Our editor and news editor spent Monday night in police cells. This followed accusations that the Zimbabwe Independent had published â€œfalsehoodsâ€ in a story revealing the role of CIO and police officers in the alleged abduction and torture of MDC and other human rights activists last year.
The story, it was alleged, was meant to undermine public confidence in law enforcement and security agents.
It was an incident which we found shocking and outrageous, coming so soon after a government-organised media reform conference held in Kariba the previous week. Ironically, the theme of the conference was â€œTowards an open, tolerant and responsible media environmentâ€. A number of journalists boycotted the conference to protest against the harassment and continued detention of fellow journalists.
It is hard to see whether government wants to be taken seriously when it professes support for media freedom but continues to harass journalists for doing their job. It is like beckoning the media to a peace conference with one hand and punching it in the nose with the other.
Whatever the message government was trying to put across through the harassment of Independent journalists, the result in negative publicity is a plain on-goal. It is a bumper harvest for those who say there has been no change in the media environment despite the institution of the inclusive government. In fact there is no indication whatever of the MDC bringing any change in government thinking about the role of the private media.
What exactly is going on with electricity charges?
Muckraker thought he had missed something when Energy and Power Development minister Elias Mudzuri appeared on television on Tuesday announcing that consumers would pay a â€œminimumâ€ of US$30 and US$40 depending on whether they stay in high or lowdensity suburbs. The papers would clarify it tomorrow, he presumed.
Sure enough, on Wednesday the Herald led with the story on Mudzuriâ€™s announcement: â€œElectricity bills: govt sets ceiling.â€
The story advised consumers to â€œdisregard billsâ€ they had received from Zesa, and pay US$30 and US$40 per month as from February, â€œuntil the power utility regularises its billing systemâ€. Mudzuri said he had talked to the Zesa chief executive about this â€œand customers should disregard the exorbitant tariffs they are being asked to payâ€.
But this is contrary to his statement in which he states â€œâ€¦ I am further directing that all consumers in the high-density and low-density areas should pay a minimum of US$30 per month and US$40 per month of their bills respectively.â€
That isnâ€™t relief at all. For the Herald, a minimum charge cannot be a ceiling. A US$40 minimum leaves the ceiling wide open, in which case the maximum can be the full amount or more. Unless we are saying Muzuriâ€™s word is law, otherwise he is just confusing consumers. Which is which minister? So far, as they say, itâ€™s all as clear as mud.
The North Koreans are back in town. Thatâ€™s something to send the chill down everybodyâ€™s spine, never mind the nonsense about â€œdemocratic peopleâ€™s republicâ€.
The DPRKâ€™s Trade minister Ri Ryong Nam who toured Dairibord and Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries on Tuesday, said his country was keen to help Zimbabwe. Both companies are operating at around 20% of capacity.
We never heard that our friends in the DPRK had imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. So why are they only now coming out of the woods to announce that they â€œare fully ready to cooperate in close relationship with the governmentâ€? Are they only fair weather friends!
Mr Ri said the two countries had a long history of friendship while Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube, who accompanied the DPRK delegation on its â€œinvestment tourâ€, talked of cooperation agreements signed at Independence in 1980.
Now, that rings a bell again. Thatâ€™s why we say the Koreans are back in town. They are remembered for the Heroesâ€™ Acre monument to honour our liberation heroes. It has since been discredited and defiled by the internment there of dubious characters who should make genuine heroes turn in their graves.
The North Koreans are most despicably remembered for training the notorious Fifth Brigade which subsequently massacred an estimated 20 000 civilians in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the 1980s.
This was during one of several of President Mugabeâ€™s moments of madness. Nobody has atoned for that madness nearly 30 years on. What good omen can we expect now from the North Koreans? They are here to tell us they can milk and drive us.
Incidentally, can somebody clarify what they are? On radio they are referred to as â€œComradeâ€ while the Herald salutes them as â€œMisterâ€.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says his first 100 days in office have been the â€œmost wonderful and awfulâ€ of his life. Itâ€™s easy to understand the awful bit after he lost his wife Susan in a traffic accident. What is questionable is the wonderful part.
He told the South African Sunday Times in an interview last week that schools and hospitals had reopened.
These are very debatable claims. There is very little going on at most schools while hospital patient intakes are still limited. There is a critical shortage of qualified personnel at schools and hospitals. He is closer to the truth in saying there is still a long way to go before there is proper health delivery.
Tsvangirai also said the new government had managed to put food on the shelves and bring down Zimbabweâ€™s astronomical inflation rate. â€œWe managed to contain hyperinflation which is almost down to minus 3% from 500 billion percent. That is an extraordinary performance,â€ said Tsvangirai smugly.
