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Muckraker: Tourists Are Not Stupid

Last weekend the Sunday Mail published a front-page story headed “I am under pressure…Mwanawasa speaks out”.


Included in that story was a reference to a letter Gordon Brown purportedly wrote to Morgan Tsvangirai “confirming that he would lobby Sadc to take action against Zimbabwe”.

“The British government is supportive of (regime) change in Zimbabwe. The UK government believes that the situation is now untenable and a Zanu PF government is no longer relevant to the people of Zimbabwe,” Brown is said to have written on April 9.

“I shall be communicating with you after lobbying Sadc to make sure that a solution to the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe is reached and your electoral process is respected.”

The Sunday Mail last weekend then quoted Zanu PF media sub-committee chairman Patrick Chinamasa as saying recently “the correspondence between Mr Brown and Mr Tsvangirai exposed Britain as the brains behind (last month’s) Sadc summit.

The Herald on April 17 had published a copy of the letter supposedly written by Brown to Tsvangirai.

On April 18 the Herald published a response from the British embassy exposing the Brown letter as “a forgery”.

“No such letter or wider correspondence exists,” the embassy said. “It reflects the regime’s desperation that Zanu PF and state-controlled media have resorted to faking documents for crude propaganda purposes, and not for the first time.”

In other words the Sunday Mail last weekend quoted from a document it knew to be a forgery. Also in the Herald of April 18, Tendai Biti’s lawyers pointed out that a document published widely in the state media and allegedly authored by Biti was also a fake. But many of the claims in that document continue to circulate.

Chinamasa, as chair of the Zanu PF media sub-committee, has an obvious responsibility to check his facts before making allegations. He has accused the MDC of treason on the basis of the fake letter from Brown. But what can we say about editors who are suborned by politicians and permanent officials into making manifestly false claims?

Who hands them these lies to circulate and why are they not questioned?

The state media editors have a representative body which is supposed to maintain professional standards. How does the repetition of self-evidently false stories fit into their mandate?

Meanwhile, readers may like to see what the Zambians think of Chinamasa and Zanu PF’s attacks on their leader.

“The Zimbabwean government is not being fair to President Mwanawasa as chairman of Sadc by heaping abuse on him and then asking him to assist the country,” Chief Government spokesperson, Mike Mulongoti said in the Times of Zambia last week.

He said Zimbabwe should quickly resolve its problems by holding free and fair elections before talking about the sanctions that have been imposed on it.

Mulongoti was reacting to allegations by Chinamasa that President Mwanawasa as the Sadc chair was doing nothing to ensure sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe were lifted. He said it was surprising that the Zimbabwean government had allowed its newspaper, the Herald, to heap abuse on Mwanawasa and at the same time ask him to assist the country.

“The Zimbabweans need to exercise humility and show decency because they cannot insult President Mwanawasa and at the same time ask him to help them because as Sadc chair he has done what he can,” Mulongoti said. He said that Zimbabweans should hold the elections and “whoever emerges winner would then talk about sanctions because to talk about sanctions now may be premature”. He said the issue of sanctions was for Zimbabweans which they understood better.

“It is surprising that Mr Chinamasa, the man who lost an election is very vocal and bitter,” Mulongoti said.

We would say “not surprising”!

We were interested to see the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority is approaching those agencies of Western imperialism, CNN and the BBC, to make documentaries saying what a wonderfully peaceful country Zimbabwe is.

“This is part of our efforts to portray Zimbabwe’s warm hospitality and its peaceful environment despite the negative attention the country has been receiving after the March elections,” a ZTA executive said.

Will this include such scenic attractions as Mvurwi District Hospital or Howard Hospital in Chiweshe where evidence abounds of the “warm hospitality” of those who want to see President Mugabe enjoying another term in office?

ZTA executives talk about their “perception management programme”. But hasn’t it occurred to them that perceptions tend to be based on realities? A bruised and beaten people cannot be hidden. And does the ZTA in all seriousness believe that broadcasters like CNN and the BBC will collude with the ZTA in a programme of deception?

Mugabe said last Friday that the recent elections took place “in circumstances of an all-out war”.

Zimbabwe is a country where lawyers are arrested for suggesting the president should go (especially if the snitch who reported it carries the same name) and where journalists are locked up for publishing articles by opposition leaders saying the same thing. The fact that 48% of voters agree is immaterial. It is treachery to state the obvious!

