MUCKRAKER has focused attention recently on the mendacity of the state media in regard to the negotiations that have been taking place on a coalition government.
Their handlers have been feeding them downright lies which have appeared in print in news stories and opinion pages.
We dealt with this in last weekâ€™s column but it bears repeating here.
The worst example has been the accusation that Morgan Tsvangirai spent Monday, October 20 playing golf with the US ambassador instead of attending the Sadc troika meeting in Swaziland.
The story first appeared in a Herald front-page story on Tuesday, October 21. It was then repeated in a number of places finally fetching up on the toxic shores of the Nathaniel Manheru column where it no doubt found provenance in the first place.
â€œTsvangirai plays golf with James McGee,â€ Manheru wrote last Saturday. â€œHe likes it more than he likes anything else, his country included. This is why he will not hesitate to miss national regional fixtures for one more game with the American. Tsvangirai is the student, McGee the teacher.â€
There is only one problem with this story. Ambassador McGee did not play golf with anyone on October 20. A phone call to his office could have confirmed that. He arrived back from the States on October 19 and spent most of October 20 at his office.
It would have been easy enough for Herald editors and contributors to have checked out this elementary fact. McGee has been forthright about his rounds with national leaders from all parties including Tsvangirai. But nobody did check. Instead, the Goebellian lie was constructed and disseminated that he was playing golf with Tsvangirai on October 20.
â€œTsvangirai has been doing everything he can to sabotage the talks,â€ Herald senior assistant editor Caesar Zvayi wrote on October 21, â€œto the extent of thumbing his nose at Sadc leaders gathered in Swaziland, choosing instead to play golf with his principals in Harare.â€
Tsvangirai is thus portrayed as a delinquent leader unsuited to share leadership in a coalition cabinet. Worse, the story was used to portray Tsvangirai as a puppet of the Americans and British.
Nobody asked at which golf course this mythical round took place. Nobody, except this paper, asked the MDC if their boss was indeed on the greens that day. Instead the â€œlie of the weekâ€ was passed down through all the structures of the state media and dutifully repeated.
The same goes for King Mswatiâ€™s aircraft. The king offered it to Tsvangirai to get him to Mbabane. But that story soon became one in which the plane actually arrived here and returned empty-handed (Herald, October 25).
The public should be told that they are being lied to every day in the state media. And those who are victims of officially-sponsored deceit should ensure that a record is kept and those responsible made to account for their betrayal of professional standards once we have our press freedom back.
In this context, it was interesting to see Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi calling for ambassadors based here to file accurate reports on the country.
That is a good idea. We invite ambassadors to include in their reports the lies referred to above, disseminated by government newspapers and electronic media. Also, they should report on the 42 women arrested on Robert Mugabe Rd on Monday this week when they sought to protest against lack of progress in the inter-party talks. The talks took place at the Rainbow Towers Hotel which was closed to the public that day. Teargas smoke wafted across Rotten Row towards the hotel as a reminder of Zimbabwean realities.
Meanwhile, singing and chanting Zanu PF supporters were bused into the nearby Zanu PF building.
Then there is the shocking story of Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu of Woza who have been languishing in Mlondolozi prison in disgusting conditions for a fortnight after they were arrested for leading a protest against the political stalemate in the country.
They are facing charges of threatening peace and public order. The magistrate who had been due to hear why they should be granted bail was reportedly unable to do so because she was attending a workshop that day.
The state is opposing bail because it says the two women have pending cases dating back to 2004.
That may indeed be true, but they have not been convicted on any of them.
This is so obviously a case of justice delayed becoming justice denied that it deserves wide international coverage. It is emblematic of how nothing has changed since the September 15 signing. The regime continues to lock up its critics. This case is particularly pernicious because the two women have been held under the stateâ€™s crackdown on what it says are political crimes.
Meanwhile, what has happened to Gilbert Moyo who led the vicious assault on Chegutu farmers earlier this year in what the farmersâ€™ lawyers argue was an egregious breach of the ruling of the Windhoek court that the farmers should not be harassed in any way?
Zanu PF negotiator Patrick Chinamasa was quoted in the Herald as warning that if the British and Americans turned Tsvangirai into another Jonas Savimbi, Zimbabweans would have to learn how to deal with â€œa Savimbi case in our national politicsâ€.
Is this the same Patrick Chinamasa who was rejected by voters in the March election? Has he made any progress learning how to deal with his defeat? Zimbabweans certainly know how to deal with him!
