Muckraker: A ‘retreat’ Worth Making Permanent

President Mugabe has embarked upon his annual holiday, we are told. Or “retreat” as it is now called. Just when we thought there was no going back!

Vice-President Joseph Msika will be acting president.

Let’s hope this means less of that noisy motorcade which guzzles up the nation’s scarce fuel resources while abusing motorists who get in its way.

Muckraker has been told that the vehicles in the motorcade, headed by Zim 1, get filled up at the Reserve Bank, not the CMED. Gideon Gono, who is in charge of national forex procurement, makes sure our leaders are properly looked after. He doesn’t stand there holding the fuel pipe himself but you can be sure he knows what each vehicle gets.

The problem is the source of this largesse is, like everything else, in sharp decline.

Zimplats, which provides the bank with hard currency, is a victim of the global downturn. The market for platinum is shrinking. New projects in Selous have been shelved as revenue dries up. This means less money for Gono.

But does it mean less for the president’s motorcade, that advertisement for all that is extravagant and arrogant in our midst?

We seriously doubt it. Something will be found to keep those wheels turning even if Gono has to dig into his piggy bank. It just means less for everybody else.

Meanwhile, Muckraker is seeking confirmation of where young Bona is studying. We think it is Hong Kong which combines a British education with Chinese protection. But it could be a neighbouring state.

A Hong Kong education does not come cheap, we are told. And then there are the costs of accommodation and close security. It may mean another call on Gideon’s pipeline!

We were intrigued by remarks made by Nathaniel Manheru in the Herald edition of December 27.
Firstly it was interesting to note that his elder brother’s “inquisitive brood”, who he describes as serving him “a few hard balls” (tough questions), are all living in the diaspora. Clearly Manheru’s patriotic appeals cut no ice within his own family! And nor, it would seem, have they persuaded South Africa’s new leadership that Zimbabwe is the victim of a Western conspiracy.

President Mugabe had been vindicated in his portrayal of the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai as a minor player in the regional scheme of things, we are told. The British are the real key to success, not their surrogates.

Manheru writes for a captive press, one that is not remotely a “public” entity despite its claims, and which conceals news it finds unpalatable.

So it may be useful for the public to know exactly what views the South African leadership have been expressing of late.

Firstly we had President Kgalema Motlanthe telling the press at Union Buildings on December 17 that he didn’t believe Zimbabwe’s far-fetched stories about the MDC engaging in terrorist training in Botswana.

“We do not believe that,” he said. “We do not think there is any substance to the allegation. But of course the Zimbabwean authorities would cite an explosion at a police station and that kind of stuff to actually claim the government of Botswana could train the MDC cadres…”

So clearly Zimbabwe’s official line doesn’t extend beyond the Limpopo, whatever Manheru might think.

Then we had Jacob Zuma speaking recently on the subject of Zimbabwe. He said the situation here was “utterly untenable”.

And in remarks to the ANC’s national executive committee calculated to cause mortification in the ranks of Zimbabwe’s sclerotic leadership, Zuma said in as much as he could no longer call defectors to the recently launched Congress of the People (Cope) “comrades”, he could also not call Zimbabwe’s ruling party and its leaders “comrades”.

That was a hugely significant admission, given Zanu PF’s claims to have persuaded the South Africans of the righteousness of their cause, but one the Herald swept under its copious carpet.

The NEC statement that followed Zuma’s address was equally forthright.

“The reported cases of abductions and detentions without trial (in Zimbabwe) test the very fabric of the liberation we fought for in this region of Africa,” it said.

Again, this went unreported in the official press despite the obvious fact it was of interest to Zimbabweans.

These few examples last month show the extent to which the state media is abusing its daily monopoly.

And have you noticed how contributors from Canada and Australia are dominating the commentary columns of the Herald? The government press seems to have run out of local contributors, although we can’t wait to see what dividends the British Council’s lavish sponsorship of Olly Maruma produces!

And what will it take to get Reason Wafawarova to step foot in this country? None of these ultra-patriots show any inclination to actually come home. Australia is much more comfortable. And you can say what you like about the government there without being abducted.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s Sunday Times published an editorial on December 28 that might also be of interest to our readers. The pain South Africans went through in 2008 was nothing compared to what was, and still is, happening in neighbouring Zimbabwe, the editor wrote.

“The dictatorial habits of ageing despot Robert Mugabe have pushed that country to the edge of the precipice. Zimbabwe is a collapsed state.

“What pained us most is the role played by South Africa under the mediation of Mbeki. The irony is that while Mbeki sought to shape his presidency on the principle of African renewal, he did the opposite by ensuring that the Harare dictator clung to power through brute force.”

It was also interesting to note George Charamba’s claim that he could not comment on Nicholas Goche’s meeting with Sydney Mufamadi in South Africa recently “as that was a party issue while I am a government spokesperson”.

But that doesn’t stop him styling himself as “Comrade” in the Herald and wearing ruling-party regalia at Zanu PF functions! So why has he suddenly decided to make a distinction between government and party? Who has said what?

Econet’s “smart business partna-ship” is proving less than smart for the cellular company’s customers.
On New Year’s Eve, arguably the busiest day of the year in terms of cellular traffic as people send greetings to each other, Econet’s system went offline for most of the day and then resurfaced as a US dollar business.

