When a paper loses bootlicking plot

THEY say some guys have all the luck. The same could be said of the Herald. Last Thursday the paper ran a long story in which President Robert Mugabe “attacked” former Reserve Bank governor Leonard Tsumba for lac

k of creativity and relying too much on textbook economics. He was also accused of advocating a reduction in the number of Zimbabwean embassies abroad.

No, nothing like that was ever said by the president, came George Charamba’s rebuttal on Friday. The remarks attributed to His Excellency by the Herald were “misleading”, said Charamba in a statement.

“Clearly his views did not pass for pointed remarks,” said Charamba helpfully. “They were intended as a general criticism to those who fail to adapt their knowledge and understanding of economics to fit and address peculiarities of given economic situations.”

He then went on to tell readers the Office of the President regretted “any anguish” caused to Dr Tsumba by the Herald report.

Just why Charamba and his department chose to be “anguished” on behalf of the Herald is not clear. Couldn’t the Herald “correct” the story if it was wrong? Or are we to assume that the editor refused to retract the story because that is what the president said?

We liked the assurances by police commissioner Augustine Chihuri last week that the force would not tolerate the setting up of bases and safe houses, as these could be “potential sources of violence” in the March general election.

“The idea of recruiting hordes of unemployed youths and criminals to cause mayhem and brutalise innocent and peace-loving citizens … should be monitored and any excesses be decisively dealt with,” said Chihuri.
He pointedly noted that police would not tolerate politicians who substitute “lack of brain work by physical power”.
We wish we could trust the commissioner to enforce his opinions. Unfortunately past performance doesn’t engender such trust.

For one thing, it is his party Zanu PF that is allowed to mobilise and deploy youths in any part of the country without seeking police clearance. We saw them being deployed from the party headquarters during the MDC’s ill-advised “final push”. We saw the police escorting the same party hooligans to Harvest House to beat up people who were celebrating Morgan Tsvangirai’s acquittal on charges of plotting to assassinate President Mugabe.
Incidents of police dereliction of duty are too numerous for us to expect Chihuri to keep his word.

But more worrying is that by declaring that there should be no safe houses for victims of political violence, Chihuri is not helping the “innocent and peace-loving citizens” whom he purports to want to protect. The police should simply do their work impartially. There should be no “political” crimes that the police can’t deal with. That breeds a culture of impunity for those who belong to the right party.

Another person with an overdose of faith in Zanu PF is the Sunday Mail editor. In his Comment this week he urged the capital’s newly-announced commissioners to “implement Harare’s turnaround plan”.

“It is as much in the interest of central government as it is in that of local government that the city of Harare is efficiently managed and run,” prayed the editor.

Of course there would have been a glaring anomaly if the local authority was found to work efficiently while central government bungled all around. That is why it was necessary to frustrate the MDC council out of office so that government and council mirror each other perfectly.

The editor praised the commission for correctly identifying the priority areas to be attended to. These key performance areas were said to be “finance management, waste management, water and sanitation, public safety, housing, roads and lighting”.

All rather obvious areas of concern. What else would a local authority be doing if the above were not its priority? Does that call for a commission Mr Editor?

“The capital city of a country is supposed to radiate the country’s beauty,” concluded the editor. “Harare is radiating something else.”

That “something” was found tucked away in a picture on page M2 of Sunday Metro. The caption read: “Vagrants have turned the back of Shell House along Samora Machel Avenue into toilets.” Except that in place of vagrants the writer should have put Zanu PF! Ignatious Chombo knows why.

And why did ZBH race through the list of commissioners last Thursday evening as if it didn’t want anybody to know who they were? Are collaborators in Zanu PF’s anti-democratic project so reviled by the city’s residents that they have to be taken in one breath by ZBH announcers?

Young Lovemore Mataire is really keen to rub it in on the Chronicle editor who three weeks ago filled two pages of his broadsheet trying to convince everyone who cared to read it what a good fellow Professor Jonathan Moyo was. People now say those lengthy excuses are what in fact infuriated President Mugabe and sealed Moyo’s fate. But that’s not an issue anymore.

In his Candid Brief from the editor, Mataire talks mercilessly about what he terms the “pitfalls of bootlicking” and how the Chronicle completely lost the plot and wasted acres of space defending the indefensible.

For instance Mataire asks how the paper could use documents which had been sent to all the other state newspapers but put on hold — embargoed until the moment was right. The Chronicle editor, however, in his desire to please the minister, jumped the gun.

“The Chronicle had become a poodle, always singing praises for an individual while denigrating issues of national importance to the dustbin,” Mataire declared.

So that’s why it’s now called the Tsholotsho News! Mataire also had no kind words for those at the Herald and ZBH whom he accused of “blacking out” the party’s mouthpiece, The Voice. He was bitter that he left the Herald “in good faith” but somebody was treating his paper like there was bad blood.

“I have good if not excellent relations with a lot of senior staff there and it really boggles the mind why some staff there feel compelled to bury the ruling party’s mouthpiece alive.” We thought the paper was supposed to survive on its own by selling news. Now Mataire is telling us it has to survive on the goodwill of state papers giving it free publicity. Why keep the paper alive if nobody wants to buy it?

