Muckraker: Don’t Cry For Me Zimbabwe

THE official press appears to be grooming Grace Mugabe for high office.

A fawning piece appeared in the Herald on Monday comparing “Amai Grace” to the biblical Deborah who led the Israelites when confusion reigned among the children of God.

She toured the country assisting the “victims of barbarism”, we are told. “And while taking the opportunity to help the victims, Amai Mugabe became one of the first national political leaders to condemn violence…”

Really? We thought she spent her time condemning Morgan Tsvangirai.

“Amai Mugabe took the message of peace to the people of Zimbabwe, stressing the need for unity against the common enemy…”

MDC members may be forgiven if they have difficulty recalling the First Lady’s generosity towards them. Donations in Mayo appeared to be aimed at the victims of alleged opposition violence!

“Amai Mugabe, like a true mother figure, gently chided the nation and reminded Zimbabweans that this was their country…”

“Gently chided”? We remember a shrill partisan voice. As for Zimbabweans writing to the Herald urging her to take charge of President Mugabe’s campaign, this looks suspiciously like a well-orchestrated campaign of its own. Shades of Eva Peron here.

The wife of Argentina’s 1950s Fascist dictator, Juan Peron, Eva (Evita) was a populist demagogue who liked nothing better than appearing before her adoring fans on the balcony of the presidential palace. She helped to introduce labour reforms while her husband ruthlessly suppressed speech and press freedoms. Evita, encouraged by a servile media, harboured ambitions of becoming vice-president when her husband stood for reelection but the army put its foot down, or rather its boot.

movie starring Madonna in the role of Evita featured the song “Don’t cry for me Argentina” as she made her farewell address to distraught supporters.

Describing Grace as “articulate, smart, and an asset to both her husband and women voters” by one Herald reader, columnist Sydney Kawadza agreed saying Zimbabwe needs “proactive and principled leaders to complement President Mugabe’s formidable campaign”.

One “principle” that stands out was the refusal to allow Tsvangirai to occupy State House if he won the run-off.

“The First Lady has evolved not only as the mother to her children, but as a mother to the nation,” Kawadza drools.

The Herald, as usual, doesn’t tell us who this particular propagandist is. But we know one thing: He easily gets our Sick Bag of the month award. And by the way, it’s official now. Grace is the lady of the house at Iron Mask Farm, seized under the land reform programme several years ago but allowed to go to seed since then. But we want to know more about the Amitofo Care Centre for street kids whose relocation was the pretext for this particular farm grab which dispossessed the elderly owners.

The Herald carried a story on Saturday about John Makumbe failing to substantiate his claims of violence in the post-June 27 period. He made the claims on the ZTV programme Zimbabwe Today, saying people had sought refuge in mountainous areas.

Following the claims, police summoned him to furnish them with more information, we are told.

“He only referred the officers who quizzed him to a hostile newspaper, The Zimbabwean,” police spokesperson Oliver Mandipaka told the Herald, “and said he had got some of his information from the pirate radio station run by the “Voice of America.”

Makumbe had “misled the nation”, Mandipaka claimed.

“It is very unfortunate that a professor could go on national television and make such allegations without any shred of evidence,” Mandipaka said. “Such utterances are in our view calculated to cause despondency and are alarming to the country,” he said.

We must remind ourselves that causing alarm and despondency is an offence in Zimbabwe only if the culprit is linked to the opposition. The real authors of alarm and despondency go unmolested!

But should police spokesmen refer to certain newspapers as “hostile” and radio stations as “pirate”? How appropriate is it to label media in that way?

Makumbe’s offence was to suggest that violence persists following the presidential election run-off. This would appear to be a politically sensitive matter.

Makumbe had “misled the nation into believing that violence was still prevalent, yet there were no cases of violence since the elections ended”, Mandikapa claimed.

Is that true? Have there been no cases of post-electoral violence whatsoever?

What about the refugees from Ruwa who were set upon when they attempted to return home after their sojourn outside the US embassy? And why are we having to make a distinction between violence before and after June 27?

Is it any more acceptable that it took place during the run-off? What progress for instance has been made in investigations into the murder of Joshua Bakacheza, whose mutilated and burnt body was found in Beatrice just a few weeks ago, or Tonderayi Ndira?

Why have those cases not been solved? And what about Ben Freeth and his in-laws who were viciously assaulted during the occupation of their Chegutu farm in the post-June 27 era?

The Herald’s dubious informants have been pretending the victims faked their injuries. This occasioned a statement by the family’s lawyers.

Can you imagine being attacked by thugs masquerading as war veterans who broke the bones of an elderly woman and almost blinded her son-in-law and then being told that you were faking your injuries?

The assailants in that case were apprehended and their case is currently before the courts. But it would be useful to know what direction they had.

