Bad light stopped play — Straw

BRITISH Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has been experiencing some discomfort this week following what he claims was an ambush in New York.

He said he shook hands with President Robert Mugabe at a reception ho

sted by President Thabo Mbeki last week “by mistake” and because it was “dark”.

The handshake, filmed by BBC’s Newsnight in a programme shown on Monday, has led to a furore in Britain.

“Handshake that shames Britain,” declared the Daily Mail, which printed a picture of it on its front page. “Straw causes storm with Mugabe handshake,” Reuter reported.

Other headlines were equally unforgiving. “Straw blames bad light for Mugabe row,” the Scotsman mocked. “Straw: ‘Did I shake Mugabe’s hand?’” the Daily Mail pitched in. “What a mistake to shake,” Sky TV declared.

The London Independent quoted Straw as saying: “I hadn’t expected to see President Mugabe there. Because it was quite dark in that corner. I was being pushed towards shaking hands with somebody just as a matter of courtesy and then it transpired it was President Mugabe,” he reportedly said.

According to the Independent, Straw then defended his actions: “The fact that there is a serious disagreement between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom does not mean that you should then be discourteous or rude.”

Critics have said the handshake sent the wrong message. Mugabe is anxious to extract every ounce of recognition and legitimacy he can which is why he appears every year at one of the few fora left open to him, the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. The only restriction imposed is that he is confined to a 25-mile radius of the UN building.

Straw is guilty of gullibility. Does he always allow himself to be “pushed towards shaking hands with somebody”? How does he know it isn’t the head of the Burmese junta or some populist demagogue like Hugo Chavez lurking in the shadows?

Meanwhile, whatever the reaction of the British press, Mbeki is probably rather pleased with his diplomatic coup. While it hardly constitutes the rapprochement he is looking for, he will be able to claim that “the two sides are engaged in talks”!

Has anybody measured the column inches devoted in the state media to rubbishing the MDC? Vast acres of woodland have been chopped down to enable brain-dead columnists like Lowani Ndlovu to hurl his simple-minded abuse at the opposition as if it posed a mortal threat to him and his ilk.

Perhaps it does. Many of us have been taking Zanu PF’s electoral victory for granted given the manipulation and coercion taking place across the country. But why does Zanu PF need to exercise this sort of muscle if it is a natural-born winner?

The state media, with their daily anti-MDC ranting, are unwittingly telling us something: that their masters see the MDC as a real threat to their continued grip on power. How else do you explain the attempts by the Green Bombers to prevent Morgan Tsvangirai’s rally taking place in Sakubva last weekend? Why bother if the MDC is already “buried”? And why churn out all those phoney “analysts” on ZTV every night if the battle is already won?

The numbers attending Tsvangirai’s rally are part of the answer. Thousands ignored intimidation to attend. And the same scenes are being repeated up and down the country in the few cases where rallies are allowed to go ahead or are not broken up by ruling-party thugs. People are yearning for change.

And what does Zanu PF offer? Beatings, poverty and dishonesty. In other words, more of the same.

Does anybody seriously believe the country has “turned the corner”? Is that the experience people have when they go shopping? Is that what the new phone bills tell us? And are Zanu PF policies, in the mining sector for instance, calculated to ensure recovery?

Zanu PF has nothing to offer except discredited mantras, delusional crop figures and the usual threats.

By making Tony Blair his principal opponent President Mugabe hopes to beat the nationalist drum at home and secure support abroad from developing countries that feel frozen out of the Washington consensus. But scattered applause at a poorly-attended General Assembly session hardly does the trick. Yes, he will mine some sympathy there although, as our state media bitterly complained, few other leaders were prepared to emulate his demagoguery. Especially not President Mbeki whose thunder Mugabe tried to steal. South Africa has signed up for Blair’s African Commission and so have many others.

Then there are the over one million Zimbabweans who have chosen to live under Tony Blair rather than Robert Mugabe.

Why have they chosen Britain’s bleak shores rather than anywhere else? Could it be the lowest unemployment rate in Europe and inflation of 3% — as distinct from 300%!

Could it be the attractions of a strong economy where they have opportunities they can’t find at home? Or the right to say what they like and wear whatever T-shirt they like without being set upon by armed thugs?

