ITâ€™S not often these days that Zimbabweâ€™s First Couple get to travel to a European capital, so the invitation from the FAO to attend its world summit on food security must have come like manna from heaven.
Rome in early summer is bliss, especially for the faithful. But anybody who attacks the Western media as often and as virulently as President Mugabe must expect some scrutiny from the same media when basking in the comfort of the five-star Ambasciatore Hotel. The BBC reported as follows:
“While Zimbabweâ€™s Robert Mugabe has tried to keep a low profile thus far, he and his entourage have finally emerged into the spotlight from the five-star Ambasciatore, one of Romeâ€™s finest hotels. The restaurant reputedly serves up the very best of Italian cuisine and the wine-cellar is stocked to meet the requirements of the most discerning palates. But whatever Mr Mugabe and his hand-picked delegation are enjoying, there is no doubt that for the next few days they will be living the sort of life the average Zimbabwean can only dream of.
“His companions are acutely aware of how this looks. One member of staff at the hotel, who did not want to be named, claims the delegation have even brought their own food and chef. He claimed a row had broken out over the cost of a cup of tea though neither the hotel nor the delegation would confirm the staff memberâ€™s comments.
“The European Union has a longstanding travel ban on the veteran leader but he is allowed to attend UN summits. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations that is hosting the summit said all member countries were invited and that it is at the discretion of each member state who they decide to send. In an interview with the BBC, FAO director-general Jacque Diouf refused to be drawn on whether Mr Mugabeâ€™s presence here might be unhelpful. But Britainâ€™s International Development secretary Douglas Alexander did not pull his punches. He labelled Mr Mugabeâ€™s presence â€˜highly inappropriateâ€™. â€˜This is a UN meeting taking place on UN premisesâ€™, Mr Alexander said.
“â€˜But I think we must state unequivocally that we donâ€™t see Mugabe as gaining any legitimacy from attending this meeting when four million of his people require food aid as a direct consequence of his profound misrule of the countryâ€™.”
Then there was the matter of the dinner party that Zimbabweâ€™s leader was not invited to.
Reuters reported as follows: “The Italian and UN hosts of a UN crisis summit on rising food prices on Monday left the presidents of Zimbabwe and Iran off the guest list of a ceremonial dinner for the leaders attending the meeting.
“And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on his first visit to Western Europe as Iranian president, made sure of a frosty welcome by offending Israel on the eve of his departure.
“Neither was named on the list of guests for the official dinner being given on Tuesday by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the heads of state attending the June 3-5 summit, Italian media reported.
“Western ministers said Mugabe was responsible for the food shortages faced by millions in Zimbabweâ€™s shattered economy. â€˜We will not allow the millions of people who can no longer afford a normal meal to be held hostage by Mugabeâ€™, said Dutch Development Minister Bert Koenders.
“Alexander said four million Zimbabweans had to rely on food aid because of Mugabeâ€™s policies. â€˜This is not a man with any credibility or any contribution to a discussion on international foodâ€™, he said.”
Perhaps Mugabe will bring some Italian food back with him. Muckraker would be happy with a packet of crisps.
Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said, and the state media is certainly full of inventions these days. On Sunday the Sunday Mail carried a story claiming that senior MDC officials had been recruiting young Zimbabweans in South Africa who are being deployed to cause terror in Zimbabwe.
“Some of the youths are recruited from universities in South Africa while others are Zimbabwe National Army deserters and former policemen,” the paper told us without attributing the story to anybody in particular.
Have these desertions been confirmed by the ZNA? Apart from the “terror campaign”, the youths had been deployed to hold demonstrations outside the Zimbabwe embassy in Pretoria and to attack Zimbabweans in South Africa in the hope of forcing them to come back to Zimbabwe and vote in the June 27 presidential run-off, the paper claimed without explaining how they would be able to do that if they were not registered voters.
Some are quartered at a farm outside Pretoria while a second group was based on a farm near Pietermaritzburg where they are being trained by former Rhodesian Selous Scouts, the Sunday Mail said.
A “government source” said the xenophobic attacks being carried out in South Africa against Zimbabweans were designed to put pressure on President Thabo Mbeki to take “a tough stance against Zimbabwe”.
We are not told who the government source was disseminating such pernicious disinformation but further down in the story we have George Charamba “confirming” that government had received reports on the existence of the underground structures which were being investigated.
“Unfortunately for them (MDC),” Charamba declared, “the whole operation misfired, degrading it into indiscriminate and gratuitous violence against all and sundry including South Africansâ€¦Our security structures are working hand-in-glove (sic) with their counterparts in South Africa and we are expecting results very soon,” Charamba told the Sunday Mail.
Does anybody recall the story last March about MDC youths being trained on South African farms that fell apart in court because the state had no evidence to support it?
This looks suspiciously like a warmed-up version of that story. But will the South Africans want to be implicated in Zanu PFâ€™s dubious inventions, especially now that every self-respecting politician down there has dismissed the “Third Force” claims?
