Tibaijuka stirs a hornet’s nest

NOTHING more vividly illustrates the bankruptcy of government policies and Zimbabwe’s growing isolation in the world than the response of ministers to UN envoy Anna Tibaijuka’s report on the clean-up operation

last Friday.

As news of the damning report leaked out on Friday, ministers called a press conference aimed at damage-limitation. Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Patrick Chinamasa, Tichaona Jokonya and Paul Mangwana attempted to rubbish the report which arguably represents the most severe indictment of government policy since Independence.

The report was “biased”, Mumbengegwi lamely suggested. It described the operation in “value-laden and judgemental language”.

Is this man really Minister of Foreign Affairs? Of course it was value-laden. The UN is supposed to have values. Tibaijuka was invited to give her opinions as an expert on human settlement. Is she supposed to work without values? And yes, her report was “judgemental”. The whole purpose of her visit was to express a professional judgement.

Was Mumbengegwi unaware of the purpose of her mission?

What is most evident in the squeals of indignation coming from the ministers was the way they had expected Tibaijuka to fall for government’s facile explanations about “massive construction going on”.

Is it seriously supposed she would be as naïve as ministers take the Zimbabwean public to be? Nobody is falling for the “massive construction” story because it is so manifestly part of a smokescreen.

s the devastating impact of the report began to be felt in government ranks, in particular its international ramifications, so the shrill tenor of the state’s response was turned up. From a welcome visitor who would tell the outside world the real story of Zimbabwe’s valiant clean-up campaign, Tibaijuka quickly became a traitor manipulated by Tony Blair. Permanently in denial, the government was surprised that she had gone on to produce such a “treacherous” report after the state media gave us all that hocus-pocus about her “cooperating with government during her tour of the country”. Suddenly she was Blair’s hireling doing her master’s bidding.

Leading the pack of those flummoxed by the report was Information secretary George Charamba who wondered loudly on behalf of President Mugabe whether this was “a UN report by a UN envoy or a Blair report by a member of Blair’s African Commission”.

Tibaijuka failed to appreciate government’s “noble policy”, chimed in Mumbengegwi with imperial umbrage, whose “overall goals and objectives are to uplift the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans in the face of illegal sanctions and unwarranted vilification by Britain and its allies”.

But Charamba wasn’t done yet. He was so hot under the collar he claimed Tibaijuka had completely ignored Murambatsvina’s less-than- countervailing Operation Garikai. In his bleary-eyed fury Charamba couldn’t see that Tibaijuka’s recommendation 9 in the Executive Summary makes specific reference to Operation Garikai, observing: “The government itself, even with the best efforts, has limited capacity to fully address the needs of the affected population without the assistance of the international community.”

What we didn’t see in the Executive Summary is where Tibaijuka recommends dialogue between President Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai or their respective parties which Mumbengegwi and Charamba claim was beyond her terms of reference. Where in the report is it said that civil society means the MDC we wonder? In any case, isn’t it a public secret that Mugabe and his underlings are scared of dialogue because they have nothing to offer the people of Zimbabwe and are therefore safer ruling by force of conquest, just like the colonial masters they replaced in 1980?

e enjoyed Tibaijuka’s pointed reference to the colonial character of Operation Murambatsvina. And all Mumbengegwi could muster by way of reply was: “Zimbabwe does not appreciate the stereotype thinking that romanticises squalor and shacks as fitting habitats of Africans and therefore rejects any prescriptions designed to consign her people to the substandard conditions boldly tackled by Operation Restore Order.”

So why were these habitats allowed to stand for so many years without molestation? Why did ministers preside over housing schemes that spawned more shacks?

If ministers feel that the report “upholds the pro-opposition tone” throughout, perhaps that’s because it was difficult to take seriously government’s burlesque about cleaning up cities. Anybody reading Mumbengegwi’s pretence that the operation brought people closer to clinics or that the country had a viable social safety net would simply laugh out loud.

Contrary to his claims, the “majority of Zimbabweans” clearly do not support Operation Murambatsvina and nobody can claim to have been “uplifted” by it. Uprooted yes, uplifted no.

What Tibaijuka’s report does teach us though, including the decomposing minds in the Zanu PF leadership, is that not all people, no matter how polite they appear on the surface, are easily seduced by silly propaganda that seeks to portray them as brainless and without sight.

ob Geldof of Live 8 fame should thank his ancestors that he does not live in Zimbabwe. Under Zimbabwe’s insult laws he would face the wrath of the law for his stroppy description of President Mugabe as “mad, a thug and a creep”.

This was sparked by the controversial Murambatsvina. MDC MP for Kambuzuma Willias Madzimure recently told the House (Hansard, July 5) that Mugabe had been subjected to this type of humiliation because of the unthinking actions of his government.

When the MP was interrupted by Not-so-Bright Matonga, he turned his fire on him: “Hon Matonga you are deputy Minister of Information, go and interview people in the streets”, he said. “They will tell you that you are a creep. Mr Speaker, personally I would not expect a black-led government to humiliate its fellow blacks.”

Not-so-Bright however refused to go down without a fight, arguing that Geldof was not qualified to speak of democracy because “he drove his wife to commit suicide”.

This was news to most MPs. But Not-so Bright reserved his fatal sting for America and its allies whom he said could not talk about democracy because “they destroyed the Iraqian women and children”. And that’s what we have for a Minister of Information!

