Chihuri hot on the trail of the big brains

SUNDAY Mail editor W

illiam Chikoto asked Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri some pertinent questions in his interview last Sunday. He was asked if he was not just pandering to Zanu PF’s electoral needs.

Chihuri was at pains to stress the ZRP does not arrest people on the orders of ministers. They are guided by the constitution.

“The police have been empowered by the constitution,” he assured us. “They don’t need the minister or the police commissioner or any other higher authority to say arrest or don’t arrest.”

He didn’t explain why then we have seen a minister on the front page of the Herald telling the police to arrest people. And when those arrested ask why they are being held they are told it is on the orders of “a higher authority”.

What about those who have fled the country, Chihuri was asked? Did he   have the capacity to return them?

There was no need for anybody to be running away, Chihuri replied.

“If you are Zimbabwean, come home and talk to Zimbabweans, they will punish you accordingly. They will not slaughter you.”

But Britain was posing problems. It was establishing itself as “a safe haven for our criminals”. This was all political of course.

“The British government has no right whatsoever to keep criminals who should be here to answer charges,” Chihuri complained. They were laying down impossible conditions and coming up with lame excuses, he said. His officers currently in the UK had made it clear to the British that they were unhappy with that.

“There is nothing political about them being criminals,” the police commissioner argued. “We are talking about economic saboteurs.”

Are we? Have the individuals in question been charged and tried in court? You would have thought so from Chihuri’s remarks.

“The issue of the NMB directors was correctly handled,” Chihuri told us. “People must not steal from the nation’s coffers and expect to be handled with kid gloves. The law in this country is very clear. It says any criminal should be arrested, taken before the courts where he is prosecuted and sentence passed by the courts.”

Yes, but first it has to be established whether the “criminal” is in fact a “criminal”. How professional is it to declare people “criminals” and “saboteurs” when they have not been convicted of those offences?

One reason individuals have fled the country could be because they have no confidence in the criminal justice system. That includes detention without trial which, curiously, Chihuri was not asked about.

He was asked though about whether the case of the NMB directors did not suggest that the best brains were leaving the country.

“I don’t respect the brains of any thief,” Chihuri replied, once again prejudging his suspects. People in Zimbabwe have no medicine. Last year there were fuel shortages and cash shortages. “Some people think they have the brains to create such a scenario and when they are caught they run away…”

The NMB directors, it would seem, are responsible for more than they can imagine!

“To make matters worse, they (those with brains) say the president is mismanaging the economy yet they are the ones who are creating that type of thing.”

So, the current crisis has nothing to do with the president’s economic policies. It’s all the fault of his critics. We must at least be grateful for that piece of brainy detective work, even if it does look more like a party-political statement!

And just in case you thought these slippery bankers were about to outwit their pursuers, Chihuri put the public’s mind to rest: “There are no too big brains which we can fail to handle,” he assured us.

We can all breathe easier now! Meanwhile, we are delighted to see that Britain’s open-door policy permits the long arm of President Mugabe’s law enforcement agents to catch up with individuals who are accused of creating havoc in Zimbabwe by causing cash and fuel shortages!

 The Sunday Mirror’s Tendai Chari has been advertising the sort of brainy thinking that is now required for lecturing in Media Studies at UZ.

“A close scrutiny of the Zimbabwean media would reveal that media agendas are donated by Western media,” he claims. “Concepts that are little understood — democracy, human rights, and good governance are good examples — sayings and words that have little cultural relevance are regurgitated with reckless abandon.”

As a result local journalism becomes a caricature of Western journalism, he says.

“If the Western media say the Zengeza by-election wasn’t free and fair, the local media have an obligation to echo the refrain.”

Perhaps he could advise us which local media he is referring to. The private press in Zimbabwe reported largely the conclusions of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and other independent observers based right here in Zimbabwe. Those conclusions included evidence of widespread intimidation and vote-buying.

Chari suggests, in views identical to those of the state, that people shouldn’t be too concerned with concepts such as democracy, human rights and good governance. They are Western values and therefore have no cultural relevance.

