Yet another state-invented drama

SO, the “plot” to force the Reserve Bank governor to abandon his currency reforms by burning his maize crop has turned out to be a less dramatic affair.

Last month we were told suspicious v

isitors to Gideon Gono’s Donnington Farm in Norton had set fire to his maize crop to deter him from pursuing Project Sunrise. Security around the governor was stepped up as a result of this “arson attack” and President Mugabe warned Gono’s detractors against harming him.

But like so many other state-invented plots, this one has now been exposed as a non-event — a “damp squib” as the Herald likes to say.

A Norton magistrate last week fined two villagers $400 each for carelessness under the Forestry Act. They had allowed ash from their home-made cigarettes to set fire to dry grass. There was no plot, just an accident. And all that fist-waving about the governor refusing to be intimidated proved to be empty melodrama.

Then, with the assassination of Andrei Kozlov, Gono got to play the role of heroic besieged banker a second time. It was an “occupational hazard”, he declared. Let’s hope not.

The CZI, ZNCC and Emcoz have been complaining bitterly about the detention of business people for hiking the price of their products. This was all grossly unfair, the CZI remonstrated. How could they function like this?

But just a week earlier CZI president Callisto Jokonya and ZNCC’s Mara Hativagone were shrill in their opposition to the ZCTU’s planned protests. Participants should have a day’s pay docked, Jokonya declared. “We are not into politics and we do not want to associate ourselves with those elements that can create adverse conditions for us in the future.”

Hativagone said much the same thing, pointing out that the mass action was not her concern.

We are reminded here of Pastor Niemoller’s remarks about the Nazis.

“When they came for the Jews I said nothing, I was not a Jew. When they came for the Catholics I said nothing, I was not a Catholic. When they came for me there was no one left to speak.”

It is grossly naïve for leading business figures to pretend that they can conduct their business in a politics-free zone. Politics is about policy. It is about creating the climate in which business can flourish. The ZCTU protests against the economic wasteland the government has created should elicit at least a sympathetic hearing from business leaders. Instead they fall over themselves to see who can make the most hostile comments in order to ingratiate themselves with the authorities.

Then it was their turn to feel the lash of the state’s delinquent response to market pricing. And nobody is feeling very sorry for them.

It is not the ZCTU’s fault that inflation is at 1 200% or that commercial agriculture has been decimated dragging industry down with it.

Jokonya and Hativagone must think of something intelligent to say the next time protests are planned — lest we mistake them for government spokesmen.

Meanwhile for once government can pat itself on the back for a master stroke of policy genius. Its controls on the price of bread have been a complete success: there is none in the shops and so no one is complaining about bakers profiteering. Instead a few enterprising individuals rush in the morning to buy all the loaves available from the bakeries and sell them to the public at almost twice the gazetted price. What a tricky way to “protect consumers from unscrupulous” businessmen!

Still on bread and butter issues, government said this week the bread crisis was due to “pricing wars”, not a shortage of wheat. The official position was that there were “sufficient wheat supplies” to meet national requirements. Unfortunately that assurance came from Agriculture minister Joseph Made. They say once bitten twice shy.

Another institution not to be trusted to tell the truth is the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe. On Friday the firm claimed to have distributed 3,2 million litres of diesel and petrol at 130 filling stations across the country. This was duly lapped up by the Herald without any attempt to verify where these stations were located.

The filling stations that got the fuel were obliged to sell it at the official prices of $320 and $335 per litre for diesel and petrol respectively, the paper told readers.

Noczim spokesperson Zvikomborero Sibanda told the paper that initially they had experienced problems with filling station owners failing to pay for supplies in advance but that this had been resolved “since dealers could now pay from the proceeds of their allocations”.

Naively we started looking around hoping to stumble upon a filling station with either diesel or petrol out of the 130.

It was one of the most forlorn searches in Harare. Even queues were scarce, suggesting either that all motorists had taken their fill (impossible), that there was none (most probable) or that some filling stations were hoarding it (likely) to sell later on the black market.

But we were quickly disabused of the possibility of hoarding by a firm assurance from Noczim’s Sibanda. “We are working closely with our security forces to make sure that this does not happen and that is why you see police officers and soldiers manning filling stations,” chirped Zvikomborero merrily.

Welcome to the world of propaganda Zvikomborero. But the transition might not be that painful given lessons learnt at ZBC. Still we could do with a few litres of fuel in our vehicles instead of newspaper columns.