Soon the debate was joined by Mrs Machirori who said the MDC should be happy that government had helped it clean up the city. In the past, she said, “when you walked in corridors, you would find the youth who are like some of you honourable members here smoking dagga and raping women”. Hear, Hear. Let’s have their names please.

he Saturday Herald tried to downplay the damning UN report on the Zimbabwe government’s scandalous behaviour, opting instead to lead with its dull invention called “miracle twins” which it had been writing about for a whole week.

Finally the conjoined twins, who were surgically separated in Toronto, Canada, were back home, the paper announced proudly. In the accompanying picture taken at Harare International Airport, smiling sheepishly and sitting between the twins was Health minister David Parirenyatwa.

In any country where people still have a conscience, he should have died of shame in light of what has become of our health system. Despite all the posturing about sovereignty, we still have to beg abominable imperialists to do what ordinarily our own doctors should be able to do!

lso in the Saturday Herald Information supremo Tichaona Jokonya could be found lecturing Caesar Zvayi on professional journalism. This presumably includes burying the contents of UN reports so that the views of ministers take precedence. Readers had to turn to Page 5 to discover what Tibaijuka actually said and even then her remarks were heavily massaged with ministerial interventions.

Why didn’t the Herald simply provide a straight-forward summary of what the report contained and then provide the reaction of ministers? Isn’t that the professional way to do it?

In his interview with Zvayi, Jokonya repeated the funny little story about how “we traced the lies (about Vladimir Putin) to the office of Tony Blair”.

Why didn’t Zvayi at that point ask to see the evidence? Surely, as a professional journalist he didn’t want to appear duped? So why didn’t he say: “Minister, that sounds like a truly preposterous story concocted in Munhumutapa Building. Can you please supply the evidence. I am not as stupid as I look.”

But no, Jokonya was allowed to get away with it. He was also allowed to get away with the suggestion that journalists should investigate copy coming from wire services before using that copy. In this case, remarks by Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen were incorrectly attributed to Putin. It was obviously an editing error and AP quickly admitted their mistake and apologised. They had nothing to gain from a mistake of this sort.

But the paranoid authorities in Harare, who are prepared to propagate all sorts of transparent lies about the British and MDC in their press every day (remember anthrax?), seized on this error as part of a conspiracy against Zimbabwe. An entirely fictional conversation with a Foreign Office official was adduced as “proof” of British mendacity.

But Jokonya was correct to attribute problems in local journalism to training. Many media trainers have no experience of practical journalism whatsoever and their students have to be completely retrained on arrival at newspapers. Above all they have to be exposed to the reality that freedom of the press means resisting the self-interested pretensions of ministers, not repeating their facile claims.

In response to a question about Matonga “meddling” at ZBH, Jokonya said it would be strange if Matonga did not make comments about how news is presented. After all, he and Jokonya were journalists. “Everybody is a journalist including myself.”

Zvayi forgot to ask him if he was accredited.

anu PF’s candidate for Bulawayo mayor, Abu Basuthu, is off to a good start.

“We do not want hate campaigns,” he declared. The ball was in the electorate’s court, he said, to decide whether to “drink poison” by voting for the opposition or “vote for life”.

Nothing hateful there, of course!

Perhaps this would be a good point to remind ourselves of just how “unhateful” his party’s leader can be.

“If they have that land, that land will be taken from them and given to more loyal citizens,” President Mugabe said in June 2003 of Roy Bennett and Peter de Klerk’s farms. “So I don’t want to hear that there is a Bennett, that there is a de Klerk who continues to destabilise our well-being. They must go from here.”

And their offence? To have supported the opposition. They also provided employment to thousands of workers, produced large quantities of food for the nation while their exports contributed to forex reserves. But none of that counted.

Meanwhile, who has the UN found to be destabilising our well-being with what Secretary-General Kofi Annan last Friday called a “catastrophic injustice to as many as 700 000 poorest citizens through indiscriminate actions carried out with disquieting indifference to human suffering”?

Has he “gone from here” yet?

nnan’s remarks should prove instructive for Johannes Tomana who claimed in the Sunday Mail that Tibaijuka’s report had failed to recognise “the primary responsibility of sitting governments to address the needs of its citizenry”.

Isn’t that exactly what the report says the government failed to do? Did Tomana read it? He appears unaware of which laws the government flouted. Yet organisations like the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have been pointing to violations of due process, particularly notification and appeals procedures, for several weeks now.

Then there are the international conventions which Zimbabwe has breached such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

Perhaps Tomana could familiarise himself with some of these provisions when he next speaks to the state press. And what should we make of lawyers who, instead of speaking out on the rights of vulnerable citizens, see their duty as supporting an overweening state which has a record of human rights abuses and contempt for the rule of law?

n the subject of government-friendly lawyers, we had one on Monday telling the Herald that London-based Sydney Kentridge QC, reportedly hired by the MDC for its electoral petitions case, was alien to the Roman Dutch legal system.

His hiring “defied logic” and was “an utter demonstration” of Morgan Tsvangirai’s “confusion and desperation”, we were told by this “legal expert”.

Again, it was a pity this garrulous lawyer had not read his brief before becoming an authority on the subject for the benefit of the Herald. Sir Sydney Kentridge, although practising at the English bar, is a South African jurist and is obviously very familiar with Roman Dutch law. Any lawyer worth his salt would know that — except of course those who advertise their ignorance in the Herald and the Sunday Mail.

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