Terminal insanity setting in at Herald House?

SOME things are almost impossible to define. At least that’s what came out of Chen Chimutengwende’s interview with Caesar Zvayi in the Herald on Saturday.

He couldn’t tell us whet

her his is a ministry or a department. In the end the words were used interchangeably despite Chen’s own protest that those who said his ministry was a department did so out of ignorance, by “jumping to conclusions …without asking him or the president”.

As to what the Public and Interactive Affairs ministry or department actually does, he said this would soon be evident from its activities. These include nation-building and promoting dialogue between government and the people.

He said: “Public and interactive affairs in terms of this department involve dealing with the government’s public relations and communication with the public through interactive activities which means holding meetings and functions of different types where stakeholders and government departments and ministries can meet and discuss the issues at stake.”

What? Who convenes the meetings? Who raises the issues at stake and to whom? When there are no such issues what does Chen and his staff of 14 do at the office? Apparently, only Chen and President Mugabe know the answer.

Asked what value he thought his ministry or department would add to the lives of Zimbabweans, Chen said they handled “all petitions and complaints” directed to the president and intervened “on behalf of government in matters that are deemed urgent” and require “special resolution”. What do readers make of that?

Why does an elected president need to be insulated from direct interaction with his electors? And what interventions has Chen made, for instance, on behalf of the government’s tsunami disaster victims currently camped along the banks of the Mukuvisi River in Mbare without food or clean water and shelter?

Asked if they would set up offices in the provinces Chen said no, because they will be working “through the offices of other ministries”.

“One of the first meetings we want to organise is a meeting of farmers where they can meet Agribank people, Zinwa people, Arex people and the governor’s office to discuss their problems, procedures, complaints and so on,” he said.

What are their parent ministries doing? What problems do the farmers face that call for Chen’s intervention?

What challenges had he faced since taking office, he was asked? Well, getting vehicles and finding offices. But “soon”, he would be “on the go”. He didn’t say where.

Did that involve kwasakwasa, ventured an intrepid Zvayi.

Only once every six months, the minister reflected. But this wasn’t really a conscious decision. “When it happens, it happens.”

Look out, because when it happens it’s “total war”, Chen warned.

Sounds like another Murambatsvina!

We don’t know how the expression about shedding crocodile tears came about, but there is no better example of it than deputy Information minister Bright Matonga blowing hot and cold about Zimbabweans facing deportation from the United Kingdom. Britain’s Home Office plans to deport Zimbabweans who entered the country illegally or on false claims of persecution.

British prime minister Tony Blair said this would be done “on a case by case basis”, not indiscriminately as claimed by Matonga.

“These people (Zimbabwean asylum seekers) were invited and misled and used by Mr Blair,” Matonga claimed. “Now that they have abused and tortured them they deport them. It’s hypocrisy, it’s madness from our point of view.”

Is there a Zimbabwean who has a copy of the invitation from Blair? We would be happy to reproduce it verbatim for purposes of the record.

Matonga appealed to what he called the “international community” for a mass outpouring of more crocodile tears against the racially-inspired barbaric deportation of Zimbabweans. Could anything be more barbaric than a government destroying people’s homes and sources of livelihood without giving them an alternative?

But then hypocrites are well-known for their selective amnesia. Matonga forgot to disclose that the first story in the saga was about Zimbabweans refusing to be deported to Zimbabwe because they would be persecuted here.

Most of them said they would rather starve to death in the detention camps than return to Zimbabwe. Isn’t that a more damning indictment? Why will they not return home if their government is so concerned about their welfare? The reason is because this is the same government that turned them into economic refugees in the first place. It is the same government that in March this year denied them the right to vote.

There was also an interesting letter in the Herald on Tuesday concerning urban agriculture. Senior Assistant Commissioner Edmore Veterai set the ball rolling by claiming urban agriculture had been banned in Harare. He didn’t say where the order had come from but warned the police would enforce it firmly and even destroy any crops planted in violation of this order.

The following day there was a reversal. There was no such ban.

Then on Tuesday came Shingirayi Mushamba’s protest letter in defence of urban agriculture which he said contributed immensely to urban food security and was an “emerging economic sector”.

“The link between urban agriculture, soil erosion and water pipes being blocked is spurious,” fulminated our urban agriculture advocate. There was sufficient legislation through which government could regulate these activities, he said, citing the Environment Management Act, the Regional Town and Country Planning Act and the Urban Councils Act.

Where was he and his laws when Zanu PF “mushrooms” sprouted riotously across town? Does he have any explanation as to how all the hills around Warren Park and Kambuzuma have been denuded? These are the same delusional war veterans who want to become a law unto themselves and cry foul when their illegal projects are destroyed. Surely if he is such a keen farmer the country should benefit from his talent in the right place. What is he doing in town?

‘The Secretary-General is following this with keen interest,” we are told.

UN special envoy Anna Tibaijuka was speaking on Sunday after arriving in Harare. She was doing her best to be diplomatic.

“We are here at the request of the Secretary-General,” she said, “to assess the situation here after the government accepted our coming and we want to see how we can work together to put things in a way everybody would want to have them.”

So are things at present not in “a way everybody would want to have them”?

Our government has told us repeatedly that this is what people wanted; that the demolition of homes, destruction of livelihoods, and long walks home at night are just the tonic Harare needed.

Ms Tibaijuka said: “We are here for some days and actually government will take us around.”

Of course they will. They will take her for a ride!

