PATRICK Chinamasa should have one excuse and stick to it.
He told the Herald on Tuesday that he and Nicholas Goche had not gone to South Africa earlier that day for talks with the MDC negotiators because his party had â€œnot been notified when the meeting would startâ€.
â€œWe were never aware of the meeting. How can we attend a meeting we are not aware of?â€ he told the Herald.
Later in the day the excuse changed. Zanu PF negotiators couldnâ€™t attend because they hadnâ€™t received instructions from their â€œprincipalâ€ who was attending the AU summit in Addis Ababa, we were told.
As for not being aware of it, the abortive meeting in Johannesburg had been agreed in Pretoria a week earlier when the Zimbabwe parties were told by Sadc heads to get to work â€œimmediatelyâ€ on the outstanding issues keeping them apart.
Tabled for discussion on Tuesday were the constitution and composition of the National Security Council, a review of the appointment of governors in line with what was agreed prior to September 15 2008, and a similar review of the appointment of Attorney-General Johannes Tomana and Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono.
Why didnâ€™t the Herald tell us any of this instead of inventing juvenile labels for Mark Malloch Brown who the newspaper claims is â€œScottish-Rhodesianâ€?
This looked very much like an excuse for getting it wrong in the first place.
If he is of Scots ancestry, why didnâ€™t they say so months ago instead of pretending he was Rhodesian? As if it matters.
And how can British ministers pour cold water on themselves?
The Herald, accused of professional lapses, is actually getting worse.
And a big part of the problem is Mugabeâ€™s publicists telling journalists what to say.
Morgan Tsvangirai is not coming â€œon boardâ€ anything. This is not Mugabeâ€™s project, it is a consequence of his rejection by the electorate a year ago.
â€œThis development is in line with our past record and current aspiration of building a nation that is anchored on the principle of justice, equality and neutrality,â€ Mugabe told the AU.
Did he really say that? Over 30 people are currently languishing in the regimeâ€™s jails because they have not been afforded justice. Some were abducted and detained contrary to court orders.
And who are the beneficiaries of Zanu PFâ€™s neutrality? Is that neutrality reflected in the Herald or on ZBC? Are law-enforcement agencies regarded as neutral or professional?
MDC leader Arthur Mutambara has moments of great insight and eloquence, and at other times he loses it altogether and behaves like a lunatic.
There was the notorious interview with Australiaâ€™s ABC last year where he got a bee in his bonnet about the West judging Africa and went ballistic. Nothing the interviewer could say made any difference. He simply raved and ranted like a man possessed.
Then there was the unfortunate incident at a US diplomatic function where he lost it once again and convinced a number of people present that he would make a very poor future leader.
This is all a pity because Mutambara is a talented and thoughtful participant in our political process. But we need him to exercise some self-control. In Davos it seems the demons surfaced again.
According to a report in the Herald Mutambara told sceptics of Zimbabweâ€™s unity accord to â€œshut upâ€ and listen to what Zimbabweans wanted.
â€œItâ€™s not for Britain and America to judge our agreement,â€ he declared. â€œYour job as America or Britain is to support what we try to do. All the sceptics must now shut up and support what Zimbabweans want.â€
In other words give us the money and donâ€™t ask any questions.
And how are Zimbabweans themselves responding? Are they speaking with one voice? Or are many people understandably sceptical of any arrangement that leaves President Mugabe free to govern as he wishes?
It is the sceptics who draw attention to the record of those now claiming to occupy the moral high ground. It is the sceptics who insist that there should be no assistance to the new regime until it has stopped locking up its critics and allowed full democratic freedoms.
What do Mutambaraâ€™s colleagues in the MDC feel about the agreement? Are they without their reservations? Itâ€™s time Paul Themba Nyathi said something.
Britain, the US and the European Union will be asked to contribute large sums towards the recovery of Zimbabweâ€™s economy. Are they not allowed to know how the money will be spent? Are they not permitted to ask if it will go the same way as the Â£44 million Britain gave to land reform in the 1980s and 90s? Is that not their â€œjobâ€?
Mutambara should stop playing the demagogue. There are enough of those around to last us a lifetime. What we need is sobriety and good sense. Please Arthur, provide us with that.
Chucking out some old editions of the Herald this week, Muckraker came across a report of the Bindura â€œPeopleâ€™s Conferenceâ€ where Water minister Walter Mzembi insisted there was no going back on Zinwa.
Some Zanu PF MPs were advocating the return of water affairs to municipalities, he noted, but â€œthis is not a parliamentary issue but rather a caucus matterâ€, he said.
â€œDespite massive donor support to municipalities in the past, this model of municipal ownership failed, hence the current water infrastructure decay we find ourselves in.â€
Oh, so thatâ€™s the reason for the decay is it? Patrick Chinamasa last week didnâ€™t seem to agree. He finally thrust a stake through the heart of the monster called Zinwa. But it was significant that many Zanu PF supporters at Bindura had called for Zinwa to remain in state hands.
