treacherous association with this enemy country, any understanding with it remains inconceivable.”

But it’s not the MDC that needs digging out of the hole Zanu PF has made for itself. It’s not the MDC that urgently needs balance-of-payments support. It’s not the MDC that needs to find a solution to poverty and hunger.

The MDC certainly won’t be throwing a lifeline to a disreputable regime that continues to pursue damaging policies.

Nathan Shamuyarira suggested in this paper last Friday that one way the MDC could cooperate with Zanu PF would be to help it re-engage the international community.

That isn’t about to happen. So long as Mugabe remains a danger to the nation’s health and occupies seats that have not been honestly won such as Heather Bennett’s in Chimanimani, there will be no help of any sort at all for Zimbabwe’s rural ruler. Let him wallow in the mess his party has spawned.

Meanwhile, we should ask why Mugabe was so keen to shake Prince Charles’ hand and then drool on about his respect for the Queen. Is this consistent with his anti-imperialist agenda? Has his propaganda machine not recently been describing the Commonwealth as a British club where leaders have tea with the Queen?

Can we have some ideological consistency here please!

Nathan Shamuyarira can be very astute at times. He can also be incredibly stupid. If he insists on using the country’s silver jubilee to celebrate Zanu PF’s stolen election victory he will make the occasion a partisan event which half the nation will ignore. Is that what he really wants?

As for his silly remarks about the white man “scheming day and night to reverse the democracy we have in this country”, he appears to be as delusional as his leader.

Zanu PF did not introduce democracy; it had to be wrested from them. And they are still resisting its implementation as the NGO Bill and detention without trial illustrate.

And why doesn’t Nathan tell us about all those white men that assisted him in the 1960s and 70s? Are they to be airbrushed out of his account of the period that he is supposed to be writing, just as poor old Sister Aquina was airbrushed out of Mugabe’s border-crossing?

But we shouldn’t be too hard on him. It must be difficult writing a biography of the president without being able to tell the whole story!

Sunday Mail reporter Robert Mukondiwa once again showed us this week how to inject gratuitous personal views into a political story.

Commenting in a news story on Blair’s move to a seat where he would not be ambushed by the Zimbabwean leader, Mukondiwa inserted the following:

“The move, which was nothing short of childish for adults to run away from their political foe at a funeral of a pontiff, again exposed Blair’s near-obsessive fear of President Mugabe whom he has not met officially since his rise to power in the United Kingdom in 1998.”

Could that be 1997? And did they not meet at the Edinburgh Commonwealth summit?

But we liked Mukondiwa’s inventive reference to Mugabe as “the Lion of Reason”. Where did he get that one? And does he know what a melée is? It seems not.

Talking of lions, we were amused by the president’s comparison of himself to the stuffed ones at the entrance to State House. They represented “the spirit of their master”, he joked with reporters.

We’re not sure of the significance of all this. Does Mugabe really want to be thought of as a stuffed lion, unable to roam the political veld, just acting as a gatekeeper until the next occupant arrives? Or was there some deeply encoded message here?

On the subject of media freedom, Mugabe argues that the law should be applied along partisan lines. Describing Aippa as a good law, he claimed it would not prevent a genuine journalist being registered.

“I don’t see any reason why we must deny them,” he said, “unless they are proved to be bitter enemies of the party.”

So, there is the evidence we need that this law will be implemented according to the president’s whim of whether somebody is a “bitter enemy” of the party. That, we can be sure, in Zanu PF’s puerile lexicon includes just about any critic.

Let’s make sure that interpretation has the widest possible circulation. And then Mugabe complains about being more “sinned against than sinning”! He can’t understand why “we have been put in the dark by Mr Blair”. It’s all “very unfair”, he bewailed.

A clue, Mr President: It could have something to do with repression including harassment of the media by the police on instructions from officials in your office. Rulers who cannot be held to account because of sweeping media restrictions but feel free themselves to attack their critics in venomous terms are not acceptable in the international community.

Congratulations to Themba Mliswa for spelling out certain realities to the war veteran dinosaurs that run Zanu PF in Karoi.

They made all sorts of aspersions about him being a clandestine member of the MDC because Morgan Tsvangirai was served food at his restaurant. He should have his property, allocated in 2003, withdrawn, they suggested. But Mliswa bravely stood up to their threats and pointed out that business is business. His restaurant was open to all.

“My business is not run on political, religious, ethnic, tribal or racial lines,” he told the war veterans, “as we all know that money knows no colour.”

Let’s hope that all threats and blandishments from Zanu PF’s stuffed old guard are treated in the same robust way.

Our editor wrote last week in his Memo of the indoctrination that has taken place in the army. Evidence of this was abundant on Sunday when the Zimbabwe Defence Forces took out an advert by General Constantine Chiwenga “congratulating the commander-in-chief, the first secretary of the ruling party Zanu PF and the president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, His Excellency Cde Robert Gabriel Mugabe, on the landmark victory registered in the March 2005 parliamentary election”.

Do they really want us to believe they are a professional outfit running partisan ads like that?

