Wanted: spelling lessons for Mugabe

HAVING witnessed the rich irony of President Mugabe addressing meetings on food security in Harare and Rome, we were last week treated to the equally ludicrous spectacle of him addressing regional leaders on democracy.

“Democracy (in developing countries) is still under the great burden of trying to prove itself to Europe,” he told a gathering of the Southern African International Dialogue in Maseru. Zimbabwe would stand firm in refusing to have its elections unfairly judged by Britain, he said.

The list is a bit longer than that. In fact the only countries that will be permitted to judge elections in Zimbabwe are those that can be guaranteed to ignore rigging such as China, Russia, the AU and Sadc.

But the incongruities did not stop there. The assembled leaders, who included Mugabe’s old pal Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former prime minister of Malaysia, proceeded to lecture the press on its role in society. They even found some fool, calling himself a “former Western journalist”, to stand up and say he was very sorry for “things we have not done right”.

His name was Andrew Taussig, for the record.
Then we had a litany of complaints from these unaccountable leaders about how they had been treated at the hands of the media. Lesotho premier Pakalitha Mosisili said journalists “could even disrespect elders and leaders in their reports”.

Surely not! Actually treating these self-important, self-imposed, self-serving creatures to the scrutiny they deserve? Did any of the reporters present, for instance, ask what goodies Mahathir had brought along for the Mugabe family home?

We recall him encountering embarrassing questions from opposition MPs in the Malaysian parliament when he donated timber to Mugabe.

Then we had George Charamba telling stories. He claimed that Western journalists were trained “in the context of national values which inculcated in them the need to defend national interests”.

What examples can he give of such training? Did he experience such “inculcation” when he was the beneficiary of a British scholarship?

Has he ever read any articles by Gary Younge or Polly Toynbee in the Guardian? Is he unaware that significant segments of the British media are loudly opposed to Britain’s role in Iraq? Can you imagine anybody at the Herald daring to criticise Zimbabwe’s role in the Congo?

The most notable thing about the Southern African International Dialogue is this yawning chasm between rhetoric and reality. Here is an organisation based on the concept of smart partnerships between governments and the private sector. Mugabe is able to fly to Lesotho to pontificate on the need for such cooperation when his ministers such as Didymus Mutasa and Chris Mushohwe are busy threatening farms and businesses with seizure.

While Mugabe was at SAID in Maseru, state-sponsored raiders were plundering farms in Mwenezi of tractors and irrigation equipment, the product of years of investment.

How smart was that? And the state media here needs to be educated on how self-sufficient Malaysia was when it rejected IMF prescriptions in 1998. Its leaders had built it into a dynamic modern economy, the very opposite of Zimbabwe whose leaders have reduced it to a basket case dependent upon international charity.

This is what the Sunday Mail’s Munyaradzi Huni, who invariably appears anxious for somebody to worship, had to say on Zimbabwe’s predicament: “The country’s economic turnaround programme seems to have gone off the rails, but great statesmen like Dr Mahathir know that ‘failure is not an option’.”

And that’s the best he can do!

Meanwhile, the conviction of former finance minister and deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, seen as a political threat to Mahathir, was overturned by the country’s federal court in September 2004, nearly a year after Mahathir’s departure from office.

Anwar had been charged with sexual assault but, in a ruling that will sound familiar to Zimbabweans, the state’s key witness proved unreliable and was described as a police accomplice.

He claimed the assault had taken place in an apartment block that had not been built at the time. The original trial court allowed him to change his evidence. In so doing it had misdirected itself, the federal court ruled.

Anwar’s release from prison six years to the day since his dismissal from government was greeted with jubilation by his supporters. His continued detention had become an embarrassment to the government of Dr Abdullah Badawi who has attempted to put some distance between himself and the 22-year rule of his autocratic predecessor, news agencies reported.

“You’ve got to recognise the fact that his predecessor wouldn’t have made this judgement possible,” Anwar told reporters after his release.

No wonder Zimbabwean officials are saying “Dr M” has much to teach us!

The president’s nephew, Leo Mugabe, has been much in the news of late. But it’s not the sort of publicity he would want.

He is accused of reselling subsidised flour across the country’s borders in what many in the ruling party may call private enterprise. What interested us were reports that at the time of his detention Leo complained bitterly that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights had not taken the slightest interest in his case.

“Where are all the human rights lawyers?” he was heard to complain.