Mugabe can wave his fists at Blair at the UN. And a handful of sympathisers may applaud. But they don’t have to live with the consequences of his toxic policies. And meanwhile one million Zimbabweans have voted with their feet. No wonder he won’t extend the franchise to them!

This week a bitter Uncle Joe Stalin launched what he thought would be a successful counter-attack in the so-called Sunday News in retaliation for our strikes against him last week. He accused us of stealing the Sunday Mail and Sunday News’ Didymus Mutasa story.

We reported last Friday that there had been developments in the case, and anyway felt it was a good running story which the Independent first carried on August 27. Just because the Sunday Mail/Sunday News borrowed the story on September 19 (better late than never) doesn’t mean we can’t return to it!

So what did the Sunday Mail offer up last weekend as an example of its originality? A story headed “Govt dismisses poll postponement” which was (yawn!) Information minister Jonathan Moyo once again having a go at the MDC and being afforded any amount of space to do so.

This time it was focused on remarks by Welshman Ncube that more time was needed if the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was to be up and running in time to do anything useful.

Uncle Joe could perhaps enquire at Herald House which Moyo statement they will be running on a Sunday before attacking other papers for lack of originality!

Meanwhile, that other Sunday News organist, Cde Goings On, claims he is “nobody’s apologist”. But having declared George Bush and Tony Blair to be criminals he proceeded as follows: “If they have brains worth talking about these war-mongers will never forget President Mugabe’s sheer intellectual brilliance and unparalleled eloquence as he told them in their faces and in their very own backyard that the world will not be fooled.”

Now that qualifies Cde Goings for our Bootlicker of the Year Award.

Competition is fierce in the government media so he had better get his entry in soon!

By the way, was Blair actually present at the UN last week?

Oh never mind. Why let the facts get in the way of a good lick!

We were intrigued by remarks made by Cde Goings about a “false, malicious and outrageously defamatory article” about their editorial commissar, Brezhnev Malaba.

What on earth could Goings be talking about? Surely not that little incident along the Gwanda Road?

“Those of us in the know are now marvelling how a motley crew of strange bedfellows conveniently forgot their past differences and foolishly conspired against my editor,” Cde Goings loyally declared.

And how would he know about this conspiracy that suggests a worrying lack of solidarity in the ranks at the Sunday News?

Apparently he’s got the place bugged. “Walls have ears, especially enemy walls.”

“Goings On certainly knows the cowardly gang of wicked, goulish, illiterate semi-literate and barely literate characters who pushed for the publication of that patently false story.”

And that’s just at the Sunday News! But Cde Goings has the culprits in his sights as a purge looms.

“They better prepare for what is coming. Pity the young and gullible reporter who will soon discover that you don’t fight other people’s dirty wars and expect to emerge unscathed.”

The gulag beckons!

Congratulations to the Herald for discovering another “conspiracy” designed to “cause havoc” and “derail” the land reform programme. Chinhoyi farmers Kestell Bezuidenhout and Pieter Ernst Gertenbach are challenging a Section 8 order issued on Maryland Farm which had been allocated to “prominent” lawyers Johannes Tomana, Joseph Mandizha and Wilson Manase.

In papers filed at the Chinhoyi magistrates’ court, the “former white” commercial farmers are seeking a peace order and an interdiction against the “three prominent lawyers” barring them from entering the farm.

By exercising their rights under the law, the two farmers are involved in “a well-calculated move to derail the land reform programme and create anxiety among new farmers ahead of the planting season”, we are told.

The Herald doesn’t say how anxious Tomana, Mandizha and Manase might be because they could not be reached for comment.

But Bezuidenhout is clearly a trouble-maker. He was arrested last month for contravening the Land Acquisition Act when he refused to vacate his farm after being served with a Section 8.

He was later released. It is still not clear what he actually did wrong!

“Observers” said the Ministry of Special Affairs responsible for land reform needed to come up with “a clear position” on such cases, given that the courts have ruled that a Section 8 order cannot be reversed.

A few months ago, the Herald told us, officials in the ministry were accused of withdrawing offer letters to new farmers “as part of a conspiracy to return the land back to the former white commercial farmers”.

We are still trying to work out what colour they are now. But more to the point, we are keen to know how this “conspiracy” story found its way to the Herald!