Why are Munyaradzi Huni’s sources so reluctant to be identified? In a front-page article in the Sunday Mail last weekend headed “Human rights report a joke” we had “observers”, a “political scientist” at the University of Zimbabwe, and “a lawyer at a top law firm” all refusing to give their names.

It is surprising that individuals with such strong opinions on civil society should not have the courage of their reactionary convictions.

And did they all say the human rights report referred to was “a complete joke fit for the dustbin” or was that Huni speaking for himself? It certainly sounded like it!

The shy political scientist who declined to be named claimed the Human Rights NGO Forum had only sought the views of the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard.

“These newspapers are silent members of the Forum and surely they were always going to report things against the government,” the political scientist suggested.

It is extraordinary to think UZ employs people with such shallow levels of analysis. He couldn’t think of anybody to blame for the human rights report so he blamed two newspapers which hadn’t said anything!

The only named person in the story was George Charamba who said the report vindicated the need for the NGOs Bill.

“Clearly these are not bona fide NGOs but political outfits founded from outside to pursue political interests,” Charamba suggested.

Like the December 12 Movement in other words!

But those attempting to camouflage Zimbabwe’s shocking human rights record should be careful of guilt by association. The Gabriel Shumba case is not in dispute. It has been brought to the attention of a wide range of international organisations of which Zimbabwe is a member. So has the case of Tonderai Machiridza who we referred to last week.

There is no evidence to date that these well-documented torture cases have been investigated by the authorities. What happened to the police investigation into the Job Sikhala case which President Mugabe last year assured President Olusegun Obasanjo was being undertaken?

And where is Joseph Mwale? How is it possible in a country which spends such vast sums on intelligence for a senior officer in the President’s Office to roam free when he is wanted by the courts in connection with a political murder case?

Perhaps Charamba could tell us.

Tafataona Mahoso meanwhile appears to believe that one of his briefs is acting as a spokesman for Zanu PF. Last weekend he was explaining why the central committee of the party and the Herald were justified in regarding Zimbabwe’s diplomats as fighting a war in an “extraordinary situation” which could not be managed by conventional diplomacy.

The situation was extraordinary, Mahoso explained, “because the minority white imperialist powers who control global channels of mass deception want to tell the world that Zimbabwe is hated by its own people and by the rest of the world”.

“The truth, however,” he reassured us, “is that the government of Zimbabwe is supported by the overwhelming majority of its own people and the overwhelming majority of nations within the UN system.”

Our diplomats therefore have an easy job abroad because they never have to lie when justifying the government’s policies, Mahoso said.

Thank goodness for that!

One of the reasons why the “white axis powers” hate Zimbabwe and seek to demonise it, Mahoso explained, is “because Zimbabwe is admired by the majority of the peoples of the world for its clear position on important issues in world affairs.

“The extraordinary situation therefore is that Zimbabwe is hated because it is loved; Zanu PF is hated because it is popular and loved.”

Poor old Mahoso. Has he been reduced to this? Singing for his supper while turning a blind eye to the cruelty of Zanu PF’s militia gangs, the heavy jackboot of repression, and the silencing of civic voices?

What sort of access to information is it that assumes that all the country’s problems are the products of “imperialism” and have nothing to do with the tyranny and mismanagement of those that rule us? This is official deceit writ large.

As unemployment plunges to new levels, President Mugabe evidently believes he is entitled to a pay hike. According to a statutory instrument published last week, his salary will go up to $83 863 200 a year. With allowances the figure amounts to $95 555 800.

The president’s salary was last reviewed in March, the Saturday Herald told us, when it was increased from $20,2 million to $73,7 million.

The latest hike includes a bonus of $7 380 600.

We were not told what the bonus was for. But it comes after a 30% contraction in the economy, company closures and burgeoning unemployment.

During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, the cabinet and civil service took a cut in their salaries to show solidarity with the suffering population. A precedent, we can safely assume, that will not be followed now. And could somebody explain the president’s need of a housing allowance of $3,024 million?

Finally, we all had a good chuckle last week when we saw the Herald headline: “Budget realistic — economists”. There was a picture of Samuel Undenge alongside the story. Two other economists, the CFX’s Moses Chundu and UZ’s Clever Mbengegwi, didn’t actually use the word “realistic”. Chundu said there was a need for
credible inflation figures and a statement by government that would inspire investor confidence in Zimbabwe.

Mbengegwi said the 5% negative growth rate in manufacturing would undermine targeted growth in the economy.

In fact no serious economist would use the word “realistic” in relation to Herbert Murerwa’s absolutely delusional budget statement that looks as if it was written in the Office of the President. Who in all seriousness would project a 28% recovery in agriculture when even Enos Chikowore concedes resettled farmers are not producing anything?

On Tuesday the Herald announced: “Inflation falls to 149,3%”. What it didn’t tell us was that it is still the highest in the world, that the cost of medicines, vehicle repairs and agricultural equipment have risen by 600%, and that Zimpost and Tel*One have raised their charges by 1 000%.

So much for the “turnaround”!

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