All sorts of “reconstruction” sites will be on display with building brigades bustling away as the “new Harare” emerges from the ashes of the old.

Exactly why people had to lose their shelters and their possessions without legal notice or suffer deportation to rural homes will be explained in terms of urban renewal. Everyday the state media have been running stories such as “National housing scheme underway” and “Demolitions create jobs”. Then there is the totally delusional Operation Garikai where NSSA will be quickly emptied.

The official line is that all the destruction the country has witnessed over the past few weeks has been a necessary bitter pill.

“Although there are divergent views over the manner in which the operation is being carried out and although many people have lost their homes,” the Sunday Mail declared, “the ultimate goal of the exercise has been widely accepted as noble.”

Has it? We rather thought it was an unparalleled public relations disaster — something that the government has been quick to recognise judging by the number of ministerial interventions on foreign radio and television stations.

The international media has been quick to draw comparisons with Pol Pot’s assault on urban centres in Kampuchea in the 1970s.

This is an obvious exaggeration. While our revolutionary regime has described urban-dwellers as “trash”, it hasn’t yet resorted to targeting people wearing glasses!

But no amount of pretence about this being a “clean-up” exercise will convince the inhabitants of our teeming cities that this was meant for their benefit. It was meant first and foremost to reassert the authority of an unpopular regime that, following its failure to win a single urban seat in the March election, resolved to reverse national demographic trends.

Urban voters will now be placed under the jurisdiction of chiefs and village headmen where they can be better supervised. But is this the way to win hearts and minds? We doubt it.

Kofi Annan has been looking for an entry point to Zimbabwe for a number of years. Such was the scope of the recent urban tsunami and the pressure on President Mugabe from his regional friends that he finally found a way in. Much will now depend upon the Tanzanian lady. Her technical team suggests the intention to undertake a thorough and professional survey despite the expressed bias of her president who stated that the mass dispossessions were OK with him.

Let’s hope she refuses the government’s offer of transport and finds her own and is not taken in by the building brigades. Where have they been all these years? And who was the Non-Aligned Movement ambassador who told Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi that in his country they had a whole ministry responsible for bulldozing people’s homes? We wish these diplomats of despotism would stop giving our government ideas.

Will the Information ministry have a word with Nathan Shamuyarira about doing media interviews. Very simply he is not up to it any more.

Last Friday night it was embarrassing to hear him speaking on BBC World about people living in homes made of paper and cardboard, as if they were committing some sort of offence. And he must allow the interviewer to get a question in. He thought that by ignoring the interviewer and rambling on, he could win the argument. In the end the studio sound technicians turned him off so the interviewer could get his question in. At which point Shamu complained that he hadn’t heard the question because he was still talking at the time!

It was a disaster! And the Zimbabwean authorities just looked bad. Asked about the possibility of social conflict, the learned author said the only social conflict in Zimbabwe was caused by “people like you”
(the interviewer) who supported the MDC.

That’s as good as it got!

Well done to Amnesty International for the speed with which they responded to the African Union’s negligent comments on Zimbabwe.

An AU spokesman had said that if the Zimbabwe government said it was restoring order by its actions, “I don’t think it would be proper for us to go interfering…”

To which AI swiftly replied: “The people of Zimbabwe are being sold out — in the interests of a false ‘African solidarity’. This conspiracy of silence amongst African leaders is fuelling a human rights catastrophe for the people of Zimbabwe. African solidarity should be with the people of Africa — not with governments responsible for grave human rights violations.”

As that exchange reveals, Operation Murambatsvina has, if nothing else, focused the world spotlight on Zimbabwe and the implications of misrule.

The London Independent referred to “a deadly nexus of Aids, starvation and depopulation of the cities that is sending tens of thousands to a silent death in rural areas”.

The statement by the Catholic bishops published in this paper last week (“cruel and inhumane”) was their strongest since they lost their voice over the Gukurahundi report.

And we were interested to hear Sister Patricia Walsh holding forth with great passion on the horrors of Murambatsvina on Carte Blanche. She appears to be less shy now than she was last week!

Readers who have been enjoying the rather antiquarian debate between Muckraker and Nathaniel Manheru over flags in recent weeks will have been pleased to see another flag — the white flag of surrender — hoist over Herald House last Saturday.

But what a graceless capitulation.

Muckraker was walking tall, his “small head thrust into the misty skies” as he gloated over his knowledge of Rhodesian flags, Manheru sulked.

“(Muckraker) is happily learned, and mastering and pasting dates on Rhodesian symbols is for him education for living. What the hack (sic) if I, the proud son of Manheru, got Rhodesian symbols wrong? So what? Who except Rhodesians profit from its accuracy?”

There you have, stated very plainly, the underlying ethos in the state media, and indeed at Munhumutapa Building where this looks as if it came from. Journalists who get their facts wrong can do so with impunity so long as they brand their critics “Rhodesian” or claim it was in the interests of the Silver Jubilee.

All very convenient, you understand!

Finally, congratulations to the Herald for giving us the funniest story of the week with its claims that Zimbabwe’s enemies are “doctoring” the weather to “induce drought conditions in a bid to arm-twist the region to capitulate to the whims of the world’s super-powers”. The foreign press will have a field day with this one.

“Overt and covert machinations” by Britain have given credence to the conspiracy theory, the Herald, in all seriousness, tells us. Needless to say, no serious evidence was provided.

“Those who the gods wish to destroy they first make mad,” it used to be said. Are we seeing signs of terminal insanity at Herald House? No wonder the Features Writer didn’t put his name to the story!

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