The Sunday Mail had a masterpiece on Page 6 this week. It consisted of two stories and four supporting pictures. You didn’t need to read the stories to get the message. The two pictures at the top on Lomagundi College showed what money can buy at an “elitist” institution.

So long as Education minister Aeneas Chigwedere insists that pupils should pay peanuts as school fees, the situation in the bottom two pictures clearly showed what to expect. The pupils at Chijaka primary school were bare foot, sitting on a log in a pole-and-mud “classroom block” struggling to share the few tattered books available.

The school, if it can be called that, relies on “four untrained teachers” whose qualifications are O-level certificates. And according to one of the teachers, the nearest source of water for the school is a borehole located 10 km away.

If any school needed a donation, there can’t be a more deserving candidate than Chijaka. Where are Jonathan Moyo and President Mugabe who have been donating computers and other accessories worth millions of dollars to schools across the country? We don’t believe Mugabe himself went to school under such deplorable conditions even in colonial times. But Moyo, according to the Sunday Mail, is concerned only with celebrating Zimbabwe’s silver jubilee after defeating Tony Blair. Never mind that Independence hasn’t improved learning conditions for the poor.

We liked the editorial Comment in the Herald on Monday about Paralympiad Elliot Mujaji. Now that he has won gold, everyone would like to be associated with that achievement. Nobody wanted to help him during his training, it said. In fact he nearly failed to make it to the Paralympic Games in Athens for lack of sponsorship.

The Herald rightly observed that Mujaji deserves a rousing welcome home. “It is obvious,” it said, “that many of those individuals and organisations who were nowhere to be seen when he needed them most will now want to hijack Mujaji’s victory.”

The question should be directed to Sports minister Aeneas Chigwedere. When Kirsty Coventry returned from Athens with her haul of three medals Chigwedere couldn’t miss the opportunity to tell the nation that he had recommended to President Mugabe that she be given a diplomatic passport.

That was after the event. Yet he is the minister in charge of sport and doesn’t appear to know who deserves help. It was through the generosity of a few companies that Mujaji was able to go to Athens. Where was Chigwedere? Is Mujaji going to be issued with a diplomatic passport and US$50 000?

Professor Jonathan Moyo appears to have met his match at Roosevelt High School last week. He was the guest of honour at a prize-giving ceremony. His hosts obviously reckoned that one sure way of pleasing the minister was to flatter him with one of his Third Chimurenga jingles.

They got Hondo Yeminda ready for the occasion and won themselves $1,7 million. Who said adults cannot be humoured? We all saw it in New York
And thanks to Kirsty Coventry’s achievement at the Athens Olympics, ministers now seem to notice swimming pools wherever they go. Moyo promised to help Roosevelt School raise the $61 million needed to rehabilitate its swimming pool which the Herald reports “has been lying idle since 1991”.

The verdict is out from the apologetic Voice editor, Lovemore Mataire. He has exonerated Anti-Corruption minister Didymus Mutasa from any blame for the violence that occurred in Makoni North a month ago despite confessing that he doesn’t have all the facts.

“It just can’t be true that you slapped a police officer,” Mataire assured the minister in his weekly column, “Candid brief from the editor”.

“That is just bizarre and unlike yourself,” opined Mataire, declaring there “is more to it than see the eye” (sic) in the allegations linking Mutasa to the violence.

Instead Mataire believes police details at the scene of the violence were to blame because they didn’t do their duty.

“The fact that all the incidents of violence took place in full view of the police is in itself a pointer that some people could have set you up…” confided Mataire conspiratorially. Was this written for The Voice or for Mutasa?

Mutasa is described by Mataire as a man of peace who “exhibits a class of political maturity unmatched with a number of offshoots now sprouting up”. So parliamentary aspirants such as James Kaunye are condemned out of hand because they were not at Cold Comfort Farm with the likes of Guy Clutton-Brock and have little association with the children of ex-combatants born at refugee camps outside the country?
So much for a “candid” brief!

Meanwhile, the laser surgery which UK papers tell us Jack Straw had performed on his eyes recently doesn’t appear to have been entirely successful as our remarks earlier attest. You will see from the Herald photo that he no longer wears “specs”.

We recommend a return to the old bottle-glasses which were his trademark. At least with those he could distinguish Britain’s friends from its foes!

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