For whom the bell tolls

“WE will enforce court order,” the police announced on Monday in the Herald&#821

7;s lead story.

“Since when?” was the public’s understandable response. The police recently seized a journalist who was then deported in a case where the state acted in open contempt of a court order. Why were they suddenly so active in ensuring Justice Ben Hlatshwayo’s night order on Saturday was enforced?

The answer is obvious. In the first case the court order prohibiting the deportation of Guardian correspondent Andy Meldrum was inconvenient to the government. So it was ignored. The second suited the government’s needs. So it was enforced.

Jonathan Moyo was ranting in the Herald on Tuesday about newspapers bringing the police into disrepute. The selective application of the law is likely to do precisely that.

And don’t we recall Moyo having something to say about “night judges” and “night courts” when bad-mouthing a court order by Justice Fergus Blackie three years ago? Why was that not OK and this is?

The selective application of the law is matched only by the double standards of those doing it.

 Another example came from Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa who was frothing last weekend about a coup d’état and treason.

The MDC’s aim was to force President Mugabe from power, he claimed. “Resort to a coup d’état is unconstitutional and unlawful and thus constitutes the serious crime of high treason,” he grandly declared.

This must rank as one of the silliest statements made by a politician in recent times. And it is a field in which there is considerable competition!

The constitution accords Zimbabweans the right to assembly and expression. If the aim of those assembling is to force the president from power, that is an entirely legitimate and legal process. Nowhere is it suggested that such force should be anything other than moral suasion. The MDC has neither the intent nor the resources to use anything other than the instrument of civic protest.

Vague reference to the MDC’s past record, one that has been spun several times by self-interested government spokesmen and embellished in the process (such as protestors “torturing” pre-school children), is not in itself sufficient evidence for the government to declare the MDC’s mass action unlawful or treasonous. Chinamasa should bear in mind the embarrassment suffered by the state the last time it declared the MDC treasonous.

What is unlawful is the action of the state in preventing people from exercising the liberties laid down in the constitution. Posa may indeed enable the police to do a number of things. But where those things are in conflict with constitutional rights it is those rights that stand and nothing else.

 Chinamasa and Commissioner Augustine Chihuri’s inability to grasp this essential point was reflected in Interpol’s decision last week to distance itself from Zimbabwe’s wayward police force. ZRP spokesmen had exploited the routine award of an honorary vice-presidency to Chihuri to suggest the international police organisation endorsed the activities of the ZRP in Zimbabwe.

“The fact that a ZRP spokesman attempted to use Interpol to fight off political criticism has caused Interpol to be unfairly and unnecessarily attacked,” Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble said in announcing Chihuri’s withdrawal.

This is an appropriate response to the politicisation of the ZRP, and in particular to the way certain police spokesmen have made remarks of a partisan nature. They were at it again during this week’s stayaway making partisan and unprofessional comments about Morgan Tsvangirai.

We would be keen to hear from Wayne Bvudzijena what his response is to Interpol’s unambiguous statement that ZRP spokesmen had exploited the award to Chihuri to make it look as if Interpol endorsed policing methods in Zimbabwe. Has this episode not brought the police into disrepute?

Bvudzijena should explain to the public exactly why his boss had to give up the honorary vice-presidency. And the Herald could at the same time tell us why it felt the resignation by Chihuri of his Interpol post was of no news value when it had devoted considerable column inches to celebrating his appointment!

Meanwhile, the ZDF has been adopting the same partisan stance that has embarrassed the ZRP. In a statement carried last week in the Herald, it warned the MDC that it would “bring to bear its full force upon those perpetrators of uncalled for violence”.

And what “uncalled for violence” is that?

“It is a fact that previous stayaways turned violent with both innocent lives of citizens and property being deliberately destroyed,” the anonymous statement said.

This sounds suspiciously like advertisements the Office of the President has been planting in the press. The public will draw their own conclusions about armed forces siding with an unpopular tyrant against people exercising their democratic right to protest. It should not be the function of the ZDF to repeat Zanu PF propaganda as “fact”.

Zupco has also been advertising its partisan loyalties by applying for a court ruling against mass action and contemplating a lawsuit against the MDC for the burning of a Zupco bus during the MDC’s last stayaway in March.

The public in return have the right to boycott Zupco and any other company that collaborates with Zanu PF in advancing its malignant agenda. That includes ambulance-chasing legal firms who would appear to be having difficulty drumming up any other business. People paying good money to these firms should first examine their track record. How many cases have they actually won?

Has anybody, including the police, provided a scrap of evidence that the MDC was responsible for the burning of the Zupco bus that was the central plank in the state’s recent propaganda offensive? We saw how the official media twisted the story about the pre-school children in a kombi being “tortured”.

