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Editor’s Memo


Iden Wetherell

SKY News’ interview with President Mugabe has certainly received wide coverage. But it did nothing to enhance his standing with the network’s viewers, acco

rding to a survey.

The interview, conducted last Friday by Sky’s Africa correspondent Stuart Ramsay, was broadcast four times on Monday and again in the early hours of Tuesday. It was also reported in the international press and reproduced in our local state media.

In Sky’s post-interview poll where viewers respond to a specific question, 86% said they did not find Mugabe convincing. That was by yesterday, up from 67% after the initial broadcast!

The result is hardly surprising. Mugabe was less than credible. For instance he suggested that the opposition “get their voices heard in parliament” just a day after Zanu PF officials threatened MP Roy Bennett with dire consequences if he set foot either in parliament or his constituency again.

The president said there was more violence emanating from the MDC than Zanu PF, a claim unlikely to succeed given the evidence on the ground.

On Tuesday it was reported that a senior CIO officer was instrumental in the 2000 petrol bomb attack in Buhera on Tichaona Chiminya and Talent Mabika. We still don’t know the result of police investigations into the torture of Job Sikhala and Gabriel Shumba, among others.

And who is likely to accept the president’s claim that polling stations in Harare in 2002 were closed early because people were trying to vote more than once? Has that been mentioned in any official report?

“All the African groups pronounced the election fair,” the president asserted.

No they didn’t. Sadc’s parliamentary forum said the conduct of the 2002 poll did not meet its electoral norms and standards. I recall the Ghanaian observer mission saying something similar. And the Commonwealth observer mission, headed by a former Nigerian leader, was very clear on the poll’s shortcomings.

Generally, it can be said, Mugabe’s answers were unsatisfactory. He was delusional about crop production, in denial about violence and abusive about critics such as Desmond Tutu and Pius Ncube.

Attacking Tutu in the way he did (“an angry, evil and embittered little bishop”) will have been counter-productive. Tutu is a much-loved icon of the struggle against apartheid both in South Africa and internationally. It is not for Zimbabwean leaders to question his role.

When confronted by evidence of children at Porta Farm school surviving on aid from international donors, Mugabe suggested the headmaster must have said that because “he knows your mentality, the mentality of the whites, it is always negative…”

That sort of remark may play well in Zvimba but it will have gone down like a lead balloon internationally. Who is advising Mugabe in all this? Not being able to provide a figure for expenditure on his Borrowdale mansion – a gift from the party – was inadequate by any standard, especially in an era of acute housing shortages, and has raised a host of new questions which the Malaysians, among others, are having to parry.

The government press exposed a power play ahead of the interview in which the ruling party’s information chief, Nathan Shamuyarira, backed the interview while officials in the Department of Information opposed it.

“It seems that the real movers behind this interview were from Zanu PF itself,” Ramsay commented on Sky News’ website.

“For many months it had been intimated to us that Zanu PF had been concerned about the image of both the country and the party to the outside world.”

Ramsay said he met senior figures who believe the country can be turned around.

“They also believe one of their best assets is the President himself – when allowed to talk at length.

“Certainly the Ministry of Information and the President’s top adviser on the media, Professor Jonathan Moyo, had taken a different line. They prefer to keep foreign journalists out of the country and the President under wraps.

“But this time they failed.”

Moyo expressed his frustration in yesterday’s Herald accusing Sky News of “premeditated malice”.

I think those who opposed the interview were probably right in their concerns. Mugabe is no longer the suave and self-confident interviewee he once was. And he was not on top form last Friday when the interview was recorded. He appeared wan and drawn.

He interrupted questions too quickly (which local interviewers would never dare do with him!). And his speech was occasionally indistinct.

The habit of suddenly leaning forward to reply to questions he didn’t like gave an impression of menace rather than self-assurance. And his hearing seemed to be defective at times.

Frankly I think the interview with Supa Mandiwanzira last year was more revealing in terms of the questions asked and the replies given. But it is significant that no journalist from the independent press or foreign correspondent based here has been allowed to interview the president for several years now.

I can’t believe the president is scared of us, but his handlers obviously are!

Ramsay is not an experienced Zimbabwe-watcher. As a result he gave a few hostages to fortune (not knowing exactly how much Britain paid for land redistribution). But he did a great job in raising the right issues and situating Zimbabwe back on the international radar.

We can safely assume that is where those who opposed the interview hoped it wouldn’t end up.

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