Body language tells you everything

BODY language, they say, tells you everything. Descending the steps of his presidential aircraft on Monday, General Olusegun Obasanjo walked into the outstretched arms of President Mugabe. Mugabe was indicating he could enfold bo

th the Nigerian leader and the tent he was inhabiting.

But Obasanjo, despite living in a region dominated by Francophone states, is evidently not big on cheek contact. In fact his head ended up somewhere near Mugabe’s shoulder.

Thabo Mbeki, on the other hand, performed a little avoidance dance we have seen before. There was a perfunctory hug and, as he backed off, Mugabe held on with his left hand as if to say, “not so fast”.

But body language apart, there was another kind of language on display last Monday. Mugabe seemed obsessed with non-recognition of his position. He insisted that he was “president of the country”.

“I have legitimacy from the election and the process that swore me (in) as president,” he claimed. “Does the MDC now recognise me?”

Any psycho-analyst would tell you this is a man suffering from serious insecurity. He recognises that challenges to his legitimacy following poll fraud are extremely damaging. And he will seize on anything that shores up his sinking status.

That explains the way in which the Herald twisted Elias Mudzuri’s remarks about his election as mayor to suggest Mugabe was even more popular. “Observers” were quoted on Tuesday as saying the MDC had conceded that the 2002 poll had been supervised by a constitutional body, the ESC, which had declared it free and fair, and accepted that Mugabe had been sworn in as president.

It doesn’t take legal skills to realise this is a false interpretation. The ESC may indeed have declared Mugabe’s election free and fair. It is beholden to him. And it is a fact he was sworn in as president. None of that amounts to legitimacy, nor does it disqualify the mountain of evidence MDC lawyers have amassed suggesting irregularities in the conduct of the poll.

An electoral petition is a perfectly valid legal process in any democracy. Why is Mugabe and his party so scared of it? Why are they so insistent it must be withdrawn? The answer is obvious. Prospects of the election results being set aside are now very real, especially after the army has confirmed its role with some rather maladroit pronouncements. Mugabe knows that, and he is worried.

Having lost the battle for hearts and minds, the government media now appear to have resorted to invention. Not only did they engage in some imaginative accounting when providing the numbers for those attending last week’s rival May Day rallies, they asked us to believe that ZCTU leader Wellington Chibhebhe is “affectionately called ‘Chibaby’ by British prime minister Tony Blair”.

Is he? Do Blair and Chibhebhe know each other? Or is this the sort of puerile propaganda that the Department of Information and its media minions like Lovemore Mataire have descended to?

A good insight into official news manufacturing was provided by Information permanent secretary George Charamba last weekend. Leaving aside the mangling his copy deservedly received at the hands of Sunday Mail sub-editors (women being “rapped”), it was useful to see how fiction was translated into “fact”.

Seeking to expose the duplicity of foreign correspondents, Charamba accused the Guardian’s Andrew Meldrum of “coordinating opposition events”.

No explanation was given. But this remark probably stems from a Women’s Day march Meldrum covered a few weeks ago. He was approached by a Sunday Mail reporter who asked what was going on. Meldrum tried to be helpful. But the reporter pestered him again when the women’s leaders gave their speeches. “What are they saying?” he was asked. “I’m trying to cover it myself. Let’s listen and hear what they’re saying,” he replied.

The next day the editor of the Sunday Mail, clearly irked that his reporter wasn’t assisted with her story, accused Meldrum of coordinating the march.

So it is easy to see the provenance — if not the quality — of Charamba’s intelligence.

Charamba claimed that “Rhodesian experts” are busy running the MDC’s communications campaign. That’s why the MDC is having difficulty selling its politics at home, he suggested.

Is that the impression the public have? That the MDC’s call for an end to state violence, a return to the rule of law and sound economic recovery policies are difficult to sell? Isn’t that what everybody, including the three visiting presidents, were this week urging on the prisoner of State House?

What we liked best about Charamba’s piece was his model of a patriotic press: that of Nigeria which “in electoral circumstances that were remarkably comparable to what happened here in 2002”, endorsed Obasanjo’s decidedly dodgy reelection. In some electoral districts of the Niger Delta Obasanjo got nearly 100% of the vote in a 100% turnout. The Nigerian leader explained this was a part of the country’s political culture. Everybody turns out to support their candidate, he disarmingly explained. And some sections of the Nigerian media agreed not to notice.

No wonder Charamba is impressed!

We liked the story in the Daily Mirror this week headed “Blacks in London hail Ibbo Mandaza”. Just in case you didn’t know, Mandaza is proprietor of the Daily Mirror. And who were all these blacks hailing him?

Well, such prominent organisations as Black Quest for Justice, Nation of Islam (UK), the Alkebulan Revivalist Movement, the Uganda People’s Congress (UK), the Convention People’s Party of Ghana (UK) and the Power Jam Community radio station.

Never heard of them? Don’t worry, nor has anybody else. Some of these organisations even have more than one member. The Global African Congress, which is actually West Indian, has a Bulawayo branch headed by Sabelo Sibanda of the School of African Awareness.

After Mandaza’s address in which he repeated his contention that South Africa, not Zimbabwe, was the real target of the imperialists, Kofi Mawuli Klu of Black Quest for Justice said all African countries should return to traditional methods of rule that existed before the intervention of the Europeans.

Has he been speaking to Obasanjo we wonder?

Seen hovering at the Sheraton on Monday directing Mirror reporters on what to write about the visit of the three leaders was David Nyekorach-Matsanga. He has been complaining to anybody who will listen that he is disappointed with Jonathan Moyo’s failure to recognise him as a government spokesman. Defence of the president’s position abroad has been inadequate, the Ugandan refugee researcher thinks. And the Sunday Mail is not following his advice either, he bemoans.

Never mind David. The Mirror appears ready to give acres of space to your incoherent ramblings with no sign of editorial intervention whatsoever!

Somebody else given acres ofspace this week was ZUJ presi-dent Matthew Takaona. He express-ed “shock and disgust” at the manner in which ANZ editor-in-chief Francis Mdlongwa went about restructuring the Daily News. This involved bringing across senior staff from the Financial Gazette in a dramatic decapitation raid.

“The so-called shake-up is clandestine, dirty, vindictive, and most shameful to the media fraternity,” Takaona frothed.

So what has suddenly galvanised him? Did he raise the same objections when staff came and went through the revolving door at Zimpapers? Did he have a view on Jonathan Moyo’s musical chairs at ZBC?

Why has he suddenly stirred from his long slumber at the Sunday Mail where he hasn’t exactly been on a fast-track career path, to fulminate about heads rolling around the floor at the Daily News?

Answers please on the back of a postcard. The ZUJ’s logo, by the way, is a 1960s typewriter.

Muckraker was amused to see “Professor” Tafataona Mahoso’s retaliation for years of us putting his title in inverted commas. He, along with the media he commands, has decided not to recognise Sir Brian Donnelly’s knighthood. What started as ignorance has now become fixed policy and Donnelly will find himself dubbed “Mr” in the government press or “Sir Brian” in inverted commas to indicate they don’t recognise his award.

Not that he will give a damn. Donnelly is not a man to stand on ceremony. But why he should be punished for Muckraker’s lampooning of the pompous press professor is anybody’s guess.

Could CNN please give their Lagos correspondent Jeff Koinange a briefing before they next put him before the camera as an expert on Zimbabwe. He spoke about sanctions which he said were designed to target individuals and not the country.

What examples could he give? Well, Zimbabwe might not be able to sell its tobacco crop, he suggested. And the country wouldn’t be able to compete in the Commonwealth Games!

The economy was in dire straits, Koinange gamely ventured. Inflation for example was “running at 2 000%”!

Muckraker’s advice: Pick up the phone and talk to somebody, Jeff, before you are persuaded to do another of these star turns. Meanwhile, come back Charleyne. All is forgiven!

Finally, a reader brought to our attention a shocking faux pas in the Sunday Leisure section of the Sunday Mail. There was a picture of Edgar Langeveldt dressed as what looks very much like the nation’s First Shopper. But it was captioned “Edgar Langeveldt as a prostitute”.

There must surely be some mistake? Unless of course MDC activists have infiltrated the Sunday Mail’s sub-editors’ office!

Previous articleEric Bloch Column
Next articleMuckraker

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

NewsDay Zimbabwe will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.