Dump the MIC before it discredits govt further

WE were pleased to hear this week that one of South Africa’s most prominent politicians and business tycoons has spoken up on President Robert Mugabe’s recent record describing

him as a hero who lost his way.

Tokyo Sexwale, who now leads the diversified conglomerate Mvelapanda Holdings, was reported by Zim Online as criticising Mugabe while addressing South African expatriates in London last week. Referring to Mugabe’s role in the liberation war, Sexwale said Mugabe was a man “who led his people to freedom”, but emphasised that the Zimbabwe leader’s current actions could not be supported.

“When a freedom fighter takes a wrong step, it is time for other freedom fighters to stand up and say ‘we know you are a great man, but we cannot support what you do’,” he said, in an indirect attack on president Thabo Mbeki’s much criticised quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe.

Sexwale said that it was sometimes necessary to have tensions within a country, but that the important thing was that solid human rights and the rule of law prevail, Zim Online reported. On South Africa, he said: “It’s a country where the deputy president gets dismissed. It’s a country where Winnie Mandela stands trial. It is a country where the chief whip, Tony Yengeni, goes to jail. That is the country that I want to live in — where Mbeki, Mandela, all of us are not above the law.”

But comparing South Africa to Zimbabwe, Sexwale said: “In my country the judges are not interfered with. In my country we do not seize land. In my country we do not incarcerate and torture our people.”

Useful to have that on the record. Put it together with remarks by Wole Soyinka and more recently African-American trade unionists and a picture is emerging that the likes of Ankomah Baffour and other publicists are going to have difficulty countering.

One of the hazards of being an editor is having contributors who send their material to other publications. It therefore appears elsewhere just when you thought it was exclusive to your own publication.

Of course most contributors understand the rules of the game but not all, it would seem.

Here is Tafatoana Mahoso in his National Focus column in The Voice of September 24: “On 13 May 2006 the Daily Mirror led with this front-page story: ‘Gloom for consumers; inflation shoots over 1 000%’. The key sources for the story were the Central Statistics Office and the Zimbabwe Chamber of Commerce.”

Here is Mahoso in his African Focus column in the Sunday Mail of October 1: “On May 13 2006 the Daily Mirror led with this front-page story: ‘Gloom for consumers; inflation shoots over 1 000%’. The key sources for the story were the Central Statistical Office and the Zimbabwe Chamber of Commerce.”

Apart from the change in the name of the CSO the two extracts seem remarkably similar including getting the name of the ZNCC wrong.

Mahoso’s Voice column of October 1 contains para after para of material identical to his Sunday Mail column of the same date.

A note to editors: Say to your columnists: “Is this material exclusive to us?” And only allow material to “continue next week” if there is no other option. Ideally, a columnist should be confined to a specific word allocation. And if they can’t fit the space provided they should be cut. You can’t have a situation where the columnists decide how much space they should occupy. Also, if your columnist is travelling with the president he should get his material in before he leaves or find somebody else to write it. You can’t have an empty lot marked “No trespassers”.

Mahoso’s comments in the Sunday Mail were titled “Journalists misleading the nation on inflation”. He said inflation figures had been turned into a fetish in their own right without helping the reader to understand what inflation is all about.

For instance, he noted that the so-called basket used by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe used food items selected from a few supermarkets in Harare as if they were representative of the whole country. He said people in remote parts of the country were getting “superior” but cheaper food than that from supermarkets in Borrowdale or Mbare.

“The frequent flighting of questionable inflation and cost of living statistics to the total exclusion of more useful indicators for production amounts to making a fetish out of inflation and diverting a whole nation from tackling production challenges,” said Mahoso in his weekly column.

He said people were more interested in comparative figures for new private cars against tractors and farm machinery, seed, fertiliser etc.

We don’t know which part of the country Mahoso comes from but we have discovered that people in remote parts of the country or on farms often pay more for the same product in town because traders factor in expensive fuel and long distances.

But he might be right in another respect. All the nine articles he cited are from the Herald, the Sunday Mail and the Daily Mirror. Which means we can’t help him if he prefers darkness to light.

If he had cast his eyes wider he would have realised the fallacy of designating inflation as No 1 enemy instead of low production and deindustrialisation, and why all policy initiatives targeting the mirage called inflation are failing spectacularly.

If he had chosen light he would have realised that what he calls “production challenges” stem from the chaos caused by an unplanned land reform programme. He is also right in stating that inflation figures are only a symptom. They are a symptom of the same disease in the land that he doesn’t want to talk about. Surely six years should have been enough to restore order and increase production if there was more to land reform than racism and looting.

Interestingly, Mahoso talks about private vehicles and tractors as if Zimbabwe produces any. We are simply an ostentatious consumer market without even the forex to import. Do the people in Hurungwe, Mwenezi and Chisumbanje know that he is driven in an imported 4×4 Pajero SUV when they are desperate for scarce foreign currency to purchase tractors and fertiliser we wonder?

So it’s not journalists misleading the nation on inflation but party ideologues and government spin doctors like him who refuse to tell the truth.

Muckraker was intrigued by an article in the Sunday Mail last weekend containing allegations against the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists.

The union has been providing information to international agencies on human rights violations in Zimbabwe including the harassment of journalists, we are told. The Media and Information Commission has written to the Ministry of Information requesting a probe into ZUJ activities. “This comes at a time when police say they have uncovered a syndicate comprising members of ZUJ, the opposition MDC and the National Constitutional Assembly that has been compiling reports based on unfounded human rights abuses,” the Sunday Mail reported.

In addition to this, ZUJ leaders have been accused of threatening journalists who are questioning ZUJ’s involvement in politics by having them blacklisted.