Irrespective of the absence of evidence, fables continue to be manufactured by the ruling partyâ€™s propaganda machine. And the facts are not allowed to get in the way of a good story.
For instance on Sunday Tafataona Mahoso wrote about a US ambassador coming to consult with James McGee.
“The Herald newspaper did well on May 28 when it alerted the nation to the meetings being held in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, meetings being convened by two US ambassadors (James McGee and Patrick Kelly Diskin) and the UK ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr Andrew Pocock.”
The Herald had written a story about Diskin, who it said was US ambassador to South Africa, “sneaking into Zimbabwe” via the Plumtree border post to hold talks with McGee. The British ambassador was also implicated.
In fact Diskin turned out to be a senior USAid official coming to consult on food requirements.
So Mahoso, who claims to preside over ethical conduct in the media, congratulated the Herald on a false story! He then proceeded to ignore the US embassy statement that Diskin was not ambassador to South Africa, carried in the Herald the following day, and wrote his entire African Focus ramble on the basis of this error.
It is now quite self-evidently government policy to refuse to correct mistakes. For instance on Monday the Herald slipped into its anchor story on President Mwanawasa a paragraph saying: “In a letter dated April 3 2008, written to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, (British prime minister Gordon) Brown revealed that he was lobbying Sadc to pressure the government and have the Security Council impose sanctions on Zimbabwe vindicating the view that Mr Mwanawasa had been compromised.”
Only if the story was true in the first place. But as we now know the Herald published a letter from the British Embassy on April 18 pointing out that the so-called letter from Brown was a clumsy forgery. And by the way, it was purported to have been written on April 9, not April 3.
Still, the Herald wasnâ€™t going to let the facts get in the way of its role as a suborned mouthpiece of President Mugabeâ€™s election campaign.
As Mugabeâ€™s predicament becomes more precarious with each passing day, so the stories become more deceitful. Please can the Media Monitoring Project keep a record of these fabrications so we can one day hold those responsible for such brazen breaches of media ethics accountable. Does anybody remember reports of the bombing of tall buildings and anthrax?
Meanwhile, ZEC is asleep on the job. Clause 12 of the amended Electoral Act empowers the Commission to regulate the conduct of the news media in relation to elections. Public broadcasters are obliged to afford parties and candidates free access to their services. The media should be “reasonably fair, impartial and restrained in their reporting of elections”, the Act says.
Is that the situation at present? Is the official media fair and impartial?
Muckraker is having difficulty fathoming the thinking of a party whose armed thugs beat up 86-year-old women and set livestock alight. Are these losers or what?
We now have senior security officers competing to see who can most loudly betray their constitutional obligations and professionalism. Why are they so unsure of the political loyalties of their subordinates that they have to make crude threats against them? Canâ€™t they be trusted to vote wisely?
Itâ€™s as if a wave of insecurity is engulfing Mugabeâ€™s closest associates â€” those who want him to stay even though he has nothing to offer. Can you imagine asking voters to endorse more inflation, more shortages, more hardship, and more poverty? Because thatâ€™s whatâ€™s coming in the event of another term.
The ruling partyâ€™s organ, The Voice, says Morgan Tsvangiraiâ€™s address to MDC supporters last weekend was “badly written and riddled with astonishing grammatical errors”.
If that was the case it needs to be exposed. But is this the same newspaper that brought us “Who will win road race in his owner?” â€” referring to an event to “honour” the memory of Simon Muzenda.
Then there was “ambassadors are expected to act in accordance with certain principals” (sic) which appeared on the front page of the May 25 edition.
We canâ€™t imagine the president would want his remarks about principles misrepresented by his own partyâ€™s paper!
This weekâ€™s award for the most preposterous statement comes from Zanu PF Bulawayo provincial chairman McLeod Tshawe who supplied this gem at the launch in Bulawayo of Mugabeâ€™s run-off campaign and Zanu PFâ€™s Pelandaba-Mpopoma by-election campaign: “Before 2000 there was no hunger, but when we took our land our former oppressors started sabotaging us,” Tshawe said. “The truth is that even with seven years of sanctions our economy is still faring better than most countries in the Third World.”
Thanks for that McLeod. We all had a good chuckle. Do you think for one minute that the people of Bulawayo will swallow this nonsense?
A strong contender for the award this week was Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu who said: “I assure you that when parliament opens I will be taking my place in
the august House to defend Zimbabwe together with President Mugabeâ€¦”
He said MP meant Man of the People. Letâ€™s see what the people really think. It will also be interesting to see what difference those seven computers handed out to local schools made in the campaign. Also the distribution of mealie-meal “ward by ward”.
By the way what was Dr Sylvester Maunganidze, a director in the Ministry of Information, doing
at a party political event of this sort?
And congratulations to the MDC â€” both wings â€” for prejudicing the democratic hopes of the nation and being of material assistance to Zanu PF by failing to field agreed candidates in the three by-elections to be held on June 27.
You have once again risen to the occasion!