CONTRADICTIONS surrounding the widely-condemned Operation Murambatsvina and the worsening economic crisis dogging the country have exposed government’s failure to manage public informatio
n in the post-Jonathan Moyo era.
Since the inception of the clean-up campaign, government has failed to come up with a common position to explain the current crisis.
President Robert Mugabe and ministers have been making contradictory statements, which analysts say indicates lack of a coordinated communication strategy and panic in government circles in view of international condemnation of its failed policies.
Mugabe and his ministers have been inconsistent in their bid to turn a demolition campaign into a development initiative, both in the eyes of United Nations envoy Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka and the world at large.
However, the attempted manipulations have failed to yield results as Tibaijuka, who at times appeared to have swallowed hook, line and sinker government’s justification of the operation, in fact managed to see through the smokescreen.
Mugabe led the campaign to declare Operation Murambatsvina a noble cause when he told Tibaijuka his government had planned the demolition blitz — meaning it was designed earlier — before the March 31 general election but it could not be implemented because Zanu PF would have been accused of trying to destabilise the MDC’s urban strongholds.
He claimed he had promised during the campaign to implement the programme after the election. However, there is no evidence of him saying so except pleading with urban voters to support his party, which lost all but one urban seat.
Mugabe’s claim that the clean-up was planned was proved to be a futile attempt to hoodwink the UN envoy. Finance minister Herbert Murerwa told parliament last Wednesday Operation Murambatsvina was not budgeted for because “we had not anticipated this programme”.
“It is very clear that when we announced the 2005 budget we had not anticipated this programme. So it will translate into some parts of the 2005 budget being re-prioritised to accommodate this expenditure,” Murerwa said.
He was responding to a question from opposition Movement for Democratic Change MP Priscillah Misihairabwi-Mushonga on why government was now allowing “unbudgeted expenditure” when it said it would not do so.
Murerwa’s revelation contradicted Mugabe’s claim that the clean-up programme should have been implemented before the March general election. This means Mugabe misled UN envoy Tibaijuka when they met a fortnight ago.
During the African Union summit in Libya last week, Mugabe made another attempt to sell a dummy to international journalists when he claimed that nobody had been displaced and rendered homeless by the ruthless crackdown.
He made no mention of Caledonia Farm and other transit camps nationwide to accommodate the displaced multitudes.
Mugabe’s claims were also shot down by the police when they confessed to Tibaijuka that they demolished a conservative 5 176 structures, displacing 9 444 people in Bulawayo alone.
The figures are viewed as an understatement by human rights groups who estimate destroyed township homes at around 200 000 structures resulting in up to a million people being affected, creating a huge homeless and hungry population housed at transit camps.
Tibaijuka had a go at the army and police officers for their involvement in the clean-up campaign saying they were neither a construction company nor a cleaning agency.
Police spearheaded the demolition of the home industries and backyard structures. The army on the other hand has been tasked to build 25 000 houses by August 30 for the displaced people. Government has undertaken to build 24 000 houses in Harare and 1 003 in Bulawayo by the end of August.
The figures are a far cry from the number of displaced people. The discrepancies in numbers expose government’s hidden agenda that the clean-up campaign was to force people back to the rural areas.
Bulawayo governor Cain Mathema unwittingly confessed to Tibaijuka that all the people that would not be accommodated in the new structures would be sent back to their rural areas.
Tibaijuka did not take the intention lightly.
“Rural repatriation does not work and it has never worked anywhere,” she said. “The people are not here (in urban areas) because they want to be but because they are trying to get a living. Even in the United States and Japan people move into cities because they want to work and create small businesses that will help them survive. Zimbabwe is not an exception to that.”
Churches and non-government organisations dismissed the claims that Operation Murambatsvina was planned as a cover-up that could only be used by a government that has lost its moral worthiness.
“The claims were just a cover-up from a system that has become morally and intellectually bankrupt,” said a Roman Catholic priest who has been actively involved in assisting clean-up victims. “It’s a test case for the UN.”
The clergyman said there was no way government could have planned for this programme, which requires massive resources because it had no money.
“You can’t budget for phantom programmes. If there was such an exercise on the planning desk it would have been communicated to stakeholders to come up with a working plan and communication strategy,” he said.
Since the arrival of Tibaijuka on June 26, government initiated a series of cover-up strategies, launching an unrealistic reconstruction programme, ordering the removal of the clean-up victims along the route scheduled for the UN envoy’s convoy. Caledonia evictees were moved to Sally Mugabe Heights, about 25 kilometres off Domboshava Road.
Rural transport operators were diverted from their normal routes to give the illusion that the transport situation in urban areas was being managed properly despite swingeing fuel shortages.
All buses plying rural routes were ordered to service urban routes in return for heavily subsidised fuel of $1 800. The facility was withdrawn soon after Tibaijuka boarded the plane on Saturday. Transport blues have returned with a vengeance.