And his wife Veronica couldn’t understand why Leo had been singled out when commodities trading was very much a family business!

Is Harare town clerk Nomutsa Chideya a card-carrying member of Zanu PF? You would certainly think so from his remarks about the Combined Harare Residents Association. He described them as “people who get foreign funding and want to please their masters by making unnecessary noise.

“They should not use opposition parties to attack the operations of local authorities but should learn to take up ownership of the city,” he was reported as saying in the Sunday Mail Metro.

“What we expect from residents with the city at heart is to look at all fundamentals and find a possible way forward.”

He certainly hasn’t found a way forward despite being kept in style by ratepayers over a number of years. We recall that house in Milton Park. And what sort of arrogance is it that a paid official tells Harare residents what he expects of them?

This is what happens when long years of service to the regime leads functionaries to conclude that they can say — and do — what they like.

What has Chideya done to improve water supplies, road conditions, street lighting and refuse disposal? How does the city look now compared to when he first took office?

Official arrogance and non-performance are very much a part of Zimbabwean public life. The two seem to go together!

Mr Chideya, get off your backside and achieve something for Harare before you lecture ratepayers on what they should or should not be doing. And who believes for one minute that “networking” with Russia is going to produce anything, as you seem to think?

Chideya said he placed adverts in newspapers about the supplementary budget because the city only had nine commissioners who did not have the capacity to visit all residential areas to hold consultations.

Why does he think anybody wants to see these incompetent Zanu PF stooges? The residents want the return of their elected council and they want it now. Hopefully, when democracy is restored the first thing the elected council will do is booting Chideya out.

By the way, how much is that Milton Park house costing and who is paying for it?

Congratulations to the Harare commission and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority for their inimitable diligence. After years of painstaking inquiry this week their efforts were handsomely rewarded.

The Sunday Mail Metro reports that the commission and Zinwa have discovered that the city’s “perennial water problems” are due to “poor infrastructure” at water treatment plants. This made it “impossible” to pump water efficiently, the paper reported. This had left many residential areas without water for weeks on end.

Adding further to our enlightenment on the city’s water problems, Chideya discovered that the increased number of residents was “putting a lot of pressure on reservoirs”.

After this miraculous discovery can we expect to see an improvement in service delivery? Can we expect an apology or a reinstatement of Harare executive mayor Elias Mudzuri, falsely accused by Ignatious Chombo of mismanagement of council affairs?

Meanwhile, unlike the Herald, we were not surprised by the conspiracy of silence by both the Harare commission and Chitungwiza council on the outbreak of dysentery in the two cities. The paper said the two councils had an ethical and legal responsibility of keeping their residents informed of health risks.

There could be three possible explanations why they couldn’t be bothered. It’s the first time in many years that we have heard somebody raising issues of ethics in Zanu PF operations. So perhaps that word is not in their vocabulary. Secondly, both commissions can’t have a legal obligation towards residents who didn’t elect them.

Their first obligation is to the minister who appointed them.

The more probable reason for the silence is the culture of denial in government. They don’t want to admit that their master is failing to run the two cities.

Surely the Herald hasn’t forgotten that such simple home truths nearly cost Bulawayo mayor Japhet Ncube his job when he said several residents had starved to death in the city. President Mugabe went so far as to ask Archbishop Pius Ncube to produce the bodies of the deceased.

So who would want to be called a saboteur and a puppet of the West by exposing such inconvenient truths?

Finally, will somebody please pay for some spelling lessons for the president. He says he can’t spell Dell. But he can spell hell.

The reason he can spell hell is that he uses it all the time. “Practice makes perfect”. Everyone can go there, he thinks. But Dell is a bit more problematic because the president hasn’t come across it before.

Muckraker is sure that with a bit more use our very educated leader will get a grip on it. The US ambassador must provide the homework for this presidential self-improvement exercise by speaking out more often.

Other words the president has difficulty with are democracy, rule-of-law, good governance and economic recovery. But being a slow learner he is unlikely to grasp these before 2008.

* In our edition of October 7 we referred to a report on ZimOnline that Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa had taken a second wife. The report claimed this had caused complications with his first wife.

Chinamasa’s lawyers have since written to say that the report is false and tarnishes their client’s “good name, fame, reputation and esteem”.

This is a matter we believe the minister should take up with ZimOnline. But in the meantime we are happy to publish an apology as requested by him if he feels his good name, fame, reputation and esteem have suffered as a result of the reference to the report in this column.

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