Now isn’t that convenient? If Zimbabweans are not to be bothered by these pesky concepts Zanu PF can continue with its electoral rigging and intimidation unmolested. Which means it can cling on to power well past its shelf-life when it is manifestly short on popular support.

Chari repeats the tired old argument that the American media would never call Bush daft or a crook. “They would rally behind him through thick or thin.”

Chari has evidently not been reading the US press recently. We published in this paper a few months ago what American writers were saying about Bush. And it was far from polite. Now it is a great deal worse. But we suspect Chari doesn’t want to know what the US press is saying about Bush because it would interfere with his line of argument. Just as he continues to doubt that Ari Ben-Menashe stage-managed his video recording!

Muckraker is only too aware of the toll taken on civil society by the depredations of government. But it is only in recent weeks that we have realised just how weakened and confused the civic sector has become.

First the Herald carried a statement from Crisis in Zimbabwe, among others, congratulating the state for its arrest of the 70 “mercenaries” at Harare airport last month. It made no reference to the role of ZDI but it did at least criticise prejudgement of the men in the media (that bit omitted by the Herald).

Then Bishops Sebastian Bakare, Patrick Mutume and Trevor Manhanga released an Easter message saying they were “encouraged” by President Mugabe’s efforts to tackle corruption and “applauded” the measures taken by Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono.

There was no mention of the president’s abridgement of the right of individuals to a court hearing and a fair trial, or the need for an independent body to investigate wrong-doing. And certainly no mention of the ruling party’s role in creating the conditions for corruption to thrive. In fact it was typical of the morally neutral statements churches have become associated with in recent years.

Finally, last weekend we saw a group of women journalists falling over themselves to disown a reported suggestion by one of their members that Information minister Jonathan Moyo take a paternity test.

The Federation of African Media Women Zimbabwe’s regional coordinator, Qonda Moyo, who spoke to our reporter in Bulawayo, said she had no idea she would be quoted. It was an “informal discussion” she claimed.

Fair enough. But FAMWZ then weighed in to “register its concern and distance itself” from their official’s remarks. Her views did not in any way represent the  views of the organisation, Acting National Director Sinikiwe Msipa stated.

Anyway the whole matter was sub-judice she claimed.

What’s going on here? It looks very much like somebody was leaned on. But whatever the case, we are sorry an organisation claiming to embrace women in the media has so completely lost its voice and, indeed, would appear not to have a view on the victimisation of one apparently inconvenient woman who didn’t have the advantage of media access!

And could somebody tell them what sub-judice means. They appear to think having somebody arrested means you can’t talk about it. These women should get a life!

 The Herald sometimes runs short of opinion pieces. This should be expected of a daily paper that chews copy. But it does not excuse running misleading pieces such as the one by Nangai Zvasangana on Monday.

The article was titled “Zimbabweans have benefited from president’s policies”. These policies include political reconciliation and expansion of the health and education service sectors, we are told.

Then comes a shocker: “The president preaches unity and has managed to achieve peace and stability despite machinations by reactionary forces fronted by Matsanga, Zanu Mwenje, Super Zapu and MDC masquerading as champions of freedom, democracy, human rights, transparency and the rule of law.”

There is no doubt the writer is anxious to see his name in print, hence the attempt to portray a flawless human being in the form of Mugabe and the choice of the Herald as the medium. What worries Muckraker is an editor who allows to be published in his paper nonsense like Matsanga, Zanu Mwenje, Super Zapu and the MDC being used by so-called reactionary forces.

When did the writer last hear of these organisations? Even Zanu PF, desperate as it is for anything that can smear the MDC, has never had to resurrect Zanu Mwenje and Matsanga.

Lest we are accused of intolerance Zvasangana can choose whatever medium and subject he wants. But we are worried about aspiring bootlickers creating phantoms and editors treating these as fact.

