Mugabe’s false bravado laid bare

PRESIDENT Mugabe and Prince Charles appear to have divergent interpretations of what happened when they met at the Pope’s funeral in Rome. Mugabe has praised the Prince of Wales as a “real gentleman” for controversiall

y shaking hands with him at the funeral but has dismissed Tony Blair, who snubbed him, as a “tyrant”.

Reports say Vatican officials triggered a diplomatic incident when they gave Mugabe, Charles and Blair seats close to each other at Pope John Paul’s funeral in April. Blair switched seats but the prince took the president’s outstretched hand. Charles’s spokesman claimed at the time that he had been “ambushed” and that he found the Zimbabwean regime “abhorrent”.

But in a recent interview with Daphne Barak, an Israeli television reporter, Mugabe claimed the two reminisced on the past. Herbert Murerwa says he introduced Mugabe to the prince and they chatted throughout the one-and-a-half-hour ceremony.

This followed Tony Blair’s hasty departure from his seat when he realised he would be sitting next to Mugabe.

“We’d never met,” Mugabe claimed, “but he deserted his seat because he realised that our own seats were next to their own. But Prince Charles remained in place. He’s a real gentleman.”

They spoke about Charles’ forthcoming marriage, Murerwa said.

However, Mugabe’s and Murerwa’s recollection of events has once again been challenged by Clarence House. A spokesman for the prince said: “The prince was caught unawares during the peace-be-with-you part of the funeral, the traditional handshake part. Partly he was unaware and partly it would have been very disrespectful to the church at the time for the prince not to shake Mugabe’s hand.”

He added: “The prince was very much there as an official representative at the Pope’s funeral and certainly didn’t view the hour-and-a-half as a time to start having conversations with people. To claim he had conversations with either Herbert Murerwa or President Mugabe is not true.”

In his interview Mugabe denied being a tyrant and accused Blair of being arrogant.

“If there was judgement by some supreme power of the three of us — Bush, Blair and Robert Mugabe — I’d be the first to receive greater justice from the Almighty,” he said. “I’ve killed no one, like they are doing (in Iraq).”

Mugabe’s selective recall of events is sometimes breathtaking. Has he forgotten the 20 000 who perished during Gukurahundi? Is he washing his hands of responsibility for that episode?

As for his assertion that he has never met Blair, he needs reminding of the hour they spent together at Gleneagles in Scotland during the 1997 Commonwealth summit. Blair certainly hasn’t forgotten the long rambling account Mugabe gave of the land issue with its usual distortions and contrived claims.

“I never want to see that man again,” he was reported to have said after the ordeal. His resolve was confirmed by Mugabe’s undiplomatic behaviour at the Durban Chogm in 1999 when he made all sorts of personal attacks on the British leader in interviews with British tabloids. Now he expects to negotiate his way out of the predicament he has created for himself.

Last week Muckraker remarked that President Mugabe was a hypocrite, putting on a brave face to mask his actual fear of Zimbabwe’s expulsion from the IMF. The fear was evident in Zimbabwe’s hasty payment of US$120 million (it’s now risen to US$131 million) to reduce its debt to the IMF.

Our sentiments, and Zimbabweans’ mounting frustration with Mugabe’s posturing, found full expression in the Tuesday Herald’s reaction to the president’s attack on the IMF. Following the reprieve, Mugabe rushed to Cuba where he told his fellow outcast Fidel Castro that Zimbabwe was not a friend of the IMF and was “unlikely to be its friend in future”.

Commenting on Mugabe’s two-faced behaviour, Herald political and features editor, Caesar Zvayi, said: “This statement left some people puzzled, especially in light of the sacrifice Zimbabwe made by using the scarce foreign currency reserves to pay part of the debt to the IMF. Some people felt that President Mugabe’s statement was an expression of false bravado and contradicted . . . Gideon Gono who campaigned vigorously for Zimbabwe’s continued membership of the IMF.”

The message should be clear enough. We are here dealing with a charlatan who is impervious to reason and is only too glad to bite the hand that feeds him. Zvayi’s analysis shows the man has been consistently hypocritical since Independence in 1980.

As for Gono, he has been repeatedly warned that so long as the politics is wrongly pitched, he is fighting a lost battle. It doesn’t matter what home-grown economic concoction he might dream up, Mugabe has become the albatross around this nation’s neck.

Gono has to face up to that reality. Nobody takes seriously the drivel about Zimbabwe being under Western sanctions, whether legal or otherwise.

And let’s hope Morgan Tsvangirai learns a thing or two from this episode. He urged the IMF not to expel Zimbabwe because that would compound people’s suffering. Instead of being hailed for his patriotic stance, he was subjected to a nasty bit of character assassination by a suborned journalist in the Herald .

Meanwhile, who will take Mugabe seriously when he talks about Zimbabweans enjoying improved living standards “as we work to fulfil the expectations of the millennium declaration”?