The Herald story last Saturday containing Mandipaka’s statement on Makumbe was a repeat of one that appeared on ZTV last Thursday night.

We are not sure what accounted for the 48-hour delay that made it a very old story on Saturday. But Happison Muchechetere, who chairs the dreadful Zimbabwe Today programme should understand his professional responsibility to safeguard his guests rather than collaborate in their harassment.

If there is any conclusion to emerge from this episode it is that Zimbabwean academics are interrogated for views expressed in a television programme about the political situation just as talks get under way in South Africa on a political settlement. What does this tell us about freedom of speech in post-June 27 Zimbabwe?

If the talks are to succeed there must be absolute freedom of expression and a professionally run public media so the public back home can judge whether their interests are being properly served.

Another disturbing feature of all this was the role of the Centre for Peace Initiatives in Africa joining the fray against Makumbe, telling civil society to refrain from “provocative statements”. This apparently includes warning of the persistence of violence!

We heard Tafataona Mahoso on Sunday saying the media had let people down by not placing the correct spin upon the MoU. We had failed to provide a “historical context” so “genuine leaders” could protect national interests.

He then lost 90% of his readers by wandering off to something that happened in 1974. But what caught our interest was his claim that the BBC Hardtalk programme had interviewed the “British Foreign Affairs Secretary” in its edition of July 23.

He then referred again to the “British Foreign Secretary”.

Why didn’t he name him? David Miliband is the Foreign Secretary. But Mahoso doesn’t seem to know that.

We suspect he saw the Hardtalk interview with Mark Malloch Brown who is a minister in the Foreign Office, of which there are several.

Did Mahoso write his column without knowing who the person being interviewed was? Surely not!

A few weeks ago we saw Malloch Brown in the Herald being referred to as a friend of Ian Smith. This will come as news to Malloch Brown.

One reason why Malloch Brown is a favourite bete noir of the Zanu PF media is his refusal to give the nod to their chaotic land programme when he was head of the UNDP.

All the regime had to do, he said, was produce a plan that could be effectively implemented, maintain productivity and address issues of social justice.

They failed to do so. Instead productivity collapsed and the poor got poorer.

All very inconvenient.

Delegates to the all-party talks near Pretoria have reached agreement on one thing, the Sunday Times reports. They had to move to another lodge because the one they were booked into wasn’t posh enough.

This is a breakthrough. Zanu PF and the MDC were in complete agreement. First of all they were unhappy that some rooms were larger and smarter than others. And secondly, horror of horrors, there were no mini-bars.

The delegation left the Ingwenya Country Estate in Muldersdrift just 24 hours after checking in, we are told. The MDC delegates were flown in separately by the South African airforce after they refused to fly with the rival Zanu PF delegation.

The South African government had spent R750 000 on the venue which had cancelled other bookings to make room for the Zimbabweans.

“They arrived here and demanded five-star service and accommodation,” a source at the venue told the Sunday Times. “They brought in their security to sweep the area and searched us and our offices.”

The fact that not all rooms were the same size led to friction among delegates who felt they were not being treated equally. The atmosphere at the lodge was said to be very tense with delegates refusing to socialise after the meetings or around the breakfast table.

But the tension did not stop the delegates from enjoying some of the provisions available at the venue, the paper reported. “They only drank expensive whisky like Johnnie Walker,” an employee said.

They are reported to have left the venue last Wednesday night escorted by police heading for a five-star guesthouse in Pretoria where they found circumstances more to their liking!

Still with the talks, we were dismayed to read a report suggesting Morgan Tsvangirai had been offered the post of third vice-president. Quite understandably he refused it.

It would be downright insulting for the winner of the March poll to be relegated to an already over-crowded portfolio. Isn’t this a perfect opportunity to retire Joseph Msika?

The ruling party claims it is upholding the Unity Accord by keeping him on. According to this redundant logic the seat is being kept warm for John Nkomo.

This of course takes no notice of the cost or usefulness of the post. What exactly does Msika do? And why is Zanu PF maintaining the fiction of the Unity Accord when the region voted solidly for the MDC in every election since 2000?

We were interested in Munyaradzi Huni’s response to the EU decision to place him on their list of banned persons.

He said he was not surprised by the decision. “The EU is fighting Zimbabweans,” he said, “and I am one of them.”

Shouldn’t that have read “The EU is feeding Zimbabweans”?

Whatever the case, Huni remains defiant.

“If the idea was to instill fear in me, they should know that instead I am inspired to defend my country from imperialism through the pen.”

The pen? Won’t Zimpapers buy him a computer?

And we were intrigued by Caesar Zvayi’s reference in a Herald article last Friday to Nathaniel Manheru as “my colleague”.

Does this mean Manheru is now teaching geography in Botswana?