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Muckraker: Something Fishy!

MUCKRAKER rarely bites the hand that feeds him, which is why the largesse extended by the diplomatic community at national-day functions mostly goes unremarked in this column.


We are grateful for what we get.

But the Republic of Korea’s national day celebrated last Thursday night was an exception. The generous hosts invited more than they could adequately cater for and the result was a melée as hungry and parched guests seized on the limited refreshments available. We will try and avoid the word stampede but it was certainly a crush.

It was a hot night and the air-conditioning couldn’t cope as hundreds of people poured into Meikles’ Stewart Room. Waiters carrying trays of beer, wine and soft drinks were mugged as soon as they appeared. The food tables looked as if a swarm of locusts had moved over them. No sooner was food set down than it was devoured. People “sampling” the traditional Korean fare had evidently come for dinner!
The speeches were mercifully brief. But deputy Foreign Affairs minister Reuben Marumahoko chose this occasion to launch a gratuitous attack on the independent press, accusing it of “discouraging” the populace by criticising the inter-party talks. We should all rally round the political accord, he insisted.

We wish Obert Matshalaga had been kept on in this job a while longer instead of being parked in Home Affairs, the gulag for ex-Zapu members. At least he wouldn’t embarrass his hosts as the present incumbent felt compelled to do with his clumsy remarks.

Don’t these ministers understand that they are addressing audiences of diplomats and business and civic leaders who don’t share their unsophisticated views of the independent press and who cringe as they stumble over every line and nearly every word in their utterly predictable and formulaic speeches?
Apart from asinine remarks of this sort, exactly what value does the nation get from Marumahoko and other deputy ministers? Answers on the back of a postage stamp please.

Echoing Marumahoko last weekend, we had the Sunday News telling people they should not be “distracted by retrogressive media reports coming from some sections of the gutter press whose agenda is to see Zimbabweans perpetually at each other’s throats…”

This was somewhat rich coming from one of a stable of papers that glossed over the atrocities committed by marauding gangs in the election period and even pretended that the violence emanated from the MDC. Even now, as parties struggle to open up the media to democratic discourse, we have state papers unable to express a view without saying “We agree with President Mugabe…”

How pathetic! Have they once said they don’t agree with President Mugabe? Could they ever say that? But we liked the report in The Voice that the president “unruffled the feathers of the Western architects of imperialism”. Who ruffled them in the first place?

Please, let’s have less about “unruffling feathers”, “retrogressive media reports” and other nonsense such as “discouraging” the people and more about who is really responsible for the shocking mess we find ourselves in.

Bread went up this week from $1 000 to $7 000 and nobody said a word.

But a rare word of praise for Gideon Gono this week for forcing banks to reduce charges that were hiked to astronomic levels last week. They reflected “arbitrary pricing practices devoid of any economic justification”, Gono said.

Indeed they do. The callous disregard for customers by banks which pillaged people’s accounts when they were unable to withdraw their funds is one of the more disgraceful episodes of the current crisis.

Thousands were gathered on the pavements for days at a time trying to access their accounts while the banks were busy helping themselves to the funds entrusted to them. This was as unethical as it gets and Gono should enforce his threat to deal with errant banks who are so flagrantly profiteering.

The bankers argued they needed to keep their staff in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Purleez!

The public should learn from this experience and confine their holdings to those banks with the lowest charges in future. They also need to find other ways to bank their money.

Can you believe some banks were charging $40 000 monthly administration fees (Barclays) and $300 000 for a cheque book!

A letter published in the Herald on Tuesday suggested that there was “no way a president who won a resounding mandate from universal adult suffrage could be at par with an appointed prime minister who did not submit himself to that process”.
The letter, written by one Tinei Zata, reflects the official Zanu PF line that the party “won” the presidential poll.

“Similarly Zanu PF by virtue of prevailing in the popular vote is getting the lion’s share of ministries,” Zata says.

Zanu PF officials are on a mission to recover lost ground. That includes misleading readers of the Herald. Zanu PF obviously didn’t prevail in the popular vote. The combined opposition won more seats. And it won those seats despite the ruling party’s electoral manipulation and violence. All the levers of state power were placed at the disposal of Zanu PF. But voters decisively rejected the party of failure and greed.
As for the presidential poll, there is hardly a country in the region that recognised Mugabe’s “victory” as a legitimate outcome.
Zata speaks for Mugabe’s coterie of officials who are still in denial. But in revealing remarks to the Central Committee last month, Mugabe spoke of Zanu PF’s “humiliation” at the polls.
   “If only we had not blundered in the harmonised election we would not be facing all this humiliation,” he told them.
   Who are we to believe? Suspect letter-writers or the president?

