A disgraceful performance

HARARE has been recovering this week from a devastating blackout that saw residents seriously inconvenienced, left billions of dollars’ worth of food rotting in refrigerators, and properties exposed t

o crime.

It was probably the worst power outage since the Second World War. Over two thirds of the city was plunged into darkness early last week and power was only restored on Monday. It meant people had to go without food, baths, television and fans. Businesses were prejudiced of billions and homes were exposed to opportunistic criminals who took advantage of the absence of security lights.

But what is remarkable about this episode is that the state media conducted a blackout of its own against the public who needed accurate information as to the cause and duration of the crisis.

It was a classic case of a state-manipulated public broadcaster and print media denying the public the information to which they were entitled. Only on Tuesday after the lights had come back on — fitfully — did the Herald report that some suburbs had gone without power for 10 days following a high-voltage cable fault.

You can see why. Zesa’s ineptitude is symptomatic of Zanu PF’s failed state. The closure of power stations and inability to pay suppliers meant a small crisis regarding high-voltage cables quickly became a major one.

Zesa has proved a useful recruiting sergeant for the opposition. The public know that things certainly won’t be getting any better if Zanu PF is returned. Indeed last week’s blackout is a sign of things to come. If President Mugabe is reelected there will be no balance-of-payments support and no forex. Ask anybody who has worked in West Africa and they will tell you that blackouts and water shortages are a sure sign of a country on the skids.

But what is also sad is the way in which the public were starved of information. Did none of the state media’s voluble propagandists have a word to say about the collapse of the capital’s power supplies? Or are they only able to comment on the MDC and Gordon Brown?

Anyway, we liked the announcement in the Herald that as from this week the Passport Office would be open at weekends. When the announcement was made the office was closed due to the blackout!

Another item caught our attention this week. Zimbabwe will next year begin exporting power to Namibia regardless of the fact that refurbishment of Hwange Power Station is incomplete because Zesa has failed to deliver the local component of the financing arrangements. One hundred billion dollars is needed if the project is to be completed by the end of the year as agreed with Nampower.

Mavis Chidzonga, who heads the Zimbabwe Electricity Regulatory Commission, told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy that Zesa will start exporting 40 MW to Namibia in January whether the refurbishments at Hwange have been completed or not. If the project is not completed, she said, Zesa would have to take from the electricity supply that we generate, ie from the national grid.

Hello more blackouts! But how calculating of Namibia’s Nampower to take advantage of our incompetent officials in the name of regional solidarity.

Congratulations to Godwills Masimirembwa on his appointment to chair the National Incomes and Pricing Commission. All those fawning articles in the Herald have evidently paid off. Now he will have the unenviable task of trying to regulate the market.

As every other attempt by Zanu PF to control prices has failed we look forward to seeing how prices can be stabilised while inputs are rocketing. Masimirembwa will be required to emulate King Canute ordering the tide to recede. Writing turgid articles for the Herald didn’t prepare him for this.

It is a feature of Zimbabwean politics that people who have no understanding of how a modern economy works are put in positions of responsibility only to discover they can’t make any difference.

The Sunday Mail described Masimirembwa as a lawyer with “vast experience in the legal profession”. Indeed. But they didn’t say why he is unable to practise law. Again, another concealment from the public by one of the state’s leading information organs. By the way, has it given us the dates yet of Zanu PF’s extraordinary congress?

Jabulani Sbanda has been advertising his incisive intellect. “The president is under attack from foreign and even local media,” he told journalists last week. “We are strengthening him up. We are marching forward even on empty stomachs, even when shops are dry, to show the world that we are a different breed.”

So there you have it. Sibanda claims to be marching on an empty stomach to promote empty shops. He will make sure Mugabe is returned to keep shops empty. This “vision” that he speaks of is the vision of a barren land; of desolate farms and hungry people.

It is the vision of a revolution betrayed by ignorant foot-soldiers unleashed by a ruler who has no answers to the country’s myriad problems but who wants to remain in power all the same. And why does he want to remain in power? To go on doing the same thing!

What sort of vision is that?

“We have got a president,” Sibanda said. “What we do not have is bread.”

He appeared unable to make the connection.

