No bread, just circuses

Vice-President Joseph Msika was reported on Monday as slamming “some remnants of die-hard unrepentant racists”. He said there remained “pockets of stubborn racists in some parts of Zimbabwe”


He is of course perfectly right. Didymus Mutasa’s speech to the ZFU congress is a good example. There are those cabinet ministers and government officials who have made it their mission to remove all remaining white farmers from the land; who have done their best to prevent agricultural production in many parts of the country; who have made a significant contribution to the country’s economic collapse.

These same national parasites have seized farms that once kept the country self-sufficient in food but now resemble wastelands. These are the people who have prevented dairy farmers from producing milk, butter and cheese.

We pointed out last week that Msika, who believes he has a mandate to rule forever, has not in fact been elected to anything by anybody. To his credit he has tried to prevent some of the worst excesses of land invasions, and he was almost certainly exempting the Lowveld sugarcane producers from his hit-list. But his denunciations ignored the obvious fact that primitive racism is now the official creed of Zanu PF.

It has been used to justify land seizures, political violence and policies that deter investment. The official press is among the chief hate-mongers who churn out a daily diet of invective against whites as well as other minorities. Zimbabwe is now widely seen as a toxic state where people of European ancestry are unwelcome. Just read state columnists venting their spleen at the weekend and you get some idea of how vicious this campaign has become.

But thankfully the poison generally doesn’t filter down. Blacks and whites are today in the same boat, victims of a pernicious dictatorship that is desperate for scapegoats to justify its damaging policies and incompetent office-holders.

Don’t believe anything the official press tells you about a “turnaround” in the tourism sector. Tourists don’t want to visit countries like Zimbabwe and Burma because they are ruled by regimes whose brutal suppression of civic and opposition activists is seen as unacceptable. Who wants to go to a country where the ruler promises “we will bash them”?

Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) chairman Roger Foster disagrees. He, predictably, thinks Zimbabwe is safe and peaceful.

“Adverse publicity by the media is affecting Zimbabwe,” he said in Victoria Falls.

Some of the delegates to an AASA meeting were worried about coming here, he said. They thought there would be no vehicles on the roads. But there was traffic everywhere.

“There is activity from the airports right up to the hotels,” he said.

Indeed there is. He and his members should try driving from the airport at night along Cripps Road in Mbare and experience the activity there. Smashed windows and cases grabbed are the standard welcome for visitors and returning residents alike.

Which brings us to Nelson Chamisa. The Sunday Mail reports that at the recent ACP/EU joint parliamentary meeting in Brussels Chamisa convinced delegates that “all was largely well” in Zimbabwe and this “effectively thwarted attempts by Britain to have Zimbabwe punished”.

Britain had planned to use “trumped up claims of rights abuses in Zimbabwe to have the country excluded from trade and aid packages”.

Is it true that Chamisa blocked any moves to have Zimbabwe arraigned for human rights abuses in the wake of 3/11? He was of course a notable victim.

If the Sunday Mail’s version of events is correct, and he has made no attempt to deny it, Chamisa will have performed a signal disservice to the cause of democracy. He has allowed Zanu PF to get away with the impression that the state-sponsored violence that resulted in several deaths in the period March to May was “trumped-up” and was no longer an issue.

Here we see a serious weakness in the current inter-party talks. Zanu PF is using the talks to cover its trail of repression and misrule. And the MDC is collaborating in the process.

The MDC must not be so desperate for agreement that it pretends all is well in Zimbabwe at international fora. It should do what Zanu PF and The Voice are doing: speak out.

President Mugabe used his address to the UN General Assembly to suggest President Bush had no right to criticise Zimbabwe when the US was engaged in a war in Iraq. We were pleased to see this response by Percy Ngonyama of Durban in Business Day.

“Many progressive people were extremely pleased when Robert Mugabe reminded US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the crimes they have committed and continue to perpetrate against humanity and the downtrodden. However, Mugabe’s own crimes against the people of Zimbabwe should never be forgotten. And we also need not be fooled by the politically correct anti-Western rhetoric.

“Mugabe bashes British imperialism and colonialism while building multi-million dollar palaces and being driven around in luxurious Western-manufactured vehicles when the majority of his people cannot even afford the basics due to a large extent to Zanu PF’s 27 years of plunder, cronyism, corruption and nepotism.

“While the likes of Mugabe and Mbeki may have mastered the art of misleading the African poor and appeal to popular sentiments in what one writer has aptly described as ‘talk left, walk right’ mentality, they are just as culpable as their international counterparts. The ruling class in which Mugabe occupies a prominent position is the real enemy of the masses and the main beneficiary of all atrocities from wars to environmental degradation.

“Furthermore it is extremely misleading to argue, as some ‘Africanists’ have, that Mugabe has finally managed to ‘teach the white man a lesson’, since the majority of the victims of the ruthless Mugabe dictatorship are black.”

