HomeCommentEditor's Memo: Who’s Spinning a Yarn?

Editor’s Memo: Who’s Spinning a Yarn?

WHO is telling the truth? Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been quoted in the media as saying the ongoing farm invasions and disturbances are “isolated incidents” that have been “blown out of proportion”.

“We have investigated examples of those so-called farm invasions,” Tsvangirai said. “We have asked the Minister of Lands to give us a detailed report of what has been happening over all these so-called farm invasions and the outcry over that.”

Tsvangirai also insisted the matter was being attended to, despite the clear lack of evidence of serious measures to address the issue by government.

This has apparently sparked anger within the beleaguered farming community.

White farmers, reeling from arrests, assaults and fresh farm invasions, have reacted with outrage to Tsvangirai’s comments.

Since the inclusive government came in more than 100 farmers have been hauled before the courts on allegations of occupying state land illegally. In the process, production has been further disrupted and farm workers have lost their jobs.

As a result agriculture is unlikely to recover this year, and indeed for as long as government allows such disruptions to continue. The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) on Monday said Tsvangirai’s statements are a clear attempt to “gloss over the truth to encourage Western donors to loosen their purse strings”.

Donors have so far largely refused to give Zimbabwe meaningful money demanding that the government must first initiate political and economic reforms. They want Harare to stop repression, stamp out impunity, restore the rule of law, respect property rights, uphold human rights and introduce democratic reforms.

It is clear that without changes — including media reforms –– Zimbabwe won’t be rehabilitated and reconstructed any time soