Hurling stones when enemy is out of sight

MUCKRAKER had a good chuckle over the Herald’s attempt to explain why President Mugabe had been denied an opportunity to grandstand in Malaysia last Friday. He had been due to address the Perdana Global Peace Forum,

we are told, “but his presentation was cancelled at the last minute due to an oversight by the organisers”.

And what was this oversight? The organisers had slotted in Mugabe to speak at lunchtime on Friday but had “overlooked the fact that most of the participants would have gone for Friday prayers”.

“Overlooked the fact” that in a Moslem country most of the participants would have gone for prayers? How plausible does that sound? ZW News provided a more likely view.

The speech was cancelled due to a lack of interest, the news service suggested.

It appears that Mugabe had requested to speak at the conference, former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad’s brainchild, at the last minute, and was allocated the Friday lunchtime slot. But the organisers, the Perdana Leadership Foundation, decided to cancel the engagement.

“The organisers regret that the session for Mugabe had to be cancelled due to an oversight. The atmosphere at lunch would not have been suitable for a head of state,” a spokesperson said diplomatically. Many of the participants would have been at Friday prayers, and the organisers decided not to risk having Mugabe seen talking to an empty hall.

But the cancellation of what was bound to be the usual demagoguery suggests Mugabe is running out of space to pose as the developing world’s champion. His fans make constant reference to his performance at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. But he was fortunate there to tap into the anti-American resentments of well-organised social movements.

Since then one gets the sense that the developing countries would rather not have him speak on their behalf. He got some polite applause at the FAO in Rome this year and a hug from Hugo Chavez, himself no mean tub-thumper, but nothing more.

Indeed, it was instructive to see that while the Herald reported on Mugabe’s meeting with Mahathir, his host while in Kuala Lumpur, it did not give any coverage to what, if anything, was discussed with the current prime minister, Abdullah Badawi. Instead we were told about a session with the Vietnamese premier. And the presence of George Galloway, another demagogue of note, would hardly have compensated for the meeting with Tony Blair that Mugabe appears to yearn for!

It was good to note in the Business Herald that the government is “committed to improving its image”.

Economic Development minister Rugare Gumbo said this when speaking on the 2006 budget. “We are committed to improving the image of the country, retaining tourism, and attracting Zimbabweans in the diaspora to contribute to the development of the country,” he said.

He spoke of the need for improved expenditure management, foreign investment, and parastatal reform. These remarks came in the same week as newspapers disclosed huge perks for the new senators, a stampede by public companies to advertise their support for the regime, including individuals at its helm, in the official press, continuing raids on farms for agricultural equipment, and abuse of those countries that are the main markets for the tourism sector.

Gumbo’s recognition that the government needs to improve its image, despite claims by Simbarashe Mumbengegwi that everything is just fine as it is, is in itself welcome. But he needs to see the private sector as more than just a cash cow. Several colleagues of his have in recent weeks made hostile remarks about seizing companies. Currently sugar producers in the Lowveld are under siege and the holders of Bippa agreements have seen their properties taken.

Is that the “conducive environment for the private sector” he talks about? The problem here is very simple. People like Gumbo, Herbert Murerwa, and Gideon Gono have some idea of what needs to be done before the country can recover. But a coterie around Mugabe, including the most delinquent of ministers completely ignorant of economic fundamentals, want to punish, loot and destroy. So long as those characters have the bit between their teeth the country is doomed.

“Zimbabwe will never be a colony again,” it is declared by every parrot in the Zanu PF cage. But in truth, following the recent arrest of radio journalists and the state’s bid to confiscate the passports of its critics, the country has indeed become a colony again — a penal colony.

Muckraker was interested to note remarks made by Zanu PF deputy Information secretary Ephraim Masawi calling for the government to “weed out” supporters of former minister Jonathan Moyo from government and party structures.

There was need to restructure these organs of information dissemination and rid them of these elements, he told the Zanu PF conference in Esigodini two weeks ago.

“Jonathan Moyo was doing things for his personal gain,” Masawi claimed, “at the expense of the government and people of Zimbabwe.”

Now why didn’t Masawi say that at the time Moyo was running the Information machinery? Why has he waited until the former minister’s political demise before finding his voice? Have you noticed how brave Zanu PF spokesmen are when they have nobody to take them on?

Which brings us to Blessing Makwambeni who, we are told, teaches journalism at the National University of Science and Technology.

He had an op/ed piece in the Herald last Friday attacking Morgan Tsvangirai in trenchant terms. None of it was new. But we are now looking forward to Makwambeni doing a similar hatchet job on Robert Mugabe with particular emphasis on his economic management.

Makwambeni accuses Tsavangirai of being a populist and a dictator. It will be interesting to see what he makes of Mugabe’s approach to politics. Because we would hate to think that Makwambeni is only able to criticise Tsvangirai’s shortcomings as a leader. We would hate to think he is a snivelling little coward who lacks the courage to mete out similar treatment to the real author of the country’s demise.

The state media is full of bravery — so long as it doesn’t involve mentioning the president at any point!

Here is the man who is not simply head of state but head of government and leader of the ruling party whose prejudices set the national agenda. And none of these eunuchs who occupy the opinion pages of the Herald is allowed to breathe a single word of criticism. Such boldness is truly awe-inspiring! We wonder what Makwambeni’s students think of such courageous “journalism”?

Tafataona Mahoso was caught by ZTV at Esigodini dutifully grinning at Mugabe’s facile attempts at humour. And he wants us to regard him as a professional! Last weekend he claimed in his Sunday Mail column that the “popular masses” had renamed Jan Egeland “Ian England in order to indicate that they could not tell the difference between this purported UN envoy and the line of Ian Smith and his English settlers here”.

As usual, Mahoso’s claims are rooted in ignorance. Smith was of Scots descent. And the only “popular mass” that we know of calling Egeland “England” was Nathaniel Manheru in the Herald.

But we should not be surprised that Mahoso confuses a government spokesman with the “popular masses”. The week before he was claiming that Zimbabweans had disowned their decision to reject the draft constitution in 2000.

One of the reasons given for the rejection was that it would have given President Mugabe too much power, he says. “Why should such an allegation become so routine?” he asked with some indignation.

He claimed that “in contrast to the elaborate draft constitution for Zimbabwe in 2000…the parliament of Zimbabwe, after listening to the majority of the people, passed the 17th amendment to the constitution of Zimbabwe at 1% of the cost of the 2000 draft.

“But that 17th amendment was more valuable to the people than the one rejected in 2000…because (it) was intended to settle a seething fundamental political and legal conflict going back 120 years”.

In other words, the views of the people of Zimbabwe expressed in the 2000 referendum, after extensive consultation, were of no consequence. Instead the 17th amendment, passed with little or no consultation and giving the government powers to bar the courts from performing their constitutional duty, is seen as more significant because it settles “a true national question”.

Why should an arbitrary amendment passed with little or no public debate be regarded as settling a “seething political and legal conflict” just because Mahoso says so?

Does he really think that land reform won’t be revisited by a future government and that recourse to judicial review will not be reinstated in a democratic constitution to prevent arbitrary confiscation? Why is it presumed that a regime where state stooges claim to speak for the “popular masses” and abuse the instruments of unpopular power to settle scores with their media critics will hold sway forever?

Who are the popular elements here? The independent press that champions democratic freedoms or a hand-picked gang of media assassins whose mission it is to silence any voice government finds inconvenient?

So, at last we know who is responsible for the mess we find ourselves in today. “Tanzania made Zimbabwe what it is today,” President Mugabe was reported as telling Zimbabweans resident in Tanzania.

We feel it is somewhat unfair to blame Tanzania for the collapse of agriculture, social services, infrastructure and democratic due process. Zanu PF must take some of the blame. Meanwhile, we wonder if Thabo Mbeki will own up to the indiscretions regarding Tony Blair which Mugabe was reported as revealing in his address. Somehow we don’t think so.

Mugabe appeared indignant that Zimbabwe should be accused of not holding regular democratic elections in line with the constitution. The British had painted “a picture of Zimbabwe that is not real, that Zimbabwe is not law-abiding, it’s a dictatorship that does not recognise democracy…,” he complained.

In the same edition of the Herald on Wednesday Local Government minister Ignatious Chombo was reported as saying there would be no mayoral election in Harare over the next two years. The reason he gave was the absence of electoral boundaries. In the meantime his handpicked puppet at Town House will be “running the show”.

So there you have it: the will of the residents of Harare contemptuously swept aside by a minister who decides when the capital’s voters should be allowed to go to the polls. And all because they voted for the opposition. How is this classified as “recognising democracy”?

President Mugabe should stop complaining about the British tarnishing Zimbabwe’s reputation. This was, like the passport fiasco, entirely an own goal.

Journalists who attended the GMB’s media reception last week had free lessons on press freedom from the principal press officer in the Ministry of Information, one Retired Major Anywhere Mutambudzi. According to the Herald, he warned that failure to report accurately on the GMB could “subvert national security” since it was a strategic parastatal.

“If you misinform people about GMB, you are not only satisfying your ego of lying or meeting the requirements of your paymasters,” he said, “but causing unnecessary anxiety in the nation, thereby subverting national security.” Needless to say, he didn’t say nor was he challenged to explain what national security was threatened.

“As a matter of fact,” he declared, “it is common practice the world over that press freedom ends where national interest begins.”

This is patently false and shows the dangers of military men trying to play philosopher. The national interest and press freedom can’t be divorced. It is the ignorant propaganda of people like Major Anywhere that threatens national security.

But he did relent though, telling the journalists his statement did not mean “they should turn a blind eye on malpractices and other negative developments” at the GMB.

We are grateful to him for that at least. We are in possession of a copy of a tender by the said GMB for the supply of T-shirts which closed on December 19.

They want 1 000 golf shirts “in fancy fabric” and 2 000 printed colour T-shirts with piping and double neck “fancy crewneck”, among the 6 500-item order. The question is: who pays the extra cost for the “fancy” bits or are we in breach of national security by asking?

Zanu PF has resolved that it should have a representative in almost every organisation in the country. It was one of their resolutions at the just-ended conference in Esigodini. Those who wish to train as journalists will now need to first undergo national youth training.

We all know what that means.

Then the party’s secretary for youth Absolom Sikhosana pleaded with his superiors that there should be a 50-50 representation of the party in soccer, in cricket and especially among those who will travel to Egypt to cheer the senior national team next year.

Don’t ask what qualifications these people have to poke their nose into soccer and cricket. Sikhosana had a ready answer: “I know that these party cadres can sing and dance at match venues and they will be representing the party at such a high level,” he said.

But considering the chaos that has dogged soccer administration in this country over the years and the contagion that has spread into cricket, we are shocked to be told that Zanu PF is not overrepresented already!

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