What Zanu PF never tells us is what Mugabe will do if he stays. More of the same? Inflation of 1 000 000%? Jails full of people who think he should go?

And then the ZTA talks about “perception management”. Are tourists not expected to read the state press which daily announces the arrest of polling officers and civic leaders? Which pretends that the visible evidence of brutal beatings are “lies” made up by the MDC?

The ZTA needs to get real. Tourists are not stupid.

We were amused by the report that US ambassador James McGee was given a “dressing down” by Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi last week following McGee’s excursion into Mvurwi and Chiweshe to see the depredations of Zanu PF thugs. He was accompanied by envoys from several other countries including the Netherlands and Tanzania.

Does anybody except the government’s captive media take Mumbengegwi seriously? Perhaps they meant to say it was a “dressing gown” that McGee was given? Whatever the case, the diplomatic community will have chuckled at the prospect of McGee being “dressed down” by the representative of a regime that long ago forfeited international respect.

There are no parts of Zimbabwe that are off-limits to ambassadors based in this country. And the Americans and other diplomats submitted diplomatic notes on their intentions before they set out to inspect the damage caused by rampaging militias.

“McGee’s sincerity has come under scrutiny as he is only visiting the so-called MDC-T supporters in hospitals and ignoring Zanu PF supporters who were brutalised by MDC supporters in different parts of the country,” the Sunday News told us.

Perhaps that was because nobody could find any Zanu PF supporters brutalised by the MDC-T!

Perhaps the Sunday News knows where they are hiding.

But hospital wards across the country are full of ordinary folk whose only crime was to vote — or were suspected of voting — against Mugabe helping himself to another term. In some cases the victims were attacked because relatives were associated with the MDC.

Chinamasa preposterously claimed Zanu PF had evidence that McGee was “sponsoring violence” that he would later use as evidence against Zanu PF. The ambassador was collecting the evidence, we were told.

Is it not the function of an ambassador to collect information and send it home? Is that not part of their job description? The problem here is that Zanu PF is in denial. It has told its captive media to call any evidence of state brutality “lies” regardless of the facts. But just because the state media is ignoring the shocking and disgraceful evidence of the barbarity taking place around the country that doesn’t mean others have to ignore it. McGee seems to be doing a good job, doing what any self-respecting ambassador should be doing.

And have you noticed that since Thabo Mbeki’s visit a few weeks ago those who were swearing that they would never recognise Morgan Tsvangirai as head of state are now singing a different tune urging people to desist from violence? That doesn’t mean their wives have reformed. They are still spitting fire while claiming to be doing charity work!

Dumiso Dabengwa’s recent comments in the Christian Science Monitor may be of interest to readers. He explains why he could not support a further term for Zimbabwe’s long-serving ruler.

“We started saying to ourselves, are we really going to have Mugabe stand as our presidential candidate, with all the problems we have in the country, all the difficulties we are going through?

“And are we really going to contend for him and tell our people, you are going to vote for this man? For some of us, it was a very difficult prospect of supporting an idea like that.”

There you have it. And how many times is that reflection being replicated in the offices and homes of ordinary Zimbabweans?

The following figures from Macquarie First South were published last week by Jayendra Naidoo in the Johannesburg Sunday Times. South African Reserve Bank data shows that the combined GDP of South Africa and Zimbabwe was US$143 billion in 1994, with Zimbabwe’s share about 5%.

By last year the combined size of South Africa and Zimbabwe’s economies had doubled to $283 billion, but Zimbabwe’s economy accounted for just 0,2% of the total.

Today the Zimbabwean economy is 40% smaller than it was in 1999. Had it maintained its pre-2000 growth rate its GDP would be at least US$7 billion larger than it currently is. It is estimated that the share of “lost” exports from South Africa to Zimbabwe is approximately US$22 billion. This has contributed to a total loss in GDP of US$46 billion in the current year.

Macquarie First South’s research, Naidoo points out, suggests that a meltdown in Zimbabwe could weaken the rand by as much as 20%.

This is all salutary stuff for those who deny the knock-on effect of Zimbabwe’s crisis claiming it is none of South Africa’s business. Clearly what is happening in Zimbabwe is bad for business!

“Zimbabwe’s crisis is not just a lost opportunity in terms of GDP,” Naidoo says, “but a huge direct cost to South Africa. Formerly a food exporter, Zimbabwe is now an exporter of poverty and refugees.”

And this is the situation Zanu PF wants voters to endorse so it can deliver more of the same!

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