Muckraker: Blessed Are Those Who Travel On Zhing-zhongs

A RATHER confused message coming from The Post in Zambia. Just as thousands of Zimbabweans are suffering a terrible onslaught from Zanu PF as punishment for voting for the opposition, the newspaper publishes an editorial attacking the MDC for its Western links.

 

Opposition leaders had every right to campaign to remove President Mugabe, the editorial said, “but it’s treacherous for them to do so on the back of national failure”.

So let’s get this straight: if Mugabe’s disastrous policies and populist posturing have brought the country to a state of collapse, it is “treacherous” to say so?

This is the sort of misplaced nationalist nonsense that has contributed to the structural failure of states like Zambia and Zimbabwe. Instead of responding ourselves lest we be accused of harbouring an imperialist agenda, let’s provide space for the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), an affiliate of the ZCTU, which last weekend took out full-page advertisements to acquaint the public with the plight of teachers in outlying areas who have been the targets of Mugabe’s thugs.

“We are very disappointed by the manner in which our African brothers and sisters have handled the Zimbabwean crisis,” the PTUZ said. “Zimbabweans are made of flesh and blood; they do not need Westerners to tell them that they are being beaten. Sadc and the AU must stop chasing the shadow of the imperialist ghost and listen to what the majority of Zimbabweans are saying. When our nationalist leaders say they are reclaiming land from the white minority we take it that the land is needed for farming and not to bury us when we die of hunger and politically motivated violence.”

Equally confused is Patrick Chinamasa who says government will not invite Western observers to monitor the presidential run-off unless sanctions are removed.

First of all, what is a ruling-party official doing setting the rules for an electoral contest in which their leader is a player? This is once again a case of the candidate becoming the referee. Secondly, according to the Sadc Mauritius protocol on elections, it should be the function of the electoral commission to determine which observers it wants to invite, not the regime which has an interest in securing a favourable coverage.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has already proved itself deeply compromised. By allowing Chinamasa to arrogate to government the role of setting rules, imposing conditions and handpicking observers, the commission is further abdicating responsibility for the conduct of the run-off.

Already we have seen a Zimbabwean editor arrested for carrying opinions by an opposition leader that are deemed prejudicial to the state and to judges, even though those opinions form part of the public discourse. And trade union leaders are incarcerated for criticising the regime on Workers Day, May 1. They were denied bail when there was no danger of them absconding.

Chinamasa has previously said we have the right to criticise judges but that was when the judiciary was considered hostile to Zanu PF’s machinations!

Foreign journalists have been prosecuted for covering the first round without accreditation even though Aippa was amended after inter-party talks to remove provisions on compulsory accreditation.

Everywhere there is evidence of state intrusion which will intensify now Mugabe is seen as vulnerable to defeat. The small clique around him that believe he was deprived of victory by a Western plot and MDC manipulation now want to make sure they control the electoral process more effectively.

As for sanctions, it does not appear to have dawned on Chinamasa that there will be no change there until the state puts a stop to violence. Sanctions were imposed in response to the violence and electoral manipulation that surrounded elections in 2000 and 2002. Now the state has unleashed the same dogs of war, it thinks the West will simply fold its arms and watch.

That will not happen. International opinion is appalled by reports from organisations such as the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights which have documented the terrible injuries people have suffered for daring to oppose Zanu PF or because members of their families dared to vote against the ruling party.

Journalists in the state media seem unable to report facts on the ground without spinning the story so it is unrecognisable alongside the original version.

The visit by US ambassador James McGee and other diplomats to a hospital in Chiweshe on Tuesday provides a good example. Here is the Reuters version: “The United States condemned Zimbabwe’s government on Tuesday for its ‘harassment’ of the US ambassador and other diplomats questioned by police after visiting post-election violence victims at a hospital.

“The diplomats were on their way back from visiting a rural hospital to see victims of post-election violence. They were also held up at the hospital and questioned by security officials over their reasons for being there…”.

