‘Believe at own risk’ caveat would help Herald readers

GOVERNMENT wins fees battle,” proclaimed the Herald ecstatically last Friday. The story was in response to a High Court ruling against the Association of Trus

t Schools who sought the court’s intervention to increase school fees after government said they could not.

The judge ruled that the trust schools had not exhausted all the relevant channels before seeking the intervention of the court. She said the Trust should follow the Education Act, according to which if schools are denied the right to increase fees by the Secretary for Education, they can still appeal to the minister.

The court ruled therefore that it could not “usurp” the powers of the minister. Fortunately that’s about as far as the government’s victory goes. The court ruling does not absolve government of blame for the problems that have caused the need for constant fee reviews amid an unstable macroeconomic environment. That victory can only be temporary and the war is far from over following this week’s Supreme Court appeal.

In a similar vein, on Monday there was a report that child and maternity mortality rates had gone astronomical. This, said Health and Child Welfare minister Dr David Parirenyaywa, was a result of prohibitive service fees at hospitals, shortage of equipment, drugs and skilled personnel.

Parirenyatwa revealed that the maternity mortality ratio had spiralled from 283 deaths per 100 000 live births in 1994 to 695 deaths per 100 000 by 1999. This represents a shocking increase of nearly 145% mortality rate in a space of five years. Even then, Parirenyatwa said the 2002 census indicated that the rate had “risen tremendously”, implying that the 145% was a conservative estimate.

Other media reports show that at the national level, the life expectancy for a Zimbabwean man has plummeted to 37 years while that for a woman is down to 34 during the same period.

These figures trash any claims of a reduction in HIV infection rates from about 24,6% to 18%. You also need to be utterly heartless to maintain the illusion that the land reform has been a tool of empowerment when close to 70% of the poor are dying like flies because they cannot afford basic treatment. Which is where a leader who cares for his people should show his mettle.

Incidentally, what has become of the witchdoctors who were touted as an alternative to the collapsing health system?

These figures should give Zanu PF chairman John Nkomo moments of sober reflection following his ebullient interview in which he said politics had become for him a cancer that could not be cured.

Nkomo told journalists at the Bulawayo Press Club that for him there was no half-way house. He was ready to run for the president’s post once he was chosen by the people, he said.

What we liked about his comments is that he didn’t need to apologise for his ambition, which is often treated as if it were a crime to want to be president of the country.

He was however less convincing in his claims that before quitting politics one must make sure those taking over would not waver. He said the current leadership had invested a lot in getting the country to where it is, adding: “We do not want to hand over the baton to people who later divert (deviate?) from the proper path.”

Millions of Zimbabweans who have been pauperised by government’s inept policies are in fact itching for a change of “path”. They missed the golden era that majority rule promised as Parirenyatwa’s revelations demonstrate.

There were reports of a frenzied scramble last week for farm equipment imported by the Reserve Bank. The Herald reported that the usual gang of “influential” people was already throwing their weight about to make sure they grabbed the bigger portion of the cake.

This would not be tolerated, warned Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono when told of Ali Baba’s 40 thieves milling around the equipment at Nijo farm, 20km northeast of Harare.

“It would definitely be a tragedy if this equipment gets misdirected to benefit a few prominent members of society, more so if they are people who have already benefited from other past programmes or those who have the means to buy the equipment from their own resources,” lamented Gono.

The aura of de javu is overwhelming. It is very likely that it’s the same gang that seized the best farms, the best farmhouses, the best irrigation equipment and the best vehicles during the land invasions that now wants to be the first to get more free equipment for their relatives and multiple spouses. They have been so accustomed to getting everything for free from government, it’s a miracle that they still buy themselves underwear.

One can only hope that the screening procedure will be tighter this time around.

We liked the fact that the Herald had its eyes and ears open to respond timely to the din of the stampeding thieves before the equipment was looted Zisco-style. It’s a pity Nathaniel Manheru thinks anyone who exposes corruption is out to discredit President Mugabe as head of a “rotten administration”. And Anti-Corruption minister Paul Mangwana calls all such exposes “red herrings”. It tells you all you need to know about government’s commitment to fighting the scourge.

Then there was an angry little piece in the Herald about the African Leadership Prize sponsored by Mo Ibrahim, a tycoon from Sudan. He proposes to give prize money to African leaders for two major objectives: firstly, that they try to do well in their political positions, secondly that they appreciate that there is virtue in leaving office at the height of one’s popularity.

The Herald writer said the prize money was “an insult”. Which it would be if the leaders’ conduct did not invite ridicule, but he imputes wrong motives.

