Hell hath no fury like Dell’s truth

ONCE again Ignatious Chombo has ignored the will of the people and taken over the running of Chitungwiza council. Nobody was fooled by the alleged demonstration by a rented Zanu PF crowd last week. We all know that the aim

was to seize power from popularly elected MDC officials.

The excuse for the takeover would be facile if the situation were not so tragic. Chombo claimed the council was failing to deliver service to residents. The councillors had failed to provide water and maintain the sewerage system, charged Chombo as if he had just dropped in from Mars.

He didn’t say anything about the situation in Harare where he had come from. To its credit, the Herald had a biting sense of irony. Under the heading “State takes over Chitungwiza” was a huge picture of bare-footed children jumping across “raw sewage” in Kuwadzana Extension which is run by another hopeless commission appointed by Chombo.

Did Chombo see the picture, telling better than the thousand words chronicling the problems of Chitungwiza that pre-date the MDC? Why is Chombo so quick to notice the speck in the Chitungwiza council’s eye but cannot see the log in his own? By the way, that picture would make a nice poster in Sekesai Makwavarara’s office.
US ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell appears to have given a hostage to fortune in his comments on the country’s economic situation. The patriots in the state media are up in arms because they will not bear to hear the truth told so openly.

The irony of course is that everyone of the enraged patriots is only too glad to quote the offending line that “it is neither the drought nor sanctions” that have caused Zimbabwe’s headlong decline. “The Zimbabwe government’s gross mismanagement of the economy and its corrupt rule” had brought on the crisis, said Dell, thus earning himself the umbrage of a government used to blaming everyone but itself.

The Herald went further to claim that Dell’s comments were “unbecoming and undiplomatic” as if any amount of diplomacy could mask the unparalleled national decay stinking as raw sewage.

The Herald reporter even had the cheek to pass a verdict that Dell faced expulsion for his “repeated” meddling in the country’s internal affairs. Needless to say there was no evidence of the envoy ever having made similar comments earlier, except for the alleged “trespassing” in the Botanical Gardens last month.

Information secretary George Charamba warned then that Dell was lucky to be alive after that incident. Now the Herald tells us he faces expulsion for his “crimes” and could face prosecution in his country.
What tosh! The only charge Dell faces is not speaking out earlier.

We must say we were more than dismayed to read John Makumbe’s Tough Talk in defence of Morgan Tsvangirai’s boycott option in The Zimbabwean this week. First a matter of correction: Makumbe overstretched his fable about two Zimbabweans forming five political parties. He went on to claim the MDC was “six days” old. Even as hyperbole it doesn’t work.

Then on Tsvangirai’s position, state media already call him Mr Boycott, so he needs no defending.

Makumbe went on to attack those who say they want to defend their turf where Zanu PF has never won an election for advancing a fallacious and myopic argument “since the dictator’s party still governs those areas in every sense of the word”. He goes on: “To what effect has the keeping out of Zanu PF from these areas been of benefit to the removal of the dictator from office and the restoration of democracy and good governance?”

Good Lord, what is the world coming to? Is it the problem of the people of Matabeleland that the MDC has failed to win parliamentary seats in Mashonaland? And what’s this nonsense about Zanu PF governing in areas where it lost the election?

Whoever said a party with a majority of seats cannot rule in areas where it has lost? Are there parts of the UK where Tony Blair doesn’t rule because he lost to the Conservatives there? Are there areas in the US where George Bush doesn’t rule because he lost to the Democrats there?

Closer to home, are there areas where Bingu wa Mutharika is not president because he has ditched the party that brought him to power? We hope our overzealous intellectual is not confusing a legitimate opposition party with a rebel movement in the mould of the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda!

We would understand it if Makumbe said the party was changing its strategy to “remove the dictator” as he calls it. What is the new strategy now that they have given up on the electoral process? How are they going to ensure the “restoration of democracy and good governance” after the boycott? Are we now going to see the final, final push we wonder?

It’s a pity that people that one would expect to think more broadly and help Tsvangirai do not appear to see beyond region or ethnicity.

Readers may recall that when the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was introduced in 2002 we were told the main thrust of this deeply flawed legislation was to prevent “falsehoods” appearing in the press. It was obviously targeted at the independent media and foreign correspondents whose reporting the regime found unpalatable.

But its first showcase prosecution of Guardian correspondent Andrew Meldrum collapsed as did nearly every subsequent case because the law was so badly framed. Even extensive panel-beating failed to save the state from further embarrassment. A case against Daily News journalists a few weeks ago (for reporting to work!) didn’t even make it to court because it was so manifestly ill-conceived.

Now, as the regime struggles with growing international criticism, it is having difficulty with its spin. We saw recently how deputy Information minister Bright Matonga clumsily attempted to clarify remarks made by Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono on agricultural sabotage.

Matonga was not of course a disinterested party. A survey of productivity on one of his farms would provide ample evidence for Gono’s charges.
On Monday we were treated to an unedifying spat between the President’s Office and the Sunday Mail.

Political editor Munyaradzi Huni, formerly the regime’s spinner-in-chief but now under the surface, reported that President Mugabe would this week summon US ambassador Christopher Dell and read him “the riot act” over his recent comments on the crisis in Zimbabwe.

He would be asked why he was working with the British to compile “a false report” on the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, Huni told us.

But then on Monday, the Herald carried a correction saying Huni’s report was false. A statement by George Charamba said it was not the business of the President’s Office, “let alone the president”, to summon the US ambassador. That was the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In any case, the report did not reflect the feelings of the president, Charamba said.

