HomeOpinionMuckraker: Lift State-sponsored Sanctions First

Muckraker: Lift State-sponsored Sanctions First

HIFA, a ray of sunshine in Harare’s gloom, is over for another year. 

Record numbers attended this year in what is undoubtedly the country’s leading cultural showcase. The complex management of an event such as this with dozens of performers brought into the country all requiring special needs represents an organisational triumph for Manuel Bagorro and his team.

About 5 000 people a day streamed through the gates over a six-day period, all requiring food, drink and other services.

Needless to say not everything went smoothly. Some traditional Irish dancers missed their flight to Johannesburg because of a surfeit of Zimbabwean hospitality the night before. Malaika, the star Afro-pop attraction from South Africa that thousands came to see, was a disappointment, largely for technical reasons beyond their control.

PJ Powers was mean to the Rusike Brothers. And the audience that attended the show by Chinese theatre company Lanzhou were unimpressed when performers donned Tibetan attire while the master of ceremonies announced that “Tibetan people happy under Chinese rule”.

Mostly, however. everything went smoothly. The “Green Room” was beautifully laid out with palm trees and fairy lights, and show-goers had access to good food supplied by a transplanted Shop Café while the bar was run by the Crowne Plaza.

The hotel charged $5 for a tot of Scotch which everybody agreed was a tad expensive, and they never had change for any note over $20.

Why were the Crowne Plaza’s managers taken by surprise by the numbers coming into the Green Room and will the organisers next year please assess the capacity of caterers before awarding them a licence to make money!

Elsewhere on the green a tot of Scotch was $2.

While the various bands were obviously popular, with Alick Macheso in his first appearance at Hifa, pulling in a record number of fans, this year theatre did particularly well. Quirky and offbeat would be a fair description of the various productions.

Two Gentlemen of Verona featuring Denton Chikura and Tonderai Manyevu, directed by Arne Pohlmeier, was highly rated.

The two actors play 15 characters –– from amorous suitors to sullen daughters, depressed servants and even a dog. It was a tour de force.

So was Bafana Republic –– Extra Time featuring the combined talents of Mike van Graan and Lindiwe Matshikiza. “Biting”, “clever” and “insightful” the critics called it.

What strikes the visitor to Hifa most is the sheer diversity of the talent on display. From Chaputika featuring Cde Fatso and his Chabvondoka band to operatic highlights, there was something here for all but the most philistine punters. And another generation looks set to take up the torch. Max Wild and Sam Mtukudzi gave us a “cross-Atlantic musical encounter”.

Max plays the saxophone and Sam provides the vocals as well as playing the guitar. Sam is of course the son of legendary performer Oliver Mtukudzi while Max was raised in Zimbabwe by his German parents. His Mom, Flora Weit-Wild (pronounced “vite-vilt”) is the leading biographer of Dambudzo Marechera while Dad, Volker Wild, was for many years a Harare-based academic.

State editors based in Bulawayo have been complaining bitterly about their inability to do their work with sanctions hanging like a dark cloud over them.

Muckraker fully supports all editors in their call for the lifting of state-sponsored sanctions imposed on them. Zimbabwe Association of Editors chairman Paul Mambo said on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day: “We say no to sanctions on editors for doing their work the best way they know how.”

We know what he means. We join his call on the state to stop harassing editors and journalists. We call for the repeal of all repressive legislation such as Aippa and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

The last time we heard from Mambo and his associates on media reform they were unable to say a single critical word about Aippa. We are delighted they have now found their voice. So let’s hear it Paul and the hitherto silent ZAE: All sanctions imposed by the Zanu PF regime on the media must go. They have no place in a democratic society.

And who knows, if the newspapers from which the ZAE members are drawn stop their bleating about “illegal” sanctions and “pirate” radio stations and provide space for a diversity of views instead of allowing themselves to be manipulated by government officials, they might in due course see those sanctions lifted.

With the media reform conference drawing to a close today you would expect newspapers to be on their best behaviour. After all, much has been made of the need for “responsible” journalism. But it seems some in our fraternity are determined to carry on as if nothing has changed.

This was illustrated by the drubbing Eddie Cross got for expressing an opinion on the Herald’s opinion pages. Only certain types of opinion are welcome, it would seem. Every professionally-angry columnist in the newspaper’s stable was unleashed against him in an extraordinary display of old-style belligerence. And Cross’s naïve suggestion that the US ambassador should, as a visitor here, be accorded some respect was treated to a further outburst of indignation that extended into the letters page where, we can be sure, the Herald’s handlers were active.

The episode showed just how far we have to go in reforming the state media which is a stranger to open and tolerant debate.

Then there was the episode in which Swedish ambassador Sten Rylander was quoted by the Herald as blaming “some EU member states which were unwilling to take practical steps by offering financial assistance, arguing that they preferred watching from a distance without playing an active role”.
Rylander wrote to the Herald pointing out he said nothing of the sort.

“It is amazing to see the consistent misrepresentation of constructive statements that I am making in various fora,” he said. “In the Herald of 22 April you make reference –– on the front page –– to fabricated statements that are attributed to me; this in connection with the SALO (South African International Liaison Office) meeting 20 April in Pretoria with Hon Minister Elton Mangoma. In fact I said the complete opposite to what you claim that I have stated.”

He enclosed a summary of his remarks. To no avail. The Herald didn’t print his letter.

Just for the record, Rylander said the following at the meeting in question: “The donor community is not watching from the background with cynicism; on the contrary, aid flows for humanitarian-plus activities are increasing (already $300 million the first quarter in comparison to $600 million last year) and there is increased coordination with the Fishmonger group and also as part of the MDTF.”

You would have thought that the ambassador of a country that was leaning over backwards to help Zimbabwe would be accorded just a little space to clarify remarks that had been willfully misrepresented in a major national daily.

But no, things have changed so little at Herald House that they couldn’t extend to that.

The Independent, by the way, is guilty of publishing letters addressed to a civic website recently without acknowledgement. We confess this professional lapse and apologise.

Beatrice Mtetwa made a useful point at the Press Freedom Day exhibition hosted by the US at Gallery Delta called “Lost Voices”. Although largely a tribute to the Daily News, she pointed out that perhaps the most notable lost voices are those missing from the Herald, Sunday Mail and Chronicle. Think how widely read and well regarded the Sunday Mail was under Willie Musarurwa, she reminded us.

The exhibition will be on until the end of the month so see it while you can.

We had a good chuckle over a Met Office bulletin which told Zimbabweans to brace for a cold wet winter.
This was the first we had heard from the Met Office for months. And their forecast was followed by beautifully clear skies and relatively warm weather.

We would hate to think somebody is sticking his thumb out the window and “forecasting” what he feels. We were promised by officials that they would “update” the nation as the winter season progressed.

Don’t hold your breath. Their records show that the country used to have rain in winter, they tell us.

What nonsense. Which year was that? The Met Office needs to awake from its deep slumber and provide regular and accurate bulletins for the media instead of unexplained disappearances and dubious stories.

Finally, could somebody explain why Zambian flags and portraits of President Rupiah Banda were being taken down along Samora Machel on Tuesday when he left the previous Saturday?

And did we hear any mention of Levy Mwanawasa during the state visit and his contribution to the political settlement? We recall the memorable phrase “sinking like the Titanic”. So no change there!

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