MuckRaker – 7 Mar

ZEC all geared for March 29 — so they say

On Sunday the official press carried a statement by the ZEC saying it had come to their notice that “information is circulating that ZEC will use cardboard ballot boxes, that ZEC polling officers will demand proof of residence from voters…and that ZRP officers would assist those voters who requested to be assisted”.

None of this is true, we now learn. And who was the source of all this misleading information? The ZEC, it turns out.

“The information is contained in a pamphlet which ZEC has since withdrawn because of these factual errors…”

The ZEC will not use cardboard ballot boxes; it will use translucent ballot boxes. No proof of residence is required and only the presiding officer and two other electoral officers can assist voters.

So, as we can see, all geared up for the big day! We particularly liked the way all this had “come to the attention of the ZEC” when they were the source of the misleading information. How long did it take to come to their attention? And were any other state agencies involved? After all, who would benefit from all this confusion?

Muckraker will resist the temptation to reveal how the ZEC moved in on an NGO’s workshop planned for the same day last week. The NGO had to cancel and withdraw when the ZEC invaded their space.

Speaking at the workshop, Kenyan author Ngugi wa Mirii claimed the violence in Kenya was the fault of the press.

And there we were thinking it was the product of a suborned electoral commission which did the bidding of the incumbent!

We were intrigued with Zanu PF’s election advert that reminded readers that Idi Amin had once been a waiter working in a restaurant.

This was in response to a statement by Morgan Tsvangirai that being a waiter was not a bad definition of democracy — you give people what they want.

Zanu PF leapt on this to point out that Idi Amin was a former waiter who mounted a coup and “gave Uganda a long brutal dictatorship”.

We had difficulty working out the significance of this ad. Tsvangirai’s definition of democracy seemed reasonable enough. But why should Zanu PF want to talk without irony about a “long brutal dictatorship”? They obviously need to come clean on their own “long brutal dictatorship” first.

As for President Mugabe being the author of Makoni’s success (another full-page ad), we are delighted to hear that he takes responsibility for at least some of his appointments. Perhaps he could tell us now if he is “appraised” of the record of Didymus Mutasa, Christopher Mushohwe, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, Aeneas Chigwedere and other failures who have served him so faithfully in office?

It was interesting to note that following Dumiso Dabengwa’s defection to the Makoni camp, all the Sunday Mail could offer were the comments of lightweights like Ndlovu, George Charamba and Cain Mathema who are dependent on Mugabe’s patronage.

None of them come near to Dabengwa in terms of political stature and they know it. Why does Mathema think that Dabengwa is a tribalist when he is collaborating with Makoni?

What is interesting to note however is how their response betrays a growing nervousness in the corridors of power. And have you noticed how every time some party bigwig declares “we are all solidly behind President Mugabe” there is another defection? Mugabe must be becoming increasingly nervous of just who is “behind” him and what they are about to do from that vantage point!

The Media and Information Commission (MIC) has banned award-winning Zimbabwean journalist, Brian Hungwe, from practising journalism in the country, a Misa statement reveals.

Hungwe was accused of violating a section of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa) which requires that a representative office of a foreign mass media service must obtain permission from the media regulator before setting up in Zimbabwe.

Misa-Zimbabwe said Hungwe, a former correspondent with the South African Broadcasting Corporation, was last month banned for one-year following his appeal against the MIC’s earlier decision banning him from working as a freelance journalist.

According to Misa, the ban is illegal since the MIC ceased to exist on January 11 when President Robert Mugabe signed an Aippa amendment.

“Misa-Zimbabwe condemns in the strongest terms the MIC’s decision as it is not only illegal but vindictively designed to curtail media freedom and freedom of expression ahead of the March 29 elections,” the media watchdog said.

Misa-Zimbabwe said Hungwe’s story dates back to 2006 when he was approached by the BBC to be their correspondent in Harare.

The MIC took their time to accredit him and later suspended him from the roll of journalists for one year for allegedly contravening sections of Aippa, Misa reported.

Hungwe appealed but in a letter dated Wednesday, February 26, the MIC said he had failed to lodge an appeal within 28 days as required by the law and must now serve the full ban.

A letter from the MIC said: “After due process of a hearing as provided for by Section 52B (4) and (6) at a hearing conducted by the MIC on 20 August 2007, you were found guilty of violating Sections 90 and 79 (5) of the Statutory Instrument 169C of 2002. You were suspended from the roll of journalists for a one-year period, that is from 20 August 2007 to 19 August 2008.

“The MIC is not in a position to entertain your appeal as there is no basis in law for such an appeal now.”

Hungwe last week said the ban had robbed him of his source of livelihood.

“I was born in Zimbabwe and this is where I will die. Journalism is my source of livelihood and I cannot understand why this country would want to ban journalists from reporting in their own countries. I have been patient with the MIC for more than a year now because I did not want to be seen as being confrontational, but this latest development leaves me with no option but to seek recourse through the courts,” Hungwe said.

Muckraker has reproduced this report in detail because impediments to Zimbabwean voters making an informed choice at the ballot box need to be exposed.

