Times when man must hug a hyena

THE talks in Harare last week between three visiting heads of state — Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Bakili Muluzi — and President Mugabe appear to have been given a negative reception in the South

African media. That’s perhaps because the much-touted exit plan didn’t come up. But what did transpire, and has not been fully reported, was the short shrift they gave to Mugabe’s posturing.

The three heads of state told him straight out, we gather, that they had not come to mediate between Harare and London, as his publicists claimed. They had come to address the situation in Zimbabwe. And after their talks with Morgan Tsvangirai, as reported in this paper, they went back to Mugabe to tell him the MDC’s court challenge could no longer be regarded as an obstacle to talks. It was the party’s democratic and legal right to challenge the election outcome in the courts, they agreed, a point the Herald significantly conceded last week.

As for Mugabe’s legitimacy, that was a detail that would become part of the negotiating process and, like the court challenge, should not hold up the negotiating process, they said.

So Mugabe’s claims about the presidents mediating in the dispute with Britain and his demand to be recognised as the legitimate head of state have now fallen away because the three visitors declined to indulge him. That is a huge step forward.

We have also detected a change in the tenor of remarks by South African officials. Foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, normally quick to come to Mugabe’s defence, last week made these rather unflattering comments: “If we were ready to go into dialogue with the apartheid regime, I am sure they will find ways of getting a dialogue to save their own country.”

One of her officials added this point: “If we as the ANC could negotiate with an illegitimate government, so can they.”

The official quoted an interesting saying of which Chris Hani had been fond: “For the sake of peace you sometimes have to hug a hyena.”

And then we had Bakili Muluzi’s gem: “I told Mugabe that bad economies were bad politics.”

This is all rather different to the spin the Sunday Mail tried to place on things last weekend.

Jonathan Moyo is obviously unaware that President Mugabe has agreed there should be no preconditions to inter-party talks. He was telling his embedded correspondent Munyaradzi Huni on Sunday that Zanu PF was prepared to dialogue with the MDC “as long as we do not negotiate things that are manifestly non-negotiable…”

And what might these be? Such things as “helping our country to defend its heritage”.

“Similarly,” Moyo said “nobody should expect Zanu PF to dialogue about so-called internationally supervised elections”. Nor would the succession issue be allowed to come up, he added.

But most significantly, he appeared blissfully ignorant that there is now a regional consensus that the MDC court petition will go ahead and Zanu PF will not be allowed to use it to stall the talks.

Somebody should tell Moyo. We understand he has to hang tough for the benefit of young reporters like Huni, but should he be permitted to set up roadblocks that his leader has already been obliged to clear?

If Mugabe cannot resist the tide of change, why does Moyo think he can?

Poor old Tafataona Mahoso is always the last to know. All last week the Herald claimed US Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner would meet British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in Botswana. Their meeting was linked to the existence of an American airbase in that country and clearly designed to mislead Zimbabweans into thinking the British and Americans were plotting regime change in Harare.

But on Friday the Zimbabwe Independent revealed that no such meeting was projected. Straw would not be visiting Botswana ahead of his visit to South Africa this week. And we quoted the Botswana High Commissioner to Zimbabwe as saying the base was not American. In fact it was built by French and South African companies, she said. It belongs to Botswana.

We also quoted an MDC spokesman as saying the report that the MDC would send a delegation to meet Kansteiner and Straw in Botswana was a “Herald lie”.

On Sunday Mahoso wrote: “Only last week, when three African presidents visited President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, two white narcissists from the UK and US came to Botswana to meet their key African stooges from the entire southern African region in a bid to reverse the African emancipation agenda…”

So here we have the chairman of the state’s media commission repeating a falsehood that he had evidently picked up from the government press. What steps did he take to verify this false report before he published it? And who misled the Herald in the first place?

Mahoso went on to speculate about the strategy of “the two white men”.