“Cde Sibanda cleared the air on his suspension saying he appealed against the decision,” the Herald told us.

So, because he has appealed against it, his suspension — or is it expulsion — no longer stands? He can do what he likes? What does this tell us about discipline within Zanu PF?

And the other five chairmen suspended in 2004? Are they now also free to resume their activities as well?

And then he has the audacity to deny that there are any internal divisions in Zanu PF. Those divisions are becoming more evident by the day. But Sibanda says war veterans will endorse Mugabe at the party’s extraordinary congress regardless of his age.

“Regardless of his performance,” Sibanda should have said.

And we were intrigued to learn that the view that Mugabe is too old is an “external theory”.

At least that’s what Sibanda said in Chinhoyi earlier this month.

Is there no end to these Western conspiracies? We are not even allowed to dream of Mugabe going.

“Cde Sibanda said no one should dream of becoming the ruling party’s candidate next year, saying the people’s choice was Cde Mugabe,” the Sunday News reported from Bindura.

So no dreams of a better life? And no point in having elections when the candidate has already been declared!

On the front page of the same newspaper Joseph Msika could be seen fighting a rearguard action against the trespasser. Sibanda remained “expelled from the party”, the VP bravely declared. No solidarity marches for him.

But he remains loyal to his leader. “I challenge everyone who says Bulawayo does not support Cde Mugabe to come to my office and I will investigate that,” he said rather ominously.

Aren’t popularity contests usually held by way of the ballot box? And what did the people of Bulawayo say in 2000 and 2004? Why has Msika never put his popularity to the test in Bulawayo?

One of those marching through Bindura in solidarity with Mugabe last weekend was deputy Minister of Youth Development and Employment Creation Savior Kasukuwere. He should be asked how many youths have been employed since he took up his current post. All those ministers and governors who took part in the solidarity march have been handsomely rewarded from the fiscus. They certainly have jobs, courtesy of Mugabe’s patronage system. But none of them have generated jobs for the jobless. And they have the gall to march around advertising their loyalty to a leadership that has impoverished a once prosperous nation. It was a disgraceful performance by any definition.

Sunday Mail reporter Farai Dzirutwe appears not to know the difference between a summons and an invitation. The paper ran a story last weekend headed “Mohadi summons Tsvangirai”.

You would assume from this that the minister’s so-called summons had legal force; that Tsvangirai was obliged to attend the meeting called by the minister where the MDC leader would be required to substantiate claims that MDC supporters had been killed or maimed. Police chiefs would attend such a meeting, we were led to believe.

In fact, the minister has no authority to “summon” anybody to anything. The purpose of such a meeting was obviously to make it look as if the MDC had no case. The MDC had embarked upon “a campaign to depict itself as a persecuted party to help shore up Britain’s anti-Zimbabwe stance ahead of the EU/Africa summit in Portugal later this year”, the Sunday Mail childishly claimed.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said “outside the petrol bombings that took place in February/March we have not had notable cases of political violence”. Presidential spokesman George Charamba, in remarks strikingly similar to those of Herald columnist Nathaniel Manheru on Saturday, said the MDC was trying “to build a case of escalating violence by labelling every dead person as their supporter”.

Mohadi’s “summons” turned out to be an invitation to meet with him. The MDC accepted on Wednesday but failed to make full use of the occasion. They could have enquired about the assaults carried out against Tsvangirai and other MDC leaders in March while in police custody. They could also have enquired whether there had been any arrests in the case involving an assault on Nelson Chamisa at Harare airport.

Then there are the outstanding cases of Edward Chikomba and Gift Tandare. Before them were Tonderayi Machiridza, Martin Olds, Gloria Olds, Henry Elsworth and Trymore Midzi.

Have these cases of state violence been followed up and if not why not, Mohadi should have been asked? And what “petrol bombings” was Bvudzijena referring to? Are these not the same charges that were dismissed in court as a fabrication? Has anybody been successfully prosecuted for these “bombings”?

The MDC’s failure to remind Mohadi of his own ordeal at the hands of the Zanu PF government in the 1980s and its inability to engage the public in documenting human rights abuses confirms our view that it is inept in dealing with the regime’s claims.

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