Some customers were informed of the changeover but many weren’t.

Customers holding Business Partna access cards which they had bought for $50 million found they now contained just a few (US) cents, although it has to be said the conversion rate wasn’t too bad.

Econet, which boasts it is “inspired to change your world”, certainly changed many people’s lives by creating havoc in the telecoms sector over the New Year. Many customers without US dollars were seriously disadvantaged by not being able to seek help from their companies, closed for the holiday.

“Scratching off the panel implies total acceptance of the Business Partna terms and conditions”, the access cards say.

Surely, that applies as much to Econet as it does to the customer? Why could Econet not wait until the nation was back at work on Monday before depriving them of their means of communication? How user-friendly is that?

Their access cards state clearly “use before 31.12.2009”.

By the way, subscribers on the 023 (Telecel) network are able to access other people’s cellphones in the region and overseas, a service not available to 0912 (Econet) customers.

Do you recall all those puff pieces in the local press about Econet rolling-out new networks? A golden dawn beckoned for subscribers, we were led to believe.

We said at the time cellular companies should first improve their existing service before expanding their networks, but nobody listened.

Econet should undertake a survey of customer perceptions of the company’s service after the New Year’s Eve debacle. It could be instructive.

Meanwhile, amidst collapsing service delivery in all sectors of the economy, the collapse of the nation’s postal service has gone unnoticed.

Do you remember those postmen on bicycles who provided a reliable service for so long? Now that delivery has been farmed out to a motorised outfit the whole system has broken down with the predictable excuse of “no fuel”.

Christmas cards have gone missing as have bank statements and other documents. Anything coming from South Africa or overseas most likely won’t be delivered for several weeks. As soon as they built the international sorting office on the Airport Road mail delivery began to grind to a halt.

Reliable postal delivery was something we took for granted for so long. Not any more! Here we have another parastatal hiking charges but failing to provide a basic service.

Part of President Mugabe’s leave will be spent outside Zimbabwe, we are told by the state media.
George Charamba, wearing his government hat, told the Sunday Mail: “This is more of a retreat than an actual leave.

The president is very busy reflecting on new structures that are needed to deal with the economic sanctions against Zimbabwe as well as working on structures of an inclusive government which must come soon.”

Yes, but will he be doing this from a beach in Malaysia or a farm in Zvimba? And why does he think he can introduce new structures to deal with sanctions when none of his other counter-measures have worked?
Getting rid of all that dead wood in cabinet may help. But any attempt to bring in another truckload from his own party could be fatal to the nation’s health.

We also note in passing that the state is only “rolling out” its “national awareness campaign” now, more than three weeks after Mugabe said cholera had been “arrested”. This hardly smacks of decisive governance.

And should everybody in Tuesday’s front-page Herald pic be grinning for the cameras when this is such a serious matter? The current toll stands at 1 732, over double what it was on December 11 when Mugabe said the disease has been brought under control.

Zanu PF’s propagandists have meanwhile been asking why a presidential run-off in Ghana was acceptable in Western eyes and not in Zimbabwe?

The answer couldn’t be more obvious. The run-off in Ghana was seamless and peaceful. Candidates were able to debate issues on TV in a forthright and vigorous way –– indeed some would say too vigorous at times.

There were no abductions or murders of opposition activists. There were no “no-go” areas for opposition candidates. There was a large measure of confidence in the work of the electoral supervisory commission which released results promptly. Senior military personnel did not make dangerous political pronouncements while the police were seen as mostly impartial as were the courts.

That’s why Ghana’s election attracted relatively little attention. The Ghanaian election in no way “mirrored” the election in Zimbabwe, as Caesar Zvayi would have us believe. The run-off in Zimbabwe was described as a “sham” not just by “Westerners” but by all who witnessed it. That is why the region has prevented Mugabe from forming a government on his own, as if he won!

Is it appropriate for the editor of the Herald to permit correspondence in the paper’s “Letters” column that describes Tsvangirai as “immoral, corrupt and obnoxiously repugnant”?

Is this the sort of language which should be encouraged in our public press? Does it promote democratic diversity or simply place national discourse in the gutter?

Can you imagine the battery of legislation that would be wheeled out if anybody described Mugabe in those terms in the back seat of a commuter omnibus? The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act would be immediately brought into play.

There is no such law in Ghana. And the candidates in the recent election said very much what they liked about each other.

Finally, can Arthur Mutambara please enlighten us as to when and where Jendayi Frazer made the comments he attributes to her regarding Tsvangirai? (“Inconvenient truths about the West and Zimbabwe”). The Herald published excerpts from the article on Monday. Muckraker has the full text.

The US embassy can find no trace of the remarks. And the language used seems unlikely. We would hate to think he is just making it up as he goes along.

And there are of course no invasion plans beyond the fevered imaginings of certain prelates and prime ministers.  As it is, Mutambara gives a hostage to fortune which the usual jackals were quick to pounce on.

In particular it would have been helpful if the Herald had published his remarks on what might happen if the clamour for Mugabe to go became a reality. What is it the Chinese say about being careful what you wish for because it may come true?

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