Now compare that to what the Herald said: “Yesterday (Tuesday) Ambassador McGee wanted to travel to Centenary in Mashonaland Central province where he intended to visit hospitals that MDC-T claimed were treating the party’s supporters who were allegedly assaulted by Zanu PF and government agents. He however was stopped at a roadblock near Glendale where police asked him to produce a note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirming his journey and actions.”

Wouldn’t an ordinary reader conclude from this that McGee was on his way to Centenary when he was stopped at Glendale and prevented from proceeding any further? In fact he spent some time at Mvurwi District Hospital and Howard Mission Hospital in Chiweshe and was able to film the extent of the injuries inflicted on MDC supporters. It was a useful trip. But he was stopped, along with the other diplomats, on his return journey. There was then an altercation with the police and others that lasted for about one hour and 20 minutes during which threats were reportedly made against a US diplomat.

But the Herald was so busy injecting George Charamba’s opinions and implicating “hired journalists” in the story that it omitted to actually relate what happened. The Herald chose not to mention for instance that McGee was accompanied by envoys from Britain, the European Union, Japan, the Netherlands and Tanzania.

How useful is a newspaper that can’t even tell its readers what happened?

Still on the subject of wayward journalism, we were interested to note that Tafataona Mahoso continues to claim that up to 1 000 “former Rhodesian white farmers” returned to Zimbabwe in March 2008 and celebrated the MDC’s “fraudulently announced victory” as having terminated African land reclamation.

This fictional episode was contained in the fake document Tendai Biti was accused of authoring before his lawyers wrote to the Herald. Mahoso continues to circulate the claim in the Sunday Mail even though he provides no evidence.

We are sure he would not want to be accused of circulating an unverified report. So we await the evidence that between 750 and 1 000 “former Rhodesian white farmers” returned to the country in March.

By the way, if they are formerly white, what colour are they now? And who counted them?

The Sunday Mail carried full-page ads last weekend from Air Zimbabwe to promote their Chinese MA60 planes on the occasion of their third anniversary as part of the AirZim fleet.

These planes have not enjoyed a universally acclaimed reputation. But they have been embraced by some of AirZim’s regular customers including Pastors Tom and Bonnie Deuschle and our columnist Eric Bloch.

Bloch says while the MA60 is not without fault, “its deficiencies are not of magnitude or major substance”. Phew, that’s OK then.

Bloch drew attention to the unstable access stairs but the airline says the problem has been resolved. Then there is the vibration and engine noise. But this only affects passengers in the front rows. Bloch says he always books a seat in the back row where there is less noise.

“Not only do I thereby avoid the vibration and noise,” he says, “but I am then seated closest to the bar, the loo, the exit and the wonderful air hostesses. (What more can one want?)”

We hope Eric will be careful about using the exit when in flight. And those “wonderful” air hostesses should be left alone to get on with their work.

Meanwhile, one’s confidence is hardly helped by the blessing pastors Tom and Bonnie gave the zhing-zhong planes. But at least they are spending their money on congratulating AirZim instead of handing it over to the president, which is when we last took issue with them!

A number of readers have called and written to express their horror over conditions on Friedawill Farm near Chinhoyi where deputy Reserve Bank governor Edward Mashiringwana was reported to have seized the farm while the owner was absent and refused to allow the NSPCA to provide food or water to the animals. This had led pigs, demented by thirst and hunger, to consume their young.

It is extraordinary that at every monetary policy review Gideon Gono deplores the arbitrary seizure of farms as being bad both for agricultural productivity and investor confidence.

Then his deputy in a case widely reported seizes a farm and proceeds to behave with extraordinary cruelty to the livestock.

The farm’s owners had a court order barring Mashiringwana from occupying the property.

So here we have contempt of court, disruption of production, and cruelty to livestock. What impression will that make on Gono’s investment drive? What has the governor got to say?

Meanwhile, Gono must stop making a noise about sanctions. Why should donors and others be expected to help such a lawless state when his own staff are implicated?

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has described as “laughable” claims by a senior Zimbabwean government official that the arms shipment carried by a Chinese ship had made its way into this country, The Namibian reports.

