From wheelbarrows to donkey-drawn carts

SUNDAY Mail political editor Munyaradzi Huni has all but admitted that the Zanu PF government has failed to reverse the economic decline. In his scenario-building on the possible leadership crisis in the MDC, Huni

said: “The people who support (Morgan) Tsvangirai don’t support him because they think he is a better option, but they support him because of anger against the ever-escalating cost of living.”

That was the reason why the party has much of its support base in urban areas, concluded Huni.

Is he trying to tell us something about how Zanu PF wins in rural areas? How does Zanu PF justify its “landslide” victories in rural areas when we all know voters there are worse off materially? We don’t want to speculate that it has anything to do with coercion or inflating of figures. By the way, has the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission or the government media confirmed the percentage poll yet in the senate election?

The Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network has put it at 19,4%. That would mean of the 3,2 million eligible voters only 630 000 turned out. Why is the ZEC and the Herald keeping this shocking statistic a secret?

The Sunday News reports that two villagers in Mberengwa district were last week robbed of $8,4 billion in a Jericho-highway style attack. The report says the money was being carried in a donkey-drawn cart to an unknown destination.

The two men were descended upon by two thieves who attacked and forced one of them to flee before they searched and got away with their booty. The story doesn’t say whether the robbers took away the cart and donkeys as well.

What is interesting though is the quantity of money involved, especially when you consider that Chitungwiza was recently allocated a measly $5 billion to “sort out all” its problems. It also reflects badly on the country’s currency when mere villagers who can’t even open a bank account have to move around with over $8 billion on them. When we used to read about people in Germany using wheelbarrows to carry money during the Great Inflation of the 1920s these sounded like bed-time fairy tales. It didn’t occur to us as students that we would live to see it happen here.

The same paper carried a story about the South African constitutional court’s landmark ruling legalising same-sex marriage. The author of the story boasted that such a thing would never happen in Zimbabwe because we are a conservative country. He quoted what was described as “a public-interest litigation lawyer” who sounded more conservative than the law itself, saying same-sex marriages were out of the question because President Mugabe doesn’t like them.

“According to my own opinion,” said the lawyer, “our society will never allow gay marriages and our judges usually pass judgements that reflect the feelings of society…If society is not prepared for such marriages, then the judges are not pressured to pass favourable judgements…”

The “lawyer” said Zimbabwean judges’ “cultural values do not approve of same-sex marriages” because they were raised in societies that do not permit such unions.

We found a number of things pretty strange with the report. Why should a law passed by the South African courts evoke such strong feelings in Zimbabwe if we are not obliged to adopt it? Is being conservative for its own sake anything to be proud of?

Why do the human rights lawyer’s views sound so much like Mugabe’s? In fact the comments are so value-laden that it is hard to believe he was giving a legal opinion. We might be a conservative society, true, but judges’ rulings are supposed to reflect the law and uphold the constitution, not the feelings of society or those of Mugabe.

We also don’t agree that all Zimbabwean judges share the same “cultural values”. That’s an unnatural trait that can be found only in Zanu PF.

And where does the stance adopted by the Sunday News leave minority rights in our society we wonder? Trying to deny people what they are can only turn it into a vice and drive it underground, and that doesn’t make the country any less gay than South Africa. In fact we would be a better society with fewer child molesters and rapists and less violence against women than worrying about gays.

Masvingo South Zanu PF MP Walter Mzembi is reading the riot act to a number of civil servants. The import of his statement this week is fairly simple: either you are a civil servant or you are a farmer.

He said a number of civil servants had been allocated farms but the country wasn’t benefiting. Most of them spend time in between: masquerading either as civil servants or as farmers. His view is that streamlining the public service should be the easiest of tasks because “we have given some civil servants farms but they are doing nothing”.

He told a post-budget presentation seminar that the same farmers failing to deliver were usually the first to access inputs which they diverted to the black market.

“Those who should be brutally dealt with are those allocated farms who are not performing,” he said.

We have in the past listened to similar fire and brimstone threats against those holding on to more than one property and others using their ill-gotten land as “weekend braai resorts”. Can Zanu PF be trusted to deal “brutally” with cronies on the farms when the police are doing nothing to curb the illegal sale of fuel in the CBD?

Apparently anybody allocated fuel for farming activities sees it as a jackpot that turns them into instant billionaires!

The government and players in the private sector have gone on “an intensive drive to market Zimbabwe”, we are told.

“Buoyed” by the government’s declaration that 2005 is the Year of Investment and taking advantage of the presence of the high-profile delegates who were attending the meeting in Harare last week of the African Bankers Forum, they spoke about the opportunities that existed.

Ministry of Industry and International Trade permanent secretary Rtd Col Chris Katsande said the country provided an “enabling environment” for investment and trade. He spoke glowingly about the investment potential in beef, dairy, tobacco, cotton, sugar, and horticulture. He waxed lyrical about the prospects for tourism which included the “tranquil Eastern Highlands”.

Former cabinet secretary Dr Charles Utete said as the country consolidated its agricultural reforms opportunities in the agro-processing sector would arise.

Why do they assume African bankers and other investors are completely naïve? Just because President Mugabe said 2005 was the year of investment it does not follow that Zimbabwe proved a draw for investors. In fact it has arguably been a year in which investors have stayed away in droves.

