Even for the President times are tough

SO President Mugabe now

feels the pinch of the country’s economic meltdown? The Herald reported on Saturday that the president’s salary had been increased from $20,2 million to $73,7 million a year. Our currency might have lost much of its value over the years since that black Friday in November 1997 when Zimbabwe suffered a major black eye, but $73 million is a mouthwatering figure by any definition.

What does he need the money for? Muckraker understands many of his personal needs are taken care of by the state. That aside, the president has in the past displayed a very healthy contempt for all things material. What would he need all that money for when there are so many people going to bed without bread?

As a sign of the ascetic life that Mugabe is always trying to preach perhaps he should lead by example: either he rejects the hike in his salary and allowances altogether or donates it to those who have more need of it. We are sure the president wouldn’t want to be accused of double standards — preaching austerity but living like royalty!

All this is beside the fact that we are being made to believe that Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s monetary measures will bring down inflation and instill confidence in the economy. What confidence can be derived from a process whereby the president is awarded a salary hike of over 260% when we are being told the aim of the Reserve Bank is to bring inflation down to 200% by year-end?

In its pursuit of Zanu PF propaganda, ZBC TV’s Newshour last week outdid itself. It ran the BBC’s Panorama documentary three times, each time trying to prove that claims made about government’s youth training centres were false or that the interviewees condemning the training programmes were not Zimbabwean. With each screening of the programme the desperation was getting more keenly felt. The producer of the documentary, Hilary Anderson, was said to be backtracking for merely saying “some of the claims could not be independently verified”! Muckraker in fact thought this should have worked in her favour for being honest and at the same showing a high degree of scepticism. Something not likely to come out of somebody sent by the British government, especially to do a hatchet job on Mugabe and his land reform.

We were surprised that this little documentary was on the third day still given more prominence than the story about the National Aids Council stopping with immediate effect paying school fees for Aids orphans. Muckraker felt the NAC was the bigger story in terms of its implications. A whole generation of poor children is going to be sacrificed because government can’t get its priorities right! Just what is happening to the money deducted from salaries every month in the name of the Aids levy?

In any case we can start expecting a flood of street children in the towns as these children drop out of school for lack of funding. A number of them have already graduated into rapists and thieves, yet government doesn’t appear in the least concerned about the time bomb ticking away in our towns.

Here we have a vicious cycle where children orphaned by Aids are being let loose on the streets to breed more orphans.

It does appear that things aren’t all rosy at Herald House despite all the bluster about Gono’s magic wand. Last week the Herald sent one of their reporters around Harare to consult all manner of “fortune tellers” and “prophets” about the economy and the general election next year. Most of these bush crooks charged between $7 000 and $100 000 for their services, the Herald’s Sifelani Tsiko reported matter-of-factly as if promoting superstition was a major national pastime.

“The shake-up in the financial sector will continue for about six months to come,” prophesied one of Tsiko’s oracles in a stock response to questions from so-called business executives threatened by Gono’s policies.

“More heads will roll but the clean-up will also pose headaches for the government as many black businesses succumb to the clampdown. As for the 2005 elections, there will be some incidents of violence here and there, but the party for the people will win again,” is the response to those worried about politics. “This shake-up has helped the poor through some price stabilisation and made things worse for the fly-by-night billionaires.”

The story was headlined: “Foretellers making a fortune.” Tsiko could make a fortune himself if these platitudes are all there is to fortune telling!

All the Herald now needs is a cubicle with all the paraphernalia that Tsiko can use to predict the future like tarot cards and the proper regalia like beads, feathers and masks. Thereafter they don’t need to interview specialists about the economy or politics of the country.

Incidentally, most people the Herald has in the past promoted as faith healers have turned out to be rapists. Most prominent was Madzibaba Godfrey Nzira of Chitungwiza who Zanu PF used in the past two elections. Soon after, he was locked away in prison after he was convicted of rape. How do their reporters come by these mountebanks?

Our condolences go out to the Kangai family on the death of Tirivafi Kangai. The Herald’s account on Monday carried some curious claims. After completing ‘O’ level in Marondera Kangai planned to study law. Then we are told: “In 1971 he left for the United States and studied law at San Francisco University where he attained a degree in radio and television broadcasting.” How did he achieve such a feat, we wonder?

Josiah Tungamirai is one of Mugabe’s latest ministerial acquisitions still eager to show off. He would not accept that the new ministries were finding it hard to set themselves up because they had not been budgeted for. He was happily eating from the budget for the President’s Office, he told the Standard at the weekend. “The budget of the offices in the President’s Office is also my budget and I have one of the best furnished offices ever,” boasted Tungamirai. His portfolio is Minister of State for Indigenisation and Empowerment. We hope that goes beyond furnishing offices.

In the same report we were told Minister without Portfolio Elliot “Border Gezi Green Bomber” Manyika “also requires offices and staff”. We thought the portfolio title was enough to explain why he didn’t have offices and staff! Nothing is as it appears in this country.

 Tanzania’s Home Affairs minister Omari Ramadhan Mapuri had high praise for Zimbabwe’s police force at a ZRP passing out parade in Harare last week. Looking at the catalogue of courses the graduands had covered Mapuri said the “course has nurtured you into professional and proficient police officers”.

“The inclusion of human rights in the training curriculum is commendable,” he said, “as it reflects a paradigm shift from a police force characterised by a legacy of brutality in the colonial era to a people-centred, sensitive and democratic police force. The impact of the atrocious and systematic subjugation of the majority indigenous people in the country and the region by colonial regimes underscored the need to precipitate a new constitutional era that is underlined by respect for human rights, dignity and principles of equality.”

We wish he had stayed through the Zengeza parliamentary by-election over the weekend to see our  police force at work. It is true colonialism left our police a “legacy of brutality” but we are definitely not aware of any “paradigm shift … to a people-centred, sensitive and democratic police force”. In Chitungwiza three people were shot on Sunday morning, one of them fatally. Up to now the police are still investigating and there has not been a single arrest despite the fact this was a crowded place during the day. The only progress they have made is trying to find a watertight alibi for Elliot Manyika whom we are told was in Bindura when the shooting occurred. Fine, but where were the police? Surely instead of chasing Manyika in Bindura they could have tried to locate those involved in the shooting!

Then on Monday morning MDC MP for Seke, Ben Tumbare-Mutasa, made the mistake of firing shots at Zanu PF hounds who were baying for his blood in the Zengeza constituency. Our ever conscientious law enforcement officers were immediately there.

“Two cartridge cases were recovered at the scene of the incident and a search at his house resulted in the recovery of the pistol which was used at the scene,” gushed police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena.

In case Mapuri is still in doubt about our diligent police force’s squeaky clean reputation, a human rights lawyer had the misfortune of being their guest early last year after he tried to represent a client MP whom they had detained. According to evidence provided recently to a US Congressional committee, he was himself detained and tortured all night and told by a police officer brutally frankly: “There are no human rights in Zimbabwe”. He is now living in exile.

By the way, any news on the investigation into the torture of Job Sikhala which President Olusegun Obasanjo said he had received assurances about last year?

 The Botswana authorities are becoming impatient with people who commit suicide by throwing themselves in front of trains.

“I am appealing to the people,” that country’s Minister of Transport Tebelelo Seretse said recently, “not to use the trains to kill themselves. If people want to commit suicide they should use trees, not our trains.”

We are not sure what the Minister for the Environment thought about that proposal!

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