 Zanu-PF’s chief spokesman Nathan Shamuyarira has said the time has come for a showdown with the MDC and that they must be “confronted and taught a lesson”. Isn’t it the wicked old men in Zanu PF who need to be taught a lesson? Those who became millionaires overnight in the 1980s; those who, while pontificating about socialism were enriching themselves on kickbacks from contracts?

And what about those who took advantage of the War Victims Compensation Fund or the VIP housing fund? When will they be confronted  with the consequences of their criminal depredations and “taught a lesson”?

Shamuyarira should be very careful about whom he threatens. The bell is already tolling for him and the other ideological dinosaurs whose extinction date has long since expired.

 Until last month we had always considered Professor Ngwabi Bhebe, vice-chancellor of Midlands State University, as one of Zimbabwe’s more enlightened academics. But that view has changed with the news that he has suspended SRC president Onwell Marasha for “distributing pamphlets and whistles” to other students. This was “harmful to the interest of the university”, Marasha was told.

In any other country this would be regarded as perfectly normal student activity. Only in Zimbabwe (and perhaps Cuba and North Korea) is it a crime. Marasha should apply for legal aid so he can take the university to court for denying him his right to freedom of expression. The same goes for any other student leader suspended for similar “offences”.

What is harmful to the interest of Midlands State University is the impression that the vice-chancellor is denying students their constitutional rights in response to instructions from an authoritarian regime. What are needed are vice-chancellors that will tell the government to leave their campuses alone; in other words those capable of standing up to tyranny.

Every year independent newspapers are importuned by these same universities to admit their students for one-year attachments. We should all say: “No, not until you afford your students the freedom of expression to which they are entitled.”

A one-year attachment is in any case ridiculous. Why should newspapers be expected, at their own expense, to educate university students for a whole year?

 We are pleased to see that Tafataona Mahoso appears to have conceded at last that there were no secret meetings in the Botswana desert. He referred this week to separate visits to “the region” by Jack Straw and Walter Kansteiner. But he continues to recycle the 300 000 “resettled farmers” figure, which he has been fed by the government’s publicists. The Ministry of Agriculture puts the figure at 210 000.

It is unfair for the jokers in the Office of the President to go on feeding this poor old man dud figures which he then repeats without checking.

And he describes the Daily News as “schizophrenic” because it carries stories on its front page that say one thing and commentaries inside that say another.

You can tell he has never worked in journalism! News stories are different from op/ed (opinion/editorial) pieces. The latter are by contributors who may voice views different from those of the newspaper itself. A good op/ed page should reflect a diversity of views. The editor doesn’t have to agree with them.

Mahoso needs to learn how newspapers work. Every year editors have to devote time and resources to training graduates from his Polytech Mass Communications department in basic skills. And every Sunday his venomous attacks on the independent media and fawning support for a discredited regime whose handouts he unquestioningly   recycles add weight to the view that he is qualified only as a Stalinist enforcer whose capacity for redundant theorising is matched only by his ignorance of journalism.

Mahoso likes calling MDC allies “stooges”. But readers are left in no doubt whose stooge he is!

 With the events of this week behind us, it is worth recalling what the late Walter Sisulu had to say about mass action.

“With the banning of meetings, banning of organisations and suppressing of all legal methods, it was not possible for Africans to accept this situation. No self-respecting African would accept this situation.”

Self-appointed Africanists in our midst should take note of these remarks from a freedom fighter who will be remembered long after they have sunk into much-deserved oblivion.

 Who said the following? “It is a right and duty of every citizen to vigorously oppose…unjust laws.”

Answer: Ben Hlatshwayo writing in the Independent in December 1997. He also quoted liberation songs which said: “You must not loot the people’s property” and “Consult the people and respect their views.”

“These are noble principles,” Hlatshwayo said, “whose consistent violation of late has brought the country to the brink of disaster.”

The public itself has a lot to answer for if it remains mute and docile, he said. We couldn’t agree more!

 Finally, our special award for delusional journalism goes to ZBC. The Dead Beat C guys managed the now-customary “It was buziness as uzuooal” as the nation’s cities came to a complete halt for the stayaway.

It is not such a good idea to report news that is the complete opposite of what the public are experiencing on the ground. It leads to credibility problems.

And it might be a good idea to think of an alternative to “flop”. Not only was it utterly predictable, it was also somewhat premature. We preferred “fizzle” that the Herald used at the end of the ZCTU strike. Then of course is the all-time favourite, the “damp squib” which occasionally ends up as a “dump squib”.

Whatever the case, a national broadcaster that is nothing more than a ministerial megaphone is unlikely to convince the public that it has any idea what is happening. ZBC is one big “dump squib”.

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