British ambassador Andrew Pocock makes some useful points in his contribution to the embassy magazine, Britain and Zimbabwe. He says any new administration must be committed to change that takes Zimbabwe from its current insoluble crisis to a stabilised and reforming future. That will require good faith, he points out.
“The Zimbabwe government has so far shown no good faith,” he says. “The terror campaign between the polls and the farce of June 27 stand in evidence.”
The test of action, not appearances, is what is needed, Pocock says.
“To ask not what the new administration looks like but what it does. Zimbabwe’s friends  –– regional and international –– will put this question in the form of macro-economic reform, violence and human rights, the rule of law, political space and free constitutional debate. Zimbabwe cannot emerge from the blight of Zanu PF rule without international engagement,” Pocock says. And re-engagement will be determined by how a new administration performs.
Here in the media, the Standard editor stands charged with publishing an opinion piece by Arthur Mutambara which criticised the state and the judiciary in the election period. The state is dragging its heels in pursuit of these charges, thus ensuring the newspaper loses time and money. Mutambara faces similar charges.
Anybody claiming Zimbabwe has a free press or that the Zanu PF leopard has changed its spots should follow this case so they can see exactly how far we have to go as a country in shedding the burden of repression. Above all we must extricate the state media from the sinister clutches of the same people who order the arrest of journalists and use their captive press to attack Morgan Tsvangirai and others pledged to effect change.

How can we continue to harbour in our midst a media that is hostile to change and believes the nation should be punished for supporting the opposition?
Now that the regime understands that it is impolitic to attack Tsvangirai with quite the same gusto as in the past it has switched its focus to opponents of the Castro regime in Cuba such as Amando Valladares.

His account of incarceration in one of Castro’s prisons received wide coverage after his release.

This is held up by Zanu PF publicists as an example of Western hypocrisy at a time in the mid-80s when political prisoners in El Salvador were walking around with video cameras recording evidence of “torture” of their colleagues by the military regime. They were also able to organise petitions from their jail cells.
Instead of us disputing these claims and counter-claims, it might be useful to take a look at Kevin Woods’ account of his detention in a Harare cell. He was held in solitary confinement for five years, he writes, most of it without clothes or a blanket. Appeals for his release by Nelson Mandela fell on deaf ears.

Whatever we may think of people like Woods who organised the murder of political opponents, the fact is his jail conditions were worse than anything the Salvadorean regime could inflict on their captives. This was not something that happened thousands of miles away in the Caribbean but right here on our own doorstep. It was cruel and unusual punishment by any definition. And it was not some previous regime. It was this one.

Don’t you just pity Joseph Chinotimba?

In Saturday’s Herald we saw a picture of the former City of Harare security officer, commander of the chaotic land invasions which brought this country to the point of begging for food, looking forlornly at some, presumably, seriously vandalised aluminum irrigation pipes and fittings. A sparse caption did not make it at all clear what the photo represented.

In Monday’s Herald a picture-less story tells us the scarecrow look-alike in his trademark ragged straw hat (now managing director of his own security company) has had 100 aluminum irrigation pipes stolen from “his” Mazowe farm.

Chinos, bringing a prickly tear to many readers’ eyes, bleats that the estate was just about ready with its winter wheat preparations and he appeals to Gideon Gono to replace the missing pipes so the country can enjoy the grain, of which he was confidently expecting a bumper crop.

Something wrong here, surely?

Winter wheat, as any professional farmer or indeed country dweller will tell you, should have been out of the lands by the end of August and, as summer has only just begun with a vengeance, it’s far too early to begin “prepping” for the next winter cereal season.

We wonder why Chinos’ security company wasn’t deployed to protect the Mazowe farm’s crop and moveable assets. Maybe the fact a humble security guard is now on a mind-boggling and inflation-stoking guaranteed minimum pay of $7,5 million for the first fortnight of October has something to do with it?
But if you under-insure, self-insure or don’t insure, you must stand your own risks. Chinotimba — probably banking on his dreadful reputation for the gratuitous violence wrought on the dozens of white farmers he, personally, so pitilessly dispossessed for his Zanu PF masters over several years –– did not properly protect possessions “acquired”, along with his re-distributed land holdings, from a grateful party.

So why should the Reserve Bank (meaning you and me, the taxpayer) or any other organisation make good his loss?

Especially when he unconvincingly alleges the stolen equipment was being used to grow a crop which should have been harvested well over a month before the claimed theft. As friends of ours on the loss adjustment side of insurance would say: “Something smells very fishy here.”
And, Muckraker adds, it isn’t Mazowe bream fillets!

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