We wonder how many of the countryâ€™s poor can afford the food now said to be readily available. Critics would be forgiven for thinking that he is already beginning to see Zimbabwe through rose-tinted glasses.
As for claiming victory over inflation, thatâ€™s stretching credibility too far. Not even his blind loyalists would give him credit for such a feat. The trick was a change of currency Muckraker believes! But it shows how we all love rewriting history.
The Herald of Monday carried on its lettersâ€™ page what Muckraker should like to call the lamentations of an illegal trader.
The writer, almost tongue-in-cheek, said Zimbabwe and South Africa should reconsider their decision to scrap visa requirements for travellers between the two nations. Bus drivers, the police, touts, customs clearing agents, photographers and briefcase companies were making money in the chain of acquiring a visa, he said.
Commissioners of oath were into the racket too.They used to be honourable members of society. Their services then were offered for free!
The writer says some â€œcompaniesâ€ charged as much as US$100 to produce a visa in two days. â€œIn a day you could easily make R2 000 from illegal immigrants with no visas.â€
Talk of a â€œhigh-rateâ€ scheme gone bust.
A reader has sent us a report of a Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition community meeting in Guruve in rural Mashonaland Central at the weekend. The objective of the meeting, we are told, was â€œto interrogate the global political agreement with emphasis on national healing and constitutional reformâ€. The people complained about the incarceration of human rights activists and governmentâ€™s failure to adhere to the GPA guidelines, says the report.
It says the people of Guruve want government to reduce school fees â€œsince foreign currency is difficult to acquireâ€. Is Education minister David Coltart aware of this? Didnâ€™t we hear something about rural schools not charging anything? What is the official position and if there are indeed fees being paid, how much?
The report also claimed the people of Guruve have demanded that government should make the constitutional reform process â€œparticipatory and inclusiveâ€.
Our guess is that government will say it is doing precisely that. The question is what the villagers themselves understand by â€œparticipatory and inclusiveâ€.
The report also mentions the poor state of roads in the area and lack of buses. Unfortunately nothing is said about the â€œobjectiveâ€ of the community meeting â€“â€“ national healing â€“â€“ which would clearly be closer to the peopleâ€™s hearts!
In a story on President Jacob Zumaâ€™s cabinet carried in the Herald on Monday, the BBC reported that Aaron Motsoaledi had been appointed â€œto the key postâ€ of Health minister as the country tackles an HIV/Aids epidemic. We were reminded of our own Zimbabwe.
Even as the people were dying in their hundreds during a cholera outbreak last year, the â€œkey ministriesâ€ were identified as home affairs, defence and finance. That explains our dubious distinction of two ministers sharing a portfolio even if government has no money to pay them for it.
It says something about our moral values and national priorities.
In the same story, it was reported that Zuma had pledged to tackle the tough economic crisis, widespread poverty and rising crime. It didnâ€™t say how this would be done. But there was an assurance to those who control South Africaâ€™s economy.
Zuma â€œinsisted he would not hand out favours to his supportersâ€, that is the poor, Cosatu and South African Communist Party members. There is no hint of injustice in the report. It means the favours will go to those, most likely, who voted against Zumaâ€™s presidency. Rarely is irony so bitingly cruel to the voter.
But all is not lost, according to the Times. Zuma, it reported, rewarded loyalists but also promoted whites, Asians and technocrats and â€œsidelined those with any whiff of incompetence or corruptionâ€ around them. Hear! Hear!
Talking of favours, we were reminded of the Democratic Alliance and Helen Zille. What particularly caught Muckrakerâ€™s attention was the bold headline in the Mail & Guardian proclaiming the â€œReturn of the white menâ€. This followed the defeat of the ANC in the Western Cape in the recent elections.
There are several anomalies in the DA legislature. Helen only has four women out of 22 members. The report says there are 15 white men, four coloureds and â€œtwo Africansâ€ in the legislature.
We are not told anything about the racial make up of the population except that the DA won courtesy of the overwhelming support of the coloured community â€œwhich makes up 52% of the eligible votersâ€. It polled less than 3% of the â€œAfricanâ€ vote.
So what do the other two races call themselves when they are not being â€œwhiteâ€ or â€œcolouredâ€? It looks like being â€œAfricanâ€ refers only to blacks.
Just in case you missed the point, the writer rubs it in. In Zilleâ€™s possible cabinet line up there is Bonginkosi Madikizela (â€œand the only African ministerâ€) for housing. Welcome to Helenâ€™s Cape of Good Hope and Nelson Mandelaâ€™s dream of racial harmony in the rainbow country!