Muckraker: Herald must eat humble pie

THE Herald never ceases to amaze. After the ruling party had suffered the most humiliating blow in its history, losing seats across the board, the newspaper splashed a front-page picture of Zanu PF supporters in Masvingo South celebrating the “victory” of House of Assembly candidate Walter Mzembi.


Yesterday it tried to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by claiming  an “absolute majority” in the three Mashonaland provinces Midlands and Masvingo. But very simply Zanu PF lost.
It had been hoped that the partisan journalism of the state newspapers that so marred this campaign could be transformed into something more statesmanlike once the results were out. Instead we got more of the same including facile opinion pieces from redundant Pan-Africanists.
The Herald should wake up and smell the coffee. There has been a sea change in Zimbabwean politics. Mzembi may have won in Masvingo South but the MDC cut a large swathe through Masvingo, the Midlands and above all Manicaland where ministers went down to defeat in hitherto safe seats. Why no pictures of voters celebrating there?
We bet Patrick Chinamasa, Mike Nyambuya, Joseph Made, and Amos Midzi aren’t celebrating!
And how does the Herald explain the following headlines: “Survey gives Tsvangirai 27% of vote”; “Voting MDC wasting votes”? Then there were all the childish conspiracy theories including the helicopter story. The pilot was reminded that Zimbabwe is a one-helicopter state!
It’s time the Herald and its Sunday sibling ate humble pie and confessed to the error of their ways. This has been a humiliating defeat for President Mugabe’s claims. He said voting for the MDC was like voting for the British. What are we to conclude now: that the majority of our people would prefer to be ruled by the British?

Obviously the public didn’t buy his paranoid posturing. That includes his “anti-imperialist” acolytes. Sikanyiso Ndlovu, Tafataona Mahoso, and George Charamba have all been proved wrong at best and deceitful at worst. Who will ever take them seriously again? 
Excluding the international media was a disastrous error. They all made it abundantly clear to viewers that they were not allowed into Zimbabwe raising the obvious question: “What do they have to hide?” Claiming that some networks didn’t have an open mind was just plain stupid. Can you imagine George Bush refusing to speak to the New York Times because he perceived the newspaper as hostile to him? Governments should be in the business of winning friends and influencing people; not seeing enemies everywhere.

We were intrigued by the statement put out by defence and security chiefs last Friday. They said they would not tolerate any attempt to cause mayhem. Of particular interest was the following paragraph: “The authority of counting votes and announcing the winners is vested in ZEC in accordance with law. We warn anyone of such inclination that we will not tolerate any such pronouncements as they have the effect of trying to take the law into their own hands…”
Could not the same thing be said of overweening service chiefs telling their officers and members of the public who to vote for? Indeed, wasn’t the whole charade last Friday designed to undo the damage caused by maladroit remarks a few weeks earlier?
If so it didn’t succeed. Once we heard references to “detractors” trying to cause chaos we knew we were back in the vacuous world of Zanu PF posturing.
Many of the election observers raised the issue of pronouncements from the service chiefs as designed to sway voters. The statement issued on Friday looked very much like an exercise in damage control. The unfortunate remarks referred to were dismissed as personal rather than institutional views. But the damage had been done. Zimbabwe appeared to be a society in which generals told people who to vote for. And that was clearly a breach of the Sadc guidelines.
Sadc observers have been keen to sweep all this under the carpet. But at least they raised the matter along with ghost voters and access to the public media. And it was the Pan-African Parliament’s head Mawick Khumalo who warned of the dangers of delay in announcing the results — the Kenya syndrome.

And who are Lawyers for Justice? How come we haven’t come across this outfit before? They claim to be a “wholly Zimbabwean social justice and human rights activists’ organisation”. You will get some idea of who they represent when they announced: “In terms of democratic development this election saw Zimbabwe rising higher in its democratic record, probably unparalleled in sub-Saharan Africa.”
OK, we get the message. Now we know who you are!

Muckraker doesn’t usually watch ZTV. It is simply too bad and too boring. But Sunday night was an exception. Surely they would be saying something about the election?
No, not really. It started with trailers for shows appearing later that evening. And then when the news started at 8:05 we were treated to inaudible interviews with people queuing at polling stations 24 hours earlier. No explanation whatsoever about what happened to the votes once they had been cast and when we could expect the results.
We were hoping to see footage of George Chiweshe fleeing from Meikles pursued by hordes of journalists and civic activists. But all ZTV could offer were clips from the previous day!
Do the interviewers know how to hold their microphones to obtain optimum results? It doesn’t look like it. And what steps are the Newsnet team making to provide a more interesting and professional service? Anchor-persons appear wooden and dull. Reporters are happy to have background noise while they interview people. Views are obtained from predictable sources who can be relied on to parrot the party line.
Please, it’s time for a change at Pocket’s Hill. In this age of media choice nobody would choose ZTV unless they had no alternative.