“The award,” the angry author wrote piously, “is rooted in the white supremacist doctrine that Africans are little children who should be rewarded for being good Africans like students who are given prizes during speech and prize-giving days.”

This is a case of a badly mixed metaphor. Prize-giving competitions are neither white nor supremacist but are meant to groom students to be good citizens. It is therefore demeaning to claim those school occasions are bad for the students.

The real tragedy of African leaders is that having been taught how to be good citizens as students, they fail so badly as adults in politics that somebody has to find it necessary to cajole them with money just to do well and to induce them to leave office.

One hopes that the Herald writer has heard about the Nobel Peace prize, the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, the Noma Award and even the CNN African Journalist of the Year Award to know that there is nothing white or supremacist about promoting and rewarding talent.

We know if the Nobel committee, sitting in Stockholm, had awarded Mugabe the Nobel prize for revolutionary leadership in Africa, there would be wild celebrations in official circles that he had been vindicated “for his principled stand on the land issue”.

The writer has forgotten how his paper feted GMB boss Samuel Muvhuti’s dubious leadership award received in Spain earlier in the year.

The disgraceful conduct of our leaders is father to Mo Ibrahim’s prize. It is anguished desperation for a self-respecting, principled leadership. Rather than the prize, it is the leaders who refuse to grow up who constitute an insult to the African personality.

There was an interesting story on Tuesday titled “Sadc resists EU pressure on Zimbabwe” in the Herald. The resistance being celebrated was that the European Union had “failed to resolve the situation in Zimbabwe” and wanted Sadc to help, but the latter had refused to interfere in our internal affairs.

The Zimbabwean delegation to the joint EU-ACP parliamentary assembly in Barbados was led by Masvingo South MP Walter Muzembi who brought us the good news of Sadc’s resistance.

The head of the Namibian delegation cheekily asked if the EU would fund his country’s land reform programme in exchange for help in resolving Zimbabwe’s simmering crisis.

This “insult” was rejected, to which he responded: “Therefore for us in Africa we feel that we cannot assist you (EU) in resolving the situation in Zimbabwe because of the same reasons you are refusing to fund the land reform programme in Namibia.”

What are we supposed to make of this posturing? First, it is the first time Namibia has acknowledged that there is a situation that needs to be resolved in Zimbabwe. Second, it is the first time we have been told they have a magical solution to that situation.

As for Zimbabwe, it’s hard to see how the position adopted by Sadc helps our cause when the same neighbours are themselves doing roaring business with the EU. What’s a sauce for the goose should a sauce for the gander isn’t it?

Ironically, the same edition of the Herald led with a story on police arresting 2 189 Zimbabwean “border jumpers” between November 13 and 25 alone trying to cross the Limpopo River. No need to say which direction they were heading, which makes it a Sadc problem more than an EU one. Mind you these figures don’t include the hundreds who are deported from South Africa and Botswana every week.

How this national humiliation can be turned into a victory against the EU boggles the mind.

Manheru this week promised to give us a few lessons in future about packaging news. He is most welcome.

Meanwhile, we are getting a few advance notes from the Herald while we wait for his scholarly input. On their page 5 on Wednesday they led with a story in which an exuberant Ignatious Chombo said he was “impressed by the calm” at Town House. Harare had turned around in terms of service delivery and all the squabbles had ended, he enthused. All that was needed was to maintain the momentum, he told council employees whom he said deserved residential stands for sterling performance.

Then came the killer punch: “Cde Chombo commended the acting director of waste management Mr Leslie Gwindi for keeping the city clean,” the Herald intoned dutifully.

Directly opposite Gwindi’s head on page 4 was a huge picture whose caption read: “Time bomb … A Dzivaresekwa man walks past a heap of garbage which has made this road impassable by motorists. The disposal of garbage in street corners, which is common in most parts of Harare, poses a health hazard to residents.”

To Manheru we say charity begins at home. We can safely tell Chombo he is talking garbage.

Last week the Herald reported that South Africa had relaxed stringent visa requirements for Zimbabweans. This falsehood was denied before the week was out. This week it claimed the Chinese were waiting in the wings to pour US$3 billion into troubled Ziscosteel. Again, before the week was out it was vehemently denied by the Chinese.

“There is nothing like that,” said Metallurgical Corporation of China in an interview with Reuter news agency. Is there a conspiracy here to expose the Herald for what it truly is — a conveyor belt of lies and propaganda?

Still undaunted, the paper on Tuesday claimed Thompson Tsodzo was permanent secretary for Higher and Tertiary Education!

Luckily for them, when such things happen Tafataona Mahoso conveniently goes deaf and mute. Perhaps all Herald stories should end with a caveat for readers: “Believe this story at own risk.”

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