 Will there be any takers for First Lady Grace Mugabe’s challenge? The First Lady told a gathering in Chitungwiza last week that people in positions of leadership should help remove the stigma about HIV/Aids infection by going public.

“It is high time we started at the top,” the Herald quoted Grace as saying last week, “whether we are encouraging voluntary counselling and testing or behavioural change. Maybe it is high time the ministers themselves went for testing and come out in the open about their status… I am worried that when we talk about HIV/Aids, voluntary testing and counselling, we seem to be saying only the poor are affected.”

Attending the occasion were Health minister David Parirenyatwa, Mining Development minister Amos Midzi and Harare governor Witness Mangwende. Somebody should take the lead so we have less talk and more action.

 Muckraker wouldn’t want to be in Information minister Jonathan Moyo’s shoes for all that his position is worth. First he made a strange metamorphosis that left his erstwhile colleagues stunned when he turned round to become President Mugabe’s spokesperson from one of his most acerbic critics. Since then he has been an uncompromising critic of the privately-owned press. He in fact led the crusade against the Daily News until it was closed down under some crudely crafted law that survives on our statutes courtesy of Zanu PF’s majority in parliament and a supportive judiciary.

Since he crossed the moat and was allowed to taste life in the castle, Moyo now tells those outside that they don’t need a voice.

In an article in the Herald last Thursday titled “Press freedom baggage of unipolarism”, the minister is said to have told diplomats in Harare that Zimbabwe did not agree to ideologies of press freedom as a critical human right at par with freedom of expression.

Resorting to casuistry to defend his personal self-interest in speaking for everybody, Moyo claimed freedom of expression was different from press freedom because everyone was born with the right to freedom of expression. Which is patently true were it not for the cynicism it implies — that everybody who wants to speak must use Zanu PF channels such as papers in the Zimpapers stable and ZBC so he can screen them first. Which referendum by the way revealed Zimbabwe did not believe in “ideologies of press freedom”?

Moyo claimed the press was created by institutions who wanted to use it to achieve their own objectives. He didn’t say why this was inherently wrong. Why is the Daily News any different from RTG or Zimbank as business enterprises?

Here is Moyo’s not-so-clever answer: “We believe that information is a strategic issue which is critical in maintaining a country’s sovereignty and you cannot claim to be sovereign if you do not own the means to disseminate information.”

Therein lies the rub. Moyo should talk about his quest for monopoly over all information channels instead of misleading people about sovereignty. And how are those out in the rural areas expected to be heard while Moyo hogs the limelight in the newspapers and television?

Moyo said the Media and Information Commission, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act were born out of this need to control the flow of information. But surely if Zimbabweans did not want a free press it would die a natural death. It doesn’t need Moyo to play messiah to save us from a monster called the free press.

 However, it does seem that we are getting more and more patriotic. That is if the mention of “sovereignty” is a measure of patriotism. So it was that Reason Wafawanaka, deputy director of national youth training, and Claude Maredza, author and commentator, talked about nothing else but sovereignty when they appeared on Tazzen Mandizvidza’s Media Watch programme on Monday.

The main topic for discussion, according to Mandizvidza, was Independence and “what the role of the media should be”.

He was disheartened, he said, that some sections of the media did not appreciate that many lives were lost to bring the freedom that people take for granted. Mandizvidza was disheartened that some sections of the media were influenced by Western culture not to show respect for elders. He was again disheartened that some sections of the media were being used by foreign interests against their own country.

In the end all media that were critical of government policies were accused of being foreign-funded and representing their master’s voice. And why does Mandizvidza think we should respect elders who mismanage our national resources? Is that what this so-called culture says? Is there not a proverb in Shona that says an elder must be well-behaved if he expects respect from juniors?

All that Wafawanaka and Maredza said was that our sovereignty came first. That our sovereignty was under threat from Western interests. Maredza revealed that he had discovered that the United States was the great Satan.

“But Americans are united when it comes to the 14th of July, the 14th of July. I mean the fourth, that’s their Independence Day.”

Muckraker was “disheartened” that he was left no wiser for watching the programme!

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