Still on the subject of professionalism we were interested to note the appointment of Mr Samuel Bepe as general manager of Natprint, a Zimpapers subsidiary. He was previously Harare branch technical manager. We wish him well.
On the same page and right next door to this announcement, three stories were illegible because the print was smudged. We were thus sadly unable to read about “Suspect hangs self”, “5 dogs kill man” and “Businessman sentenced”. Fascinating stories, we’re sure.
We were however able to read about Aeneas Chigwedere answering the call of his ancestors to take up traditional responsibility and lead his people as Headman Mubaiwa.
At his investiture Chief Svosve advised him to stick to traditional values in cases brought before him.
We are not sure what role the .303 rifle, among the items “adorning” him, plays in traditional society but let’s hope Chigwedere doesn’t make too much use of it!
Headmaster, historian, oracle and minister, Chigwedere has certainly led a busy life.
But we are relieved he has been “called” away from education where frankly he was making a mess of things. If he had stayed on Mugabe might have had to get that cane out again and deliver six of the best.

It was interesting to hear Chief Svosve at a meeting attended by Ray Kaukonde recently thanking the government for distributing food.
Here is somebody who led land invasions in 2000 but evidently hasn’t used what he took for agricultural production. Why is government having to distribute food when beneficiaries of its policies should be growing it? Perhaps Kaukonde could explain.

Never has there been such a wave of public indignation as over the painfully slow release of election results. Nobody buys the excuse about “logistical problems”. If that was the case how come the ZEC was able to choreograph the announcements so nobody suffered too much sense of shock?
One way ZEC could have helped was to simply say that so-and-so has been elected as MP for wherever. Jane Chigigi did not need to say “Member of the House of Assembly for … constituency”. There is no such title as Member of the House of Assembly. And obviously they are constituencies. She should also try and get a handle on siNdebele names.

Sikhanyiso Ndlovu was in the Herald on Tuesday having a go at those he imagined were causing “alarm and despondency” ahead of the polling. In particular he attacked the MDC and the Western press who he accused of “imperialist mischief”.
Which is why we are thrilled to announce that Ndlovu is still without a parliamentary seat. He had hoped to stand in Pelandaba/Mpopoma but the incumbent died, opening the way to a by-election. We don’t know if Ndlovu will put his name forward as the ruling party’s candidate. But given the trouncing Zanu PF received at the polls in Bulawayo it is unlikely that he will succeed.
We recall him boasting at the Quill Club last year that he would easily recover the seat from the MDC. He has yet to do so and is still a political nomad. As President Mugabe will not be appointing any more seat-less MPs to cabinet we await Ndlovu’s fate with interest. But until he has a job he should shut up for a while and give us all a rest.

The same goes for Bright Matonga. He was claiming on Wednesday that Tendai Biti had no right to announce results in the presidential poll and that his declaration would be seen as provocative by the police and army. The ZEC’s public relations director Tendayi Pamire joined in claiming no other body except the ZEC had the power to issue results.
It is amazing isn’t it how the supine ZEC which allowed the state to arrogate to itself so many of the ZEC’s functions could suddenly find its voice in defence of its tattered integrity.
Pamire should be contemplating what people will think of a five-day delay in releasing results that are already within the public domain. Why should the public have to wait for five days to discover information they are entitled to because the ZEC is dragging its heels on behalf of a manipulative regime. And Matonga should explain why the army and police should be “provoked” by democratic outcomes.
If Biti wishes to say that according to the MDC’s figures, backed by independent monitors, his party is in the lead, then he has every right to do so without the preposterous Matonga threatening military intervention! The same goes for Didymus Mutasa who has suddenly found his voice after his party’s mauling in Manicaland.
These discredited losers are behaving as if nothing has changed. But is anybody listening?
“What makes the situation even worse,” Pamire was quoted as saying, “was the fact that this (Biti’s announcement) was beamed live on some international television stations and could have been meant to confuse the actual count to come from ZEC.”
Don’t forget that confusing people is an offence in Zimbabwe. But did Pamire say anything when the President’s Office usurped the ZEC’s role of accrediting television stations?
We have said it before and we will say it again: the ZEC has failed to assert its independence and indeed its competence throughout this process. It has no idea how to deal with the press and has instead allowed ruling-party politicians to perform that task, not to mention the discredited MIC. As a result many governments are having difficulty taking the ZEC seriously.
Pamire, Ndlovu and Matonga should take note of the comment by the East African Community observers that “undue delays” in the announcement of results might encourage political parties to begin announcing their own results.