There is a simple explanation for that. Anybody listening to Didymus Mutasa or Chris Mushohwe would know that the Zimbabwean government is a threat to investment. Its ministers promote not only seizures of productive farms but other businesses as well.

Indeed, many of the farms taken recently have been the subject of Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements. Roy Bennett’s farm, Charleswood in Chimanimani, was the subject of six High Court protection orders which the state ignored. The “tranquil” Eastern Highlands have also witnessed other lawless and brutal farm invasions.

Currently, the lowveld sugar estates are in turmoil as companies that invested billions of dollars there are chased off their properties. Anglo American boss Lazarus Zim was told his company’s agreement with the government on sugar production was not worth the paper it was written on.

What would the former owners of Kondozi Estate have to tell the African Bankers Forum about the prospects for horticultural investment in Zimbabwe?

Herbert Nkala spoke at the same meeting about investment in tourism and pointed to opportunities in wildlife management, transfrontier game reserves and conservancies.

Thousands of wild animals died recently in Hwange because the wildlife management authorities there failed to maintain water pumps and other basic facilities. Across the country national parks and conservancies have been invaded and occupied by poachers who have set fires and snares. These include Gonarezhou which is part of a much-touted transfrontier park.

Very simply, the government has made 2005 a year of disinvestment and decline. Nobody in their right mind would sink money into a country where court orders are ignored and properties arbitrarily confiscated. Private-sector chiefs such as Antony Mandiwanza who have contributed to the government’s delusional campaign in the last month of the year to sell Zimbabwe as an investment destination need to be told to stop misleading the international community. Until the rule of law is restored there will be no investment coming this way. Nor should there be.

The German authorities may be surprised to see how the lifting of their government’s travel warning on Zimbabwe has been twisted by state-media propagandists to mean that previous warnings were “false”.

This is a word the government loves to use. A party of German travel agents came to Zimbabwe ahead of the recent Travel Expo, the Sunday Mail reports, and were impressed by the prevailing serenity, “a far cry from the information peddled by their country’s press”. Zimbabwe Tourism Authority boss Karikoga Kaseke said the German ambassador had been very cooperative when the travel agents requested a meeting with “him”.

It is difficult to believe that Kaseke would have failed to observe that the German ambassador is a lady who has been in office for over a year now!

The move could influence other EU countries who “shared the same hostility towards Zimbabwe” to reconsider their negative warnings, Kaseke said.

EU governments should note that the ZTA is a parastatal that lives off the revenues of the private sector and makes partisan comments of this sort on a regular basis.

Media and Information Commission chair Tafataona Mahoso has been waving his fists at the Financial Gazette for suggesting that the CIO blocked the registration of the Daily News.

Mahoso seems to object to the implication that he is not his own man. He gave the pink paper a week to retract. He has made the same demand on the Zimbabwe Independent in regard to another matter.

Let us bear in mind that it emerged in a court case that the MIC has the same address as the Office of the President. And its members are handpicked by the Minister of Information. Correspondence between the President’s Office and ZUJ in 2002 regarding the appointment of MIC members was included in court papers last year. Former MIC member Jonathan Maphenduka recently revealed that the regulatory body had at its June 16 meeting decided there was no legal basis to deny the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe a licence to publish the Daily News. This supports an interview given to the SABC in April by President Mugabe in which he suggested there should be no obstacle to registration by “genuine” applicants. But subsequent to the MIC’s June meeting, it ruled against granting ANZ a licence.

We don’t know what occurred in the meantime. But that is what the public need to know if they are to believe that the MIC is an independent body. Why are we being asked to believe that it is an egregious falsehood to suggest the CIO was behind this particular decision when it has been exposed as heavily involved in media manipulation over several years without the MIC once publicly objecting?

In his officious letter to the Fingaz Mahoso said: “The question whether quasi-judicial bodies in Zimbabwe observe the rule of law and administer their affairs in accordance with the rules of administrative justice is a matter of national interest and public concern.”

He is absolutely right there. Quasi-judicial bodies should be seen as independent and fair, not biased and partisan.

‘Zim pins hopes on Murerwa”, the Business Herald declared last Thursday ahead of his budget. But who in their right mind were pinning their hopes on a minister who has failed to make any impact on the government’s pattern of failure over a lengthy period? This is not entirely his own fault. But like Gideon Gono, he is too embedded with Zanu PF to redirect them away from their delinquent habits.

Even the usual Pollyanna columnists were admitting defeat.

“The economy had largely been expected to grow between 3% and 5% but it is now expected to contract by 7%,” said one who is usually optimistic. “This has largely been attributed to drought which has seen agriculture achieving a paltry 1% growth against a projected 14%.”

Murerwa had originally touted a figure of 28% for this year but he later revised it down.

He is now projecting 15% agricultural growth if a number of other factors such as “timely provision of critical inputs” are in place.

Despite this obvious credibility gap, the Business Herald’s Pollyanna was determined to have a rainy parade.

“However, the rainy season is looking up and we could register phenomenal growth on the agriculture front,” she chirpped. “What with the trillions of dollars that have been poured into this sector.”

This is evidently an exercise in mind over matter!

Finally, we noted the president’s remarks to parliament this week about turnarounds, commemorative events and returning confidence. Perhaps the most emblematic event in his delusional address was the power blackout in the CBD that accompanied his opening remarks. ZTV screened cartoons while Mugabe droned on.

Many will consider this entirely appropriate!

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