Doesnâ€™t this say it all about the ruling party? Despite the evidence of decay all around them, they are still prepared to blame others. And when municipalities, which provided a good service in the past, say they are prepared to take back responsibility, they are blocked by party loyalists.
Zinwa is emblematic of a sick parastatal that is rotten from top to bottom.
Chinamasa did the right thing last week in clipping its wings, although he stopped short of the ultimate sentence â€” dissolution. Now itâ€™s time to sort out Air Zimbabwe, Tel*One, Net*One, the State Trading Corp (Obert Mpofuâ€™s corner store), Agribank, the MIC, ZTA and the whole rotten lot of them.
Tendai Biti had denied that he plotted to oust Morgan Tsvangirai and appoint whites to cabinet posts. The Herald alleged all sorts of scurrilous things about Biti in articles published several weeks ago.
But his lawyers denied reports that he was plotting to ditch Tsvangirai and hold up formation of the inclusive government.
Muckraker believes Biti was wrong to mobilise his lawyers in this way. The Herald, whatever its manifest shortcomings, especially when it comes to inventing stories, is perfectly entitled to speculate about supposed plots within the MDC-Tsvangirai.
This is the stuff of politics. It just looks a bit daft when the story remains exclusive to the Heraldâ€™s political desk!
You find competing factions in all democratic political parties around the world trying to move things in their direction. Only in Zimbabwe do they call such legitimate political jockeying â€œplots.â€ But the Herald must be allowed to be daft if it wants to be.
That is its right. Biti has more of a case when his detractors resort to forgeries.
We hope all those MDC-Tsvangirai functionaries who are demanding the release of political prisoners such as Jestina Mukoko and Gande Mudzingwa will not forget the three farmers from Ruwa who are accused of using their outward bound camp as a militia training centre.
Their case has disappeared below the radar. John Naested, Angus Thompson and Brian Baxter are still held at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison while the state tries to find a case against them.
The Herald has tried to be helpful by branding them Selous Scouts. In fact Naested was in the RLI. The others were no more than reservists, we gather. Their camp is known for training boy scouts and young Christian groups.
A Zanu PF chef in the area has reportedly had his eye on one of the farms for some time which could explain a lot.
At least the International Bar Association is watching the situation in Zimbabwe carefully. It has blamed Sadc leaders for looking the other way.
The IBAâ€™s Human Rights Institute chair, Justice Richard Goldstone, said the legal watchdog â€œdeplores the inaction of Sadc leaders on the unlawful actions of the Zimbabwe government. Â
â€œRegional leaders cannot stand by while these unlawful detentions continue in Zimbabwe and still ask the rest of the international community to wait on them to solve the crisis. A key term of the power-sharing deal was that rights violations would stop.â€
This is something we need to remind ourselves next time we hear Sadc and AU leaders calling for the lifting of sanctions. What about state sanctions against its critics? What about charges that have no legal basis? What about reports of torture? What have Sadc leaders said about any of these?
National Security minister Didymus Mutasa admitted in a High Court affidavit last month that state security agents seized and detained a wide range of activists on his orders.
Letâ€™s hope regional leaders are reminded of this the next time we hear the parrot-call for sanctions to be lifted. Yes, please lift sanctions, in particular those being carried out by the regime against the people of Zimbabwe.
Muckraker will soon be inviting entries for the Mother of all Potholes contest we hold every year. Last yearâ€™s contest was won by a family in Strathaven who pointed out to us the Olympic-size swimming pool in the road outside their house.
An early entry this year has been the hole dug by municipal workers before Christmas on Prince Edward St outside Alex Sports Club in Milton Park and left there.
All sorts of things have been planted in it as civic-minded motorists and locals seek to warn other drivers of the dangers posed by this municipal canyon. But it is now empty again waiting to swallow up some poor unsuspecting motorist.
We donâ€™t really understand why Alex members donâ€™t become Good Samaritans and try to save tyres, suspension systems and perhaps even lives by putting something prominent and permanent in there given the reluctance of the cityâ€™s roads department to do so. Or is Zinwa the one?
And by the way, municipal â€œworkersâ€ are driving around in a tractor and trailer offering to clear rubbish for a fee.
A Chinese restaurant in Milton Park began this practice by paying to have their rubbish removed and now it has spread to other parts of Harare. Large amounts command a fee of US$100 which you may agree is quite steep considering they are paid to do this in the first place.
The municipal workers union, we should add for those who donâ€™t know this, is a Zanu PF fiefdom which took on a large number of recruits at the time of the 2000 election. They have occasional work stoppages and lengthy holidays â€” like for weeks over Christmas and New Year â€” where their absence is barely noticed.
They clearly do little actual work, but their main sphere of delinquency is grass-cutting, which they hate, so this work gets farmed out to other groups who also appear to be the beneficiaries of party patronage.
Occasionally the same tractor whose attendants seek rubbish removal payments can be seen towing primitive grass-cutting implements. But only very occasionally is such a rare mechanical beast spotted in the undergrowth. Mostly the grass is just left to grow â€” rather like the potholes.
It is all a municipal merry-go-round!