Others congratulating Zanu PF on its “victory” included Zimpost, the GMB, Net*One, Zesa, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, David Whitehead Textiles, City of Harare commission chair Sekesai Makwavarara, and the Research Council of Zimbabwe.

What does this tell us about the role of these parastatals in our society using public funds to pledge their allegiance to the ruling party?

Also represented in this fawning display was the Indigenous Petroleum Group of Zimbabwe which advised its members to hold down prices before the election so as not to embarrass the ruling party and is now dealing with the consequences of warped economics.

Watching Justice George (“It’s neither here nor there”) Chiweshe twisting and turning under the media spotlight is not an edifying spectacle.

For instance, explaining to the Sunday Mail why the ZEC hadn’t said anything earlier about the huge discrepancies that have emerged in voting figures, he said: “We deliberately did not respond to these allegations because the commission does not conduct its business through the media.”

Fair enough. But he then goes on to say, when asked whether he had made the ZEC’s position known to the MDC regarding their complaints: “Basically we are telling them what we have already said in the press.”

So there you are!

Speaking more generally about the complaints, Chiweshe suggested the allegations of rigging were being “done for political purposes”.

Yes, it is true that you do get some politics in a general election — especially where there are massive discrepancies in the voting figures and where those discrepancies favour the incumbent.

Asked whether the ZEC was ready for the poll, he replied that “the electoral process had already started and we only joined at a particular stage”.

He provided as an example the work of the Registrar-General’s office on the voters’ roll.

“In other words we didn’t have to start all over again.”

Doesn’t this beg the question as to whether it was OK with him that a body charged to supervise all dimensions of the electoral process wasn’t able to do so? That another agency had possession of the key instrument in the election — the voters’ roll — which we all know was a complete mess?

As for his bland dismissal of complaints as “people tend to say certain things to please their supporters”, what does this say of a judge who is expected to take those complaints seriously and investigate them?

The right thing for any losing party to do, he naïvely suggested, was to “accept defeat honourably and congratulate the winners because elections come and go. People must go to work, to the fields and people must build the economy.”

Does he seriously mean the ZEC should not take seriously evidence of electoral rigging? That if the losers were cheated of victory they should take that lying down and proceed to “the fields”?

What sort of independent electoral commission is this?

And what makes Chiweshe think that street protests are “illegal, undemocratic and unjustifiable”? Is that what the constitution says? Don’t we recall some reference to freedom of expression, association and assembly?

He said street protests had no place in the grievance procedure. This was stipulated in the Sadc principles, he added.

We don’t recall the Sadc principles ruling against street protests. We do recall them calling for full popular participation in the electoral process.

That certainly didn’t happen with regard to the voters’ roll— or access to the public media. And what is the point of aggrieved parties appealing to the Electoral Court, as Chiweshe suggests, when the president bullies it into submission?

Muckraker’s advice: fewer interviews with the partisan official press; more due diligence regarding the Sadc principles and in particular the voters’ roll.

We wonder what criteria are used to select chiefs, and to have them elected to parliamentary positions. The president of the Zimbabwe Council of Chiefs, Fortune Charumbira, seems to have his priorities upside down. As a traditional leader, one would expect him to be concerned about people facing certain starvation in Masvingo. No, as soon as he was elected president he said it was vitally important to change the chiefs’ regalia so that it reflects the “traditional African image”, whatever that is.

“We want to make our dress look more African than Western. We will improve the regalia to project our own image,” he declared in line with Zanu PF’s hollow nationalism.

Whatever the desired new look, we hope it will go beyond mere appearances — a black face, white in everything else.

Then there was Donald Charumbira writing in the Herald, who said rural voters should be rewarded for their sacrifices in defence of the party and the country. These unfortunately always get a “disproportionately small piece of the national economic cake”, moaned Charumbira.

He didn’t say why rural voters didn’t have better schools, clean water, clinics, roads and other infrastructure despite their consistency in voting for Zanu PF since Independence. It is in part because they vote for absentee leaders living in obscene comfort in urban areas where they have been rejected by voters. Most of them apparently don’t even want to be associated with rural voters. It’s an electoral fraud.

Charumbira appears to have received the reverse of the message most cellphone users got after the poll results were announced: “For sale — all my rural relatives (except my mother). Buy one and get 20 for free while stocks last.”

If one were in need of lessons on the incongruous and discordant, they should look no further than Elliot Manyika’s election song Mbiri ye Chigandanga, which incidentally failed to make it into the Zanu PF election propaganda menu. The oldest person in the video apart from Manyika himself appeared to be 25 years old.

Then there were pictures of heroes like Herbert Chitepo, Josiah Tongogara and others buried at the Heroes Acre to support the theme of the song. The rest were kids aged between seven and 13 years who would have no idea what the liberation struggle was all about. Yet the pitch of the song is that their fame rests solidly on their record in the liberation war. And why were they donning leaves? Couldn’t Manyika inspire enough war veterans to give the video a ring of authenticity?

No wonder we never heard or saw much of the video on our television screens. That is in addition to its discordant ring emphasising war and violence when President Mugabe wanted to project the image of a loving and peaceful grandad.

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