The ITF, along with many other international trade unions and civil society, actively campaigned that the ship, An Yue Jiang, be forbidden to offload the weapons ordered by the Zimbabwean government at regional harbours. It left Luanda on Tuesday last week after it was allowed to refuel and the ITF said by late Friday morning the ship was approximately 120 nautical miles off the coast of Namibia.

So who was the joker identified by the ITF as making them laugh with his claims that the cargo had already reached Harare?

Bright Matonga of course. He often makes us laugh as well. We don’t doubt that the regime is making strenuous efforts to obtain the weaponry on board. But if we had to choose between Not-so and the ITF it would be a no-brainer. Not-so is a comic of note. The ITF is a serious outfit.

Muckraker’s message to Not-so: The next time your government boots out Cosatu members, try to think of the consequences. What goes around comes around.

The same goes for journalists. How many enemies has this regime made over the past few years? Just as a matter of interest, has it made any friends? Has it pursued Dale Carnegie’s policy of winning friends and influencing people? Not by the look of it.

Its only friends seem to be dubious columnists such as Canada-based Stephen Gowans who is evidently prepared to countenance the assaults on MDC supporters and salute Zanu PF’s decision to fight the MDC.

Can you imagine somebody sitting in the comfort of Canada warmly approving what he describes as Zanu PF’s policy of “turmoil, disruption and fighting”? No wonder all Zanu PF’s friends turn out to be foreign or foreign-based.

Gowans, Peter Mavunga and Reason Wafawarova can’t stand the heat in the Zimbabwean kitchen so they pursue their undergraduate anti-imperialist struggle from the safety of those countries they purport to hate. What hypocrites!

We liked the following paragraph from the semi-literate The Voice newspaper. It followed the release of the election results.

“This means that a run-off is scheduled between President Mugabe who scored 43,2% and puppet Morgan Tsvangirai who got 47,9%”.

In other words the people of Zimbabwe voted for a puppet and rejected the authentic voice of the nation. Time to dissolve the ungrateful people!

We were also interested to note the worry in ruling-party circles, reflected in The Voice, that the MDC’s democratic resistance committees were being armed.

What is their worry exactly? That MDC supporters might actually resist the vicious bullies who have been unleashed against them? We can’t have that. And have you noticed how the Herald characterises violent farm occupations as war veterans “visiting” farmers to “discuss” land issues?

In a front-page story on Tuesday the Herald told us police in Masvingo were dismantling “political bases” set up by “some parties” in the province.

Now if those “some parties” had been MDC, can you imagine the Herald omitting to say so?

Also of interest this week was an editorial in the Sunday Times on the subject of the in-fighting at the SABC where CEO Dali Mpofu suspended news chief Snuki Zikalala and was then himself suspended by the board. Parliament’s communications committee in turn passed a vote of no confidence in the board.

This all relates to rivalries at the top of the ANC.

“This messy state of affairs shows the danger of the ruling party deploying its activists to run important state institutions which are meant to be independent and serve the people of South Africa,” the editorial said. “Besides undermining the independence of institutions of democracy, this ensures that the institutions suffer when the activists fall out of favour.”

This has resonance for our own situation where state officials are attempting to subvert ZBC and Zimpapers for their own partisan purposes. These are institutions that are meant to serve all Zimbabweans, not just a discredited ruling clique that long ago lost the nation’s trust.

Just as South Africa’s head of state is losing ground in the struggle for hearts and minds, so Zimbabwe’s unpopular leader is desperate to cling to every source of power.

At ZBC this week CEO Henry Muradzikwa was apparently fired for not parroting the Zanu PF line hard enough. A new political commissar is moving in at Pockets Hill.

But those who are prepared to be suborned at ZBC, Zimpapers and elsewhere should take note of the fate that awaits their South African counterparts. A parliamentary select committee on communications is flexing its muscles.

Zimbabweans have had enough of partisan news control designed solely to prop up a fading dictatorship. They want to see professional standards restored and those responsible for deliberately misleading them held to account. There can be no Nuremberg defence here. They may be “only following orders” but that won’t help them to escape popular judgement and the judgement of their peers.