The UNDP no doubt believes that by assisting the Ministry of Justice it can help produce a meaningful human rights commission. Evidently the UN agency chose to ignore statements from government that human rights abuses were “fabricated” and that NGOs would be the target of the new body.

The workshop in Kariba last weekend bringing together the UNDP, government and civics to brainstorm the issue of human rights ahead of the legislative process got off to an inauspicious start when officials barred the participation of NGOs they didn’t like. Others thought participation would be pointless.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition refused to participate on the grounds that laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) and the NGO Bill “clearly show that government was not serious about the issue of human rights”.

The government could not deceive people of its “commitment” to human rights, Crisis said, while it participates in organised torture against its citizens, and recently the ZCTU leadership.

“The government has ignored and in general terms dismissed the United Nations report on Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order and its recommendations on human rights,” Crisis pointed out.

The government had failed, if not refused, to implement various recommendations by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (2002) which recommended that Posa and Aippa should be amended to meet international standards for freedom of expression, the police depoliticised, youth militia camps closed and the independence of the judiciary assured.

These are fundamental conditions around which civil society should mobilise. Otherwise the commission will very quickly become another weapon in the state’s armoury, particularly as it can block appeals outside the country, and no self-respecting civics should lend themselves to its design until they have the democratic basics in place.

The appearance of Jonathan Moyo on BBC’s Hardtalk generated much interest locally last week. Viewers were perhaps hoping he would use this opportunity to distance himself from his checkered past as a leading hawk in President Mugabe’s cabinet and make an unequivocal apology to those he has persecuted, particularly in the media.

Instead he attempted to justify himself, declaring: “I have nothing to apologise for…I never harmed anyone.”

“But you threw out journalists,” Steven Sakur interjected. All Moyo could manage in response to that was: “Nobody should be above the law.” And the furthest he would go in making an apology was to say: “You make mistakes in public office. I made mistakes and I regret it.”

And that confession came only after intensive probing by Sakur.

On the Daily News bombing, Moyo said it could have been done by a “Third Force”. We weren’t told who constituted that murky outfit.

And he still clearly feels a parent’s fondness for Aippa. It was a bipartisan piece of legislation, he disingenuously claimed, and was adopted “unanimously” by parliament.

The fact that he is still making such misleading claims suggests he is in denial over the matter. One useful revelation was his disclosure that it was difficult to see President Mugabe outside of cabinet meetings. Moyo said he could count on one hand the number of times he met Mugabe in the course of a year.

He admitted receiving a farm under the land reform and said Zimbabwe would be a democratic and prosperous society if the Constitutional Commission’s reform agenda had succeeded. It was Eddison Zvobgo who had invited him home to take up that cause, he pointed out, not Mugabe.

There were some interesting insights here but an absence of full disclosure. Significantly, Moyo was interviewed in Johannesburg because the BBC is not allowed into Zimbabwe — since Moyo banned them.

British Airways said on Friday it would continue supporting initiatives being taken by the Zimbabwean government and other stakeholders to promote tourism in the country. The airline’s sales support executive Rachelle Gough said they would support the Zimbabwean government’s tourism drive “because they believed the country would soon regain its status as one of the world’s premier tourist destinations”.

And what leads her to play Pollyanna? She doesn’t say. There has been no improvement in the supply of fuel, in the inflation figures or in the rule of law. On the contrary, President Mugabe last weekend said trade union protesters got what they deserved when they were beaten up in police holding cells.

Is this the sort of country BA should be encouraging people to visit? Should they be joining in the official deceit that things are getting better?

Please Rachelle, can we borrow your rose-tinted spectacles. It may be good at times not to notice things!

Meanwhile, we gather Zimbabwe delegates to the UN summit had a bumper harvest in New York. As their motorcade swept into the capital on Monday, several trucks packed with cardboard boxes could be seen bringing up the rear.

The Mbare boyz-in-the-hood who normally pillage vehicles returning from the airport along Dieppe Road clearly gave this well-escorted convoy a wide berth!

Finally, we rather liked the robust tone of the Sunday Times’ Hogarth columnist who responded as follows to a demand for an apology from Jacob Zuma.

“Hogarth has incorrectly suggested that Jacob Zuma is a blood-sucking, misogynistic, corrupt, shameless nincompoop who is gormlessly seeking power at the expense of the nation’s image.

“Zuma is in fact not shameless. Hogarth regrets the error.”

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