Rubbing salt into the wound, Charamba went on the point out that this was the same reporter that described Tobaiwa Mudede as Registrar of Elections when he was Registrar of Voters. He had “once again got his facts wrong”, Charamba said.

Now, what do we have here? Firstly, Huni’s error in getting Mudede’s designation wrong is hardly a hanging offence. Any journalist can make that sort of mistake. So long as it is speedily corrected there is no damage done.

Unless of course the regime is particularly sensitive about Mudede’s role in elections!

And if the president does not feel as aggrieved by Dell’s remarks as the state media evidently does, who is behind the “Send Dell to Hell” campaign?

But we doubt that the ambassador was exactly quaking in his boots at the prospect of being summoned by the self-important Simbarashe Mumbengegwi whose blabbering performance on Hardtalk is still the stuff of legend.

Our advice to the ambassador: take a pin. Once the hot air begins to accumulate, apply the pin and stand back. Better to go out with a bang than a whimper!

We liked the bit in the ambassador’s speech, missed by the media, where he refers to a visit by Anglo American boss Lazarus Zim.

“He related a telling story of his investment experience in Zimbabwe. Anglo American, you might know, is a shareholder in Hippo Valley Estates, which is under threat of seizure by the government.

“Mr Zim travelled to Zimbabwe to sort out the problem and was told to talk to the new governor of Masvingo province. He approached the governor, pointing out that Hippo Valley Estates had a contractual agreement with the government to farm in Hippo Valley.  The governor alleged no knowledge of the agreement. Mr Zim then produced the contract, which happened to bear the governor’s own signature.

“To the Anglo American executive’s astonishment, the governor blithely passed off the contract as ‘open to re-negotiation’.  You can imagine the lesson Mr Zim took back to Anglo American’s board from this experience and the consequences it has had on Anglo American’s plans to invest further in mining in Zimbabwe.”

Mugabe’s designation of 2005 as the Year of Investment also came under withering fire.

“I understand President Mugabe designated 2005 the Year of Investment. Is there no greater irony than bludgeoning property rights under the banner of investment promotion?”  

There is apparently a greater irony: Mugabe lecturing a FAO meeting on food production in Rome. Dell spoke of the government’s refusal to acknowledge the widespread hunger that its policies have caused.

“ . . . the grim irony of President Mugabe, who has presided over and led this decline, lecturing the Food and Agriculture Organisation was lost on no one — we and other donors are helping to feed over five million Zimbabweans”.

Perhaps ambassadors of donor states in Dar-es-Salaam could convey this point to President Benjamin Mkapa.

While Tanzania may have adopted policies that encourage agricultural production and a growing economy as well as a free press and two-term presidents, aiding and abetting leaders who pauperise their people is neither statesmanlike nor beneficial to anyone.

CZI president and ZSR boss Pattison Sithole should know better than to make naïve remarks about the press. He believes “some media practitioners are Zimbabwe’s worst enemies, as evidenced by their concerted effort to rubbish the country in the international arena”, he told the Business Herald.

“I think some of you guys are careless and just too unfair on Zimbabwe.”

Some journalists had “thrown ethics out of the window”, he said, and were embellishing their stories, “creating controversies out of nothing”.

What was lacking was the “development dimension”.

That should have set the alarm bells ringing. Development journalism is the Siberia of professional journalism. It is to be found mostly in totalitarian states and usually consists of first ladies opening chicken cooperatives in places like Gokwe.

What the press should be doing is exposing the fantasies of Reserve Bank governors and Ministers of Finance — not to mention naïve business leaders — who think we should all be writing about turnarounds when there manifestly aren’t any. Who will speak the truth to power if we don’t? Evidently not the sweet- talking Sithole.

Why does Sithole think there should be more Pollyanna journalists looking at the economic collapse all around us through rose-tinted glasses and then describing it as a “challenge”? Isn’t there a whole media industry in Zimbabwe devoted to such deceit? Does he expect us to join it? Is that our public responsibility — to pretend all is well when it isn’t? Is that what his members want?

He thinks we are “unfair” for ascribing responsibility where it belongs. Where would he place it? And, by the way, why did the country run out of sugar on his watch?

Let’s provide a classic example of the sort of dissembling Sithole appears to recommend. The business section of the Sunday News led on October 30 with a story headed “High expectations ahead of budget”.

The obvious question was: how could anybody have high expectations of this government given its record? There then followed an interview with the ZNCC’s Luxon Zembe who spoke of the need for government to reduce expenditure and the budget deficit to levels below 5%. He also spoke of the need for strong political will on the part of government and the implementation of consistent, rather than contradictory, policies.

Nothing wrong with that. Except of course anybody who expects Herbert Murerwa to do anything different to what he has always done in a succession of failed budgets needs counselling.

We doubt whether Zembe himself has “high expectations”. He just pointed out what needs to be done. There is a national consensus on what needs to be done. But the government is ignoring it.

And Sithole is diverting public gaze by banging the patriotic drum. He is denying to the public and his members a robust media that exposes misgovernance and is not shy of controversy.

As we all know there is no “strong political will” to turn things around because it means turning off the taps. It isn’t going to happen. They can’t stop printing money because that’s how they get by politically. That’s their meal ticket.

“High expectations” from this delinquent gang? Which ministries will they abolish? Which arms order will they cancel? Which paramilitary brigade will they stand down? What single example of sacrifice will Murerwa announce on December 1? Answers on the back of a postage stamp please.

Finally, after Chombo’s blatant assault upon the civil liberties of the people of Chitungwiza, does anybody feel sorry for Mrs Chombo, departing the US embassy in tears after being refused a visa to watch her youngster graduate from university in Texas? Does she know nothing of her husband’s record?

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