That would include the rejection by voters of sclerotic mantras about Savimbi which only the seriously challenged of intellects continue to trot out when all else fails. Does Chinamasa really want to be placed in the same league as Tafataona Mahoso who specialises in this sort of fossilised â€œthinkingâ€?
Prof Arthur Mutambara has been subjected to much flack for the perception that his impatience with Morgan Tsvangirai may drive him into a bilateral deal with Mugabe on the appointment of ministers. Readers therefore need to see the statement he put out last week condemning any attempt by Zanu PF to act unilaterally.
â€œIf Mugabe is under any illusion that he can unilaterally declare a government, my party will not be involved in that government,â€ he said. â€œWe will condemn and denounce that government and, more importantly, we will call for international and global isolation of the regime.â€
Useful to have that on the record and as a response to what looks suspiciously like a host of officially-inspired letters to the editor of the Herald, demanding that Mugabe form a government without the MDC, which contain give-away phrases such as â€œGeorge Charamba is spot onâ€¦â€
Ian Khama has also been unambiguous in his recent pronouncements, calling for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe. â€œThe wheels have come off there,â€ he said of recent events.
An example of what he meant can be found at Harare International Airport. The company that owns the carpark is now charging $500 000 for the first hour.
This is a scandal. People collecting passengers could easily find themselves trapped there.
Who owns the company that is taking advantage of the nationâ€™s plight to make these extortionate charges? It would take 10 days of queuing at the bank to raise the $500 000 needed to escape from the carpark!
By the way, none of the phonelines to the airport work. A recent passenger trying to get to Lusaka with AirZim found himself delayed for six hours at Harare airport. In that time he could have driven to Kitwe, his destination.
We note that Barclays isÂ still deducting large amounts from customersâ€™ accounts as fees, and then imposing swingeing interest charges as soon as the account goes into the red. Didnâ€™t Gideon Gono say he was doing something about these rip-off charges levied on customers who canâ€™t withdraw their money because there are no bank notes available or because of arbitrary ceilings? Or would that be unfair on the banks when he canâ€™t print money fast enough?
Ian Khama is dead right. The wheels are coming off, and Mugabeâ€™s minions think they can cope by forming a government of their own. It would be good to let them try and watch the resultant mess. After all, this regime is a serial delinquent which canâ€™t get anything right. But that would be irresponsible seeing we have got the international community involved in solving our problems and canâ€™t now run away from them. At least after the saga of Tsvangiraiâ€™s passport and the teargassing of demonstrators on Monday they can see what the MDC is up against!
Readers were shocked by a report in the Herald ordering government officials to hand their vehicles over to the police last weekend. Nobody could work out what this was all about. Then it dawned. After a number of stories about the progeny of chefs abusing government-issued vehicles, the government decided to get tough on the issue.
What we liked were all the pathetic bleatings from people claiming they had to finish their business first.
Over a weekend!
And what does the Rainbow Towers do about lost revenue from people turned away by police on Monday? None of the other meetings held at the hotel over the past two months have seen customers refused entry. A few journalists yes, but not bona fide customers awash in forex.
It must have had a cost in terms of restaurants and bars closed to the public. Who picks up the tab? And what are visitors to the country under the Sanganai campaign supposed to conclude about gun-toting officers turning people away from one of the countryâ€™s leading hotels?
There will have to be some heavy â€œimage perceptionâ€ work here by the ZTA.
And we wonder what sort of adjustments there will have to be to image perception when the public read about the three men who appeared in court on Saturday on charges of kidnapping, assault and attempted murder. One of the three is also being charged with impersonating a CIO officer.
Having lost his cellphone at Food King in Borrowdale, Energy Mutodi allegedly picked up two till operators as suspects and drove to Harare Central police station where he made a report. He also allegedly threatened to harm Food King director Steve Gong and general manager Tendai Sandi in the presence of the police while posing as a CIO officer.
After making the report, Mutodi and his two accomplices blindfolded the two Food King till operators and severely assaulted them. They also assaulted a security officer who was thrown into a pool of water and made to swim for his life until he implicated his manager.
There have been a number of self-congratulatory stories in the press recently on the role of the police. We would be interested to have Wayne Bvudzijenaâ€™s comments on this case.
Has the Met Office joined other national institutions in collapsing? The Herald now routinely carries a message saying: â€œThe weather report was not available at time of going to printâ€. When it does appear it is often grossly inaccurate. On days that have been scorching hot at 32 degrees the Met Office has given a forecast of 22 degrees!
Surely one of its officials can look out of his window and tell what the temperature is outside and realise itâ€™s nowhere near what the Met Office is telling the public. Or have they, like everybody else, stopped going to work?