President Thabo Mbeki continues to insist that apart from a few procedural matters, both Zanu PF and the MDC are agreed on the holding of elections on March 29. In fact that date was announced unilaterally by President Mugabe and the election is being conducted along traditional lines. Zanu PF has driven a coach and horses through the Sadc guidelines. We have the police banning demonstrations, service chiefs instructing their juniors on who to vote for, and the public media suborned to act as a mouthpiece for the ruling party.

With the banning of Hungwe it is clear that journalists are being obstructed in reporting the election, to the disadvantage of voters and the electoral process.

The media community needs to draw attention to these abuses before the election so the government’s pledges to Mbeki can be compared with the reality on the ground.

Among those congratulating the president on his 84th birthday last month was “the Hon CC Mushohwe” who said his ministry would “continue to be inspired by your blessed leadership and will always put the needs and expectations of the people first”.

Does that include people who have been without a working telephone for months? Or the people who will have to foot Air Zimbabwe’s bill for three new Ilyushin-96 aircraft that the country can’t afford?

And who is the minister responsible for the outbreak of potholes on the nation’s roads? It is now life-threatening to travel from Masvingo to Beitbridge at night. If this country had been governed properly we would now have dual carriageways connecting Harare to Beitbridge, Harare to Lusaka, and Harare to Blantyre. Why, nearly 28 years after Independence, do we have no motorways connecting us to the region’s centres?

Meanwhile, Muckraker’s “Mother of all Potholes” competition has had a rash of new entries. Take a drive down Mazoe St to the National Blood Transfusion Service and see the condition of the road there. You need a 4X4 to get across. How do the ambulances cope? Meanwhile, Suffolk Rd near the junction with Kerry contains a pothole of gigantic proportions. Local residents appear happy to have it there. Perhaps, like the salvagers of yore, they are waiting to pounce upon victims of car-wrecks!

Muckraker was interested to note that postmen will soon be delivering mail by motorbike. Thirty motorbikes have been acquired by Zimpost for deliveries in Harare and Bulawayo.

But what will happen when the bikes break down? Zimpost already provides a patchy service with Christmas card deliveries continuing to arrive in March! That is because they are too busy perhaps pledging their loyalty to President Mugabe on his birthday.

But at least bicycle delivery was fairly reliable in an old-fashioned sort of way. Above all, the bicycles could be fairly easily fixed by their riders. Now every systemic failure will be blamed on the motorbikes breaking down and the parts being unavailable. Just as grass is not cut because tractors have broken down. Before the tractors the city’s grass verges and public spaces were well-tended by municipal workers. Not any more.

Zimpost chefs are already preparing us for failure. Efficiency would depend on the provision of fuel, we are told. Please let’s stick to the bikes!

Still on the subject of inefficient parastatals, we had George Shire lecturing us on Tuesday about the danger of allowing the public sector to fall into the hands of greedy capitalists at the behest of Bretton Woods institutions. This formed part of an attack on Makoni’s and the MDC’s manifestos.

What Shire didn’t mention was the huge cost of allowing those parastatals to remain in the hands of a parasitic political elite which treats them as their private piggy banks. Privatisation would represent an acute form of dispossession, Shire argues. But what needs to be interrogated is how Noczim, AirZim, Arda, TelOne and Zimpost add value to the nation when they are dependent on handouts from the fiscus.

The answer is simple: they provide sheltered employment for Zanu PF’s legion of hangers-on. No wonder they oppose privatisation. They have everything to lose from an efficient economy. And they dress up their opposition to privatisation as a national crusade. “What tosh!” as Shire would say.

“On March 29 I urge Zimbabweans to vote Zanu PF in large numbers and peacefully simply because I love you…” Shire concluded his editorial epistle, warning against the agents of regime change.

But will he be amongst us on March 29 helping to shape the nation’s destiny? Or will he remain in the comfort of capitalist Britain from where he writes, firmly declining to put his money where his mouth is?

Our thanks to Caesar Zvayi for explaining what that rooster is doing on top of the Zanu PF headquarters. It “reposes proudly” at the apex of the building to remind us that Zanu PF brought the dawn, he tells us.

We thought it was because a bunch of ruling-party apparatchiks chose to assert their authority over Zapu by refusing to replace it with the jointly agreed Great Zimbabwe symbol in 1987. Perhaps Caesar could provide details of that little altercation for posterity.

The Herald this week reported that Deputy Information minister Bright Matonga had managed to get a Harare restaurant fined $10 million simply because he wanted to pay less than the price of a copy of the state newspaper at the time.

Harare’s Amanzi Restaurant, which is allowed to charge tourists in foreign currency, had asked Matonga to pay $9 711 000 for a “meal and drinks” priced at US$97,11 on June 25 2007.

Whether it was a quarter-chicken and chips plus a Coke, it boggles the mind how Matonga expected
to pay $24 277,50 for something good enough to be eaten by an honourable MP.

On the day in question, a copy of the Herald cost $25 000, cooking oil was $250 000 for 2 litres, 2kg of salt cost $180 000, 1kg beef went for $355 000 and Mazoe Orange Crush was $600 000.

At times you wonder which planet our vatongi (rulers) are living on.

We were interested to hear Mugabe tell George Bush and Gordon Brown: “Remember, the gold in the country is mine, and the land is also my land.”

So, not much redistribution going on there!