The record speaks for itself

DESPITE what appears to be overweening confidence by our rulers that they have the various national crises in hand and that the country has already turned the corner to recovery, every now and again they betray their an

xiety that things are not going as well as they would like people to think.

On Monday the state mouthpiece, the Herald, published an inciteful commentary aimed at flushing out what it called “traitors” in the media community, targeting its vitriol at locally-based foreign correspondents and Zimbabweans in the diaspora.

And what inspired this attack? The “foul canard” that President Mugabe was a “ruthless despot”. It is being “shamelessly alleged that those who dare to oppose the government are being starved or hunted down”, we were told.

Other calumnies cited include the suggestion that the Zimbabwean economy has degenerated into one of the worst in the world. While the Zimbabwean economy continues on what the country’s critics call an “unprecedented freefall”, it is alleged the government of President Robert Mugabe is sitting idly by.

All this leads the Herald to conclude that “falsehoods” generated by Zimbabweans in the media have done “immeasurable damage” to the country.

“It is in this light that we call upon the government to explore ways of dealing with Zimbabweans who are giving aid to the enemies of the country by deliberately portraying it in a bad light,” the newspaper said.

It is difficult to imagine anything more “treacherous” than one journalist seeking the state’s complicity in the persecution of another. But that of course begs the question as to whether many of those describing themselves as journalists in the state media are anything more than public relations officers for the regime.

But their attempts to camouflage the truth are unlikely to succeed if only because the evidence on the ground is so stark.

If President Mugabe is seen abroad as a “ruthless despot”, that could well have something to do with his record. It doesn’t require foreign correspondents to relay that message to the international audience. His often intemperate and vindictive remarks about domestic critics and foreign leaders are quoted in full by Zimbabwe’s fawning state press. Very often individuals such as Roy Bennett and Pieter de Klerk are targeted simply for seeking the protection of the courts in defence of their legal rights, or in Bennett’s case the very fact of him being an opposition MP.

Commercial farmers generally have been abused in the most excoriating terms for declining to be dispossessed of properties the government declared it had no interest in. The residents of Harare have been insulted for voting for the opposition.

Opposition MPs have been arrested in droves. Civic demonstrators have been beaten and arrested for exercising their constitutional right to demonstrate. Lawyers have been tortured for daring to represent clients seen as critical of government.

Much of this evidence has been set out in court cases. Are foreign correspondents to be punished for relaying what is in most cases a matter of public record?

It was the Minister of Finance who said the country’s inflation rate was the highest in the world. As for the government of President Mugabe “sitting idly by” while the economy experienced an “unprecedented free-fall”, no such suggestion has been made. On the contrary, nearly all journalists outside the state sector have rightly said the government is directly responsible for propelling this country on its disastrous current trajectory.

Its reckless assault on commercial agriculture has inevitably produced a harvest of thorns. The 1998 agreement with donors, brokered by the UNDP, provided a reform template that would have redistributed large acreages with the financial support of the international community.

Instead agricultural production has collapsed and we are dependent upon the generosity of countries which can feed themselves and have plenty left over for those which no longer can.

How is it possible to write that story as a success? It is a disaster by any definition. And it is nobody’s fault but those who led us there.

As recently as yesterday the government media was claiming that Zimbabwe has “a sound investment climate unparalleled in Southern Africa”. It must be assumed investors haven’t noticed what has been happening on Kondozi Farm where the owners have been arbitrarily deprived of their huge investment by ambitious and greedy ruling-party politicians in complete disregard of a court order.

It can be understood that the state’s captive media is obliged to endlessly replay its master’s voice. And that this may involve a large measure of dishonesty when it comes to attributing responsibility for the state we are in now. But, as Jonathan Moyo pointed out some years ago, “adopting a confrontational stance against opinions of citizens under the pretext that they are foreign-influenced is a colonial mentality based on the paranoid assumption that behind every thinking Zimbabwean there is a foreigner”.

How objective are politicians in the discharge of their public duty in situations where there may be a conflict of interest, Moyo asked?

“These and related questions cannot be answered by a gullible press which believes that finding and highlighting government faults is unpatriotic,” he said. “The questions demand a critical press and not a government information department masquerading as the press. Only a free and critical press can save the country from falling hostage to political manipulation by the powers that be.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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