Note how racism and falsehoods are regular bedfellows in the state’s conspiracy theories. It would be nice to dismiss this episode as inconsequential babbling by a sclerotic Zanu PF apologist. But this was the man appointed to preside over the press with a claim to be safeguarding accuracy. That is before the whole rotten structure of Moyo’s media edifice came tumbling down with the first judicial knock on its door.

Mahoso’s inventions aside, there was a meeting in Botswana last week involving British and American officials. But it was not “highly secretive” as the Sunday Mirror claimed. It was hosted by the South African Institute for International Affairs headed by Greg Mills and Moeletsi Mbeki who regularly convene meetings of this sort. Lynda Chalker attended, we are told, along with an American official and South Africa’s Aziz Pahad.

The Sunday Mirror story was clearly designed to advance the claim of Anglo-American plotting against Zimbabwe. But Aziz Pahad is a notable defender of the Mugabe regime and would have been unlikely to have contributed to a regime-change conspiracy while Chalker was often shown on television hugging Mugabe every time he visited her in London.

It has been entertaining to see how the official press has played up the resignation of Clare Short from Tony Blair’s government. By far the best account came from Lovemore Mataire whose imagination knew no bounds.

The resignation of Robin Cook and two junior ministers before the Iraq war had left the prime minister “a virtual loner” we were told. What happened to the rest of the cabinet was not clear!

Short’s resignation was indicative of the “apparent decadence and profuse despondency” now embedded in the Labour government, Mataire suggested without having interviewed a single Brit.

And what decadence was this? Sounds as if he had a scoop. But don’t expect too much in the way of saucy details.

The appointment of Baroness Amos to replace Short was just a “dump” squib, Mataire ventured.

Short, he relates, once indulged in “a drunken outburst” after consuming two gin-and-tonics at a British High Commission reception in Harare. And what was the nature of this “drunken outburst”?

She loudly remarked that “Mugabe should be overthrown”.

Of course anybody suggesting such a shocking thing must be drunk! All sounds a bit like a damp squid to us.

Under which rock has the Sunday Mail’s “Under the Surface” columnist been hiding? He returned to the paper after a long — and well-deserved — hibernation two weeks ago. This week he took pompous glee in the fact Morgan Tsvangirai was not allowed to walk on the red carpet laid out at the Sheraton for the three visiting African leaders. It is a useful insight into this regime’s predicament that all it can boast of is pettiness of this sort.

Next he had a go at Andy Meldrum, asking why he was in hiding. “What was he running away from?” the creepy-crawly columnist wanted to know. He compared Meldrum’s situation to that of Learnmore Jongwe who handed himself in eventually.

Meldrum’s wife as far as we can see is alive and well. As to why he took temporary refuge when immigration officers — or men purporting to be immigration officers who refused to identify themselves — called at his home in the night, the answer is obvious. When men claiming to be immigration officers called at BBC correspondent Joe Winter’s home in 2001 they broke in, ransacked the place and terrorised his wife and baby daughter.

But what was instructive about this episode was the way the Immigration department acted on flawed instructions. They had been told — probably by the usual suspects in the president’s office — that the High Court order preventing Meldrum’s deportation last year had now expired. He had failed to appeal to the Supreme Court within the stipulated period, they claimed.

His lawyers had to point out to them that there was no stipulated period. And the onus was on the state to appeal to the Supreme Court if it was unhappy with the High Court ruling which said that as a permanent resident Meldrum had a right of abode.

Let’s recall that the Herald made a number of false claims about the outcome of Meldrum’s trial, one as recently as a few weeks ago. And then we had George Charamba making daft accusations in the Sunday Mail that Meldrum had been “coordinating opposition events”.

This was followed by the arrival at Meldrum’s home of a van with blacked out windows and registration plates the Immigration department denies knowledge of.

What needs to be exposed in all this is the government’s attempt to resort to false accusations and illegal means to deal with inconvenient journalists when its botched court cases leave it high and dry.

Under our “sign of the times” heading, we note with interest that the inhabitants of a lagoon-side shanty town in the Ivory Coast have named their settlement “Zimbabwe”. Perhaps we should send the president on a state visit!

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