What a neat riposte to the claims of state propagandists. And what a cheek for the state media to talk about the BBC and CNN blocking out inconvenient voices. Isn’t that exactly what ZBC does all the time?

Talking of junk, what does the Ministry of National Security, Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement think it is doing replying in support of its minister, Didymus Mutasa, to an article that appeared in last week’s Independent? The paper reported that Emmerson Mnangagwa was due to assume Mutasa’s post.

The ministry described the article as “grossly fabricated and an inaccurate piece of cheap political opinions, wishes and dreams patched together to resemble a news item”.

It then proceeded to make a number of partisan charges, including the rather unoriginal claim that the Independent was part of a regime-change agenda.

The newspaper, the ministry said, has “no say or influence on government appointments and demotions. That remains the sole and highly respected prerogative of the president.”

Highly respected, with all that dead wood around?

This childish little lecture, while helpfully exposing the absence of professionalism in government departments, tells us nothing except that somebody has been suborned into rushing to defend a minister who appears unable to speak for himself.

What are civil servants doing commenting on ministerial appointments? Since when has that been their function? We have seen military figures making naïve pronouncements upon who they will salute in office, but do we really want to know the views of some pathetic creature in Mutasa’s ministry?

It is “gross”, we are told, to fail to mention that Mutasa “is one of the many people who are strongly lobbying and fighting for His Excellency’s endorsement as the sole presidential candidate during the 2008 elections.”

In other words he is a lick-spittle. Please pass the sick bag.

A reader has called us to claim a first. He says Zinwa tariffs in certain categories of consumption represent an increase of 1 million%. He’s got the paperwork to prove it. How does this fit in with price-slashing, he wants to know?

What we have here is an inefficient and wasteful parastatal foisted on the residents of Harare and Bulawayo against their will, charging what it likes without consultation or ability to pay. Imagine pensioners coping with bills of 700% and more.

It is bad governance at its worst. And, the president tells us, there is no going back.

Why is everything for him a personal challenge? Why can’t he just do the right thing and have residents participate in decisions directly affecting them? It’s called democracy.

Zinwa is emblematic of everything that’s sick about this country: mismanaged parastatals, failure to provide a service, unaffordable public sector price hikes (when Zanu PF is claiming it has slashed prices), arbitrary impositions on residents, and non-consultation at every level.

And now Zanu PF wants to win elections so it can go on doing more of the same.

Reg Rumney, writing in the Mail & Guardian, made a useful point regarding the empowerment and mining legislation. When the ownership target is set at 51%, he said, forced transfer is seen as the equivalent of outright expropriation.

“Why 51%?” he asked. “Why not 35% which can be seen as effective control? Why not 49% or 50%? Anton Rupert, founder of the multi-national Rembrandt, felt that 50% represented true partnership.

“By insisting on 51% or more Zimbabwe will make absolutely certain that no new foreign investment enters the country,” Rumney said. “Since the country has insufficient capital, that more or less means no investment. Once again Zimbabwe is experimenting with extreme policy options. Indeed, Zimbabwe is a kind of laboratory for bad policy in Southern Africa.”

Readers will have been intrigued to see a picture in the Sunday Mail of Zimpapers CEO Justin Mutasa presenting a certificate at a college awards ceremony in the capital. The accompanying story is headed “Add value to society through patriotism”.

Below is an advertisement congratulating Taremekedzwa Mutasa on her graduation from the University of Texas in Austin. She graduated with a BSc in broadcast journalism.

“How wonderful,” the ad says. Indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a market for broadcasters here. And didn’t a single person at the Sunday Mail think it ironic that Mutasa could lecture graduates on patriotism while educating his daughter in the US?

This is the sort of journalism the government wants to encourage: where newspapers don’t notice glaring contradictions that should jump off the page and bite them on the nose.

Another example was President Mugabe’s remarks this week about food production.

“End food shortages” his remarks were headlined in the Herald as if all it takes is a royal command. “Zimbabwe had become a laughing stock because of its food inadequacies,” Mugabe declared. But he didn’t say who was responsible for those inadequacies in the first place.

All the factors that led to agrarian failure in 2000-2006 can be witnessed in Mutasa’s ongoing farm seizures. Nothing has changed. And just in case there is any doubt, there was Joseph Made standing beside the president, perhaps providing one of his crop forecasts.

The Roman Empire, we are told by historians, used to keep its populace happy by bread and circuses. In Zimbabwe we just get the circuses.

Zanu PF’s semi-literate mouthpiece The Voice had an interesting front-page picture this week of Elliot Manyika. It was headed “He is mobilising support for the president”.

But there was something disconcerting about this picture. His head was dripping with blood. Is The Voice trying to tell us something or does their printer need servicing?