He welcomed the support of “our development partners” in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. These are presumably the same development partners who are having difficulty getting aid to the victims of Murambatsvina?

As for improved living standards, we need to remind ourselves that this is the same leader whose policies have seen the economy shrink by a third in recent years, unemployment climb to 75%, and poverty escalate. And then he stands on a public platform and says poverty eradication is a priority!

We can understand why George Charamba should complain, as he did on Saturday, when the Zimbabwe Independent exposes this hypocrisy. It is all rather inconvenient.

But when the Herald is inviting its readers to swallow every claim Mugabe makes, somebody has to point out that the man is seriously delusional. Poverty is on the rise. More people are poorer and unemployed today than they were last year. Murambatsvina has added to their miseries.

Mugabe is not only head of state and of government, he is at the centre of policy-making and his word is law. There is no “butt outside the president”, as Charamba would have it. He is accountable for the mess we find ourselves in whether his dissembling spokesmen like it or not.

Meanwhile, Charamba’s defence of Nolbert Kunonga is understandable. The man is an apologist of the regime that now sustains him. But it is too late to rescue him.

Anglicans everywhere are aware of the damage done by this fawning prelate. Forget the smoke-and-mirrors stuff over ties to empire and just ask the ordinary Zimbabwean church member what he thinks of the bishop. There’s your verdict.

Muckraker was intrigued by a website providing details of the Silver Jubilee and reflecting the Zanu PF regime’s claims to be conducting a turnaround programme.

A quick inspection found it was the product of a company called IC Publications which publishes Baffour Ankomah’s New African , a magazine that has proved sympathetic to Mugabe’s policies.

The company’s publications, including New African , have “ a reputation for editorial excellence, cutting edge reporting and integrity and are known for their independent, objective and balanced reporting”, we are told.

If that is so, we’re sure New African’s old-school editor will have no difficulty in telling us who paid for his trips to Zimbabwe which resulted in glowing accounts of President Mugabe’s land reforms?

Another apologist, Viola Plummer of the December 12 Movement, appeared on the History Channel’s biography of Mugabe last Friday evening. Thankfully, her naïve attempts at solidarity were eclipsed by more authentic voices, most notably former Daily News editor Geoff Nyarota and US activist Salih Booker.

But the producers should be told to run their material past one or two of the people they interviewed before screening to avoid embarrassment. Ian Smith was not “colonial governor” and Sir Robin Renwick was not “former ambassador to Rhodesia”. He was ambassador to Pretoria.

But we liked Chester Crocker’s comments on Mugabe’s state visit to Washington shortly after Ronald Reagan became president. “Mugabe had the habit of sticking his finger in your eye,” Crocker noted. Apparently he lectured Reagan on his Central American policy in much the same way he later lectured Blair on land. Crocker was told not to invite him back!

Joshua Nkomo was shown arriving in the UK after having been hounded out of Zimbabwe in 1982. “In my 35 years of struggle against white supremacy,” he said, “I have never suffered as I have in the two years of Mugabe’s rule.” Let’s remember that on Unity Day this year.

We enjoyed Newsnet chief correspondent Reuben Barwe’s snap survey on what people feel about life in Zimbabwe. The question said it all.

It went like: “Would you say if you have survived in Zimbabwe you can survive anywhere else in the world?”

Most respondents agreed although nobody openly said they wished they were somewhere else. The gist of the matter being: there is no worse place to live in than Zimbabwe, a dubious distinction indeed for any country.

When Mugabe told his war cabinet that what the country needed were “ amadoda sibili ” the message wasn’t really clear. But everybody now knows the full meaning of that statement. The only question is: is there an end to this suffering?

Lands minister Didymus Mutasa has threatened imprisonment for multiple-farm owners. He told provincial land committees in Masvingo that owning more than one farm amounts to “corruption” and that his ministry would take appropriate action.

“How can a single person own more than one farm?” Mutasa wondered aloud. “These are chefs with many farms and we want to end that corruption so that everyone gets land,” he said.

We want to see who will be made an example of in this long-drawn-out fiasco.

President Mugabe made equally stern threats in 2003 but those who stole more than one farm appear to have called his bluff. Then there were all those audits that amounted to nothing.

The miscreants are still holding on to their ill-gotten gains and walking about freely in defiance. Even John Nkomo tried it when he was Lands minister. Why should there be any action now?

Speaking at the same meeting, Minister of State responsible for Land and Resettlement Flora Buka talked of more land audits in the pipeline. What else does she do for a living, we wonder?

But she had good reasons for keeping herself busy with more land audits. “We want to avoid a situation whereby we go down in history as people who took land then failed to use it,” she said.

Unfortunately, Madam, that fate is unavoidable anymore. There is all the evidence of calamity everywhere one looks, a disaster worse than government’s obsession with the conveniently distracting Hurricane Katrina.

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