MIC chair Mahoso has apparently written to government asking them to investigate ZUJ leaders.

Here we have a prime example of officious state interference directed at journalists. First we have the childish allegation that journalists are involved in “anti-Zimbabwe activities” because they expose the heavy hand of Aippa in muzzling the media. Then we learn that the police have “uncovered a syndicate” comprising ZUJ and other civics who have been “compiling reports” on human rights abuses — as if that is an offence!

“ZUJ is part and parcel of the anti-Zimbabwe lobby,” Mahoso claimed in his letter to the government asking them to investigate. ZUJ leaders say they are compiling lists of journalists who should be on the sanctions list, he claimed.

We don’t know what evidence Mahoso has for this claim, but clearly something is afoot. ZUJ’s claims that it has been working with the Southern African Human Rights Trust in drafting a human rights violation report “which was thrown out by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul last year” has given particular offence to the media policing authorities, it would seem.

ZUJ is seeking observer status with the ACHPR. And the report referred to was most certainly not “thrown out” in Banjul but referred to Harare for comment because ministers keep pretending they hadn’t seen it.

“Observers have queried why the union would need funding as it pushes for the amendment of Aippa when the government has implored it to highlight sections of the law that need to be revisited,” the Sunday Mail helpfully opined.

Since government is “imploring” us to tell it what to do, here is Muckraker’s advice: Dump the MIC before it discredits the government any further. The public should not have to pay for the upkeep of a handpicked media commission that has been accused of partisan and unprofessional conduct in fulfilling its mandate to close down the independent press.

If there is any further state interference with the ZUJ on the fatuous grounds that it is engaging in “anti-Zimbabwe” activities — meaning exposing repression — then that should become a matter of immediate international attention.

We were glad to have Prof George Ayittey writing in our columns two weeks ago to remind us of what Chinua Achebe had to say on the topic of the state’s axis of weasel.

“One of the most urgent matters for Nigerians to address when they settle down to debate the national question,” Achebe wrote, “is the issue of collaboration by professionals and technocrats with corrupt and repressive regimes. We must devise effective sanctions against our lawyers and judges and doctors and university professors who debase their professions in their zealotry to serve as tyranny’s errand boys, thus contributing in large measure to the general decay of honesty and integrity in our national life.”

Perhaps Mahoso would like to comment.

The Daily Mirror carried a story two weeks ago on the alleged ill treatment of ZRP personnel at Nairobi airport on their way back from Kosovo. This is in danger of becoming a diplomatic incident as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been drawn in.

So what is the nature of this ill treatment? Apparently the officers were asked to remove their shoes and were thoroughly searched by immigration officers at Jomo Kenyatta Airport. The same treatment was not meted out to other passengers, we were told.

Those of us who have to remove our belts and shoes and empty our pockets every time we go through Harare airport will not be impressed by this complaint. Nor, no doubt, will trade union leaders who reportedly suffered treatment at the hands of the police that was considerably worse than simply having to remove their shoes!

But there is a connection here. The police value their Kosovo tours of duty. And ministers are able to boast of the high regard in which the ZRP is held. If the complaints by the ZCTU lawyers of torture in police custody are confirmed, the UN will come under growing pressure not to use the ZRP in their missions. Which could be why we are suddenly hearing stories about people falling off the back of trucks!

There is one thing President Mugabe has failed to control in his party — the infighting. It is an issue that he has talked about at almost every party congress. The issue of his succession has caused the most infighting, including ministers consulting witchdoctors for the throne.

Unfortunately Mugabe himself is confused about how the issue should be handled, at once blowing hot and cold.

Last week he told a rally in Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central that it was not good to fight over who should succeed him. “We have a leadership within the party and the issue can be discussed at that level,” he said. He also said the issue could be discussed at the party’s National People’s Conference in December.

But before anybody could say Amen, Mugabe was already telling the same rally that leaders were not supposed to impose candidates on the electorate but should let the nomination process take its course.

But surely if the issue of who should lead Zanu PF or Zimbabwe can be discussed only in the party’s leadership that is as good an imposition as any at any level of the party. But then never having been a democrat himself, he should find it hard to tell the difference between an elected and a nominated candidate.

The Russian trade delegation and accompanying journalists currently in the country will be seeking to “establish the truth behind the negative publicity Zimbabwe is currently receiving from some Western countries”, Russian ambassador Oleg Sherbak helpfully explained. The Russian journalists would meet local journalists from various media houses, we were told, and would have an opportunity to exchange ideas.

One intrepid reporter found his way to the Zimbabwe Independent but we gather others found it difficult to break from the firm grip of their official handlers. A front-page Herald pic showed part of the 48-member delegation on arrival at Harare airport. What it didn’t say was that they were greeted by a power cut which must have confirmed the fears some no doubt held about “the Dark Continent”. Let’s hope they found some light on their trip to Zimbabwe despite the best efforts of our spin-doctors who thought they would be impressed by military exercises.

Finally, we were interested to note a correction carried by the Herald on Tuesday. The paper had quoted airforce commander Perrence Shiri as urging voters in Chikomba to vote Zanu PF in the forthcoming by-election.

Shiri did not mention any party, the correction read, but urged people to vote for a party that stood for development and had the people at its heart, a party that was “tried and tested”.

This was obviously a reference to the MDC. After all, nobody could in all seriousness suggest that Zanu PF had the people at heart when under its rule GDP per capita income has crashed to levels last seen in the 1950s and unemployment stands at over 70%.

If Shiri had meant Zanu PF he would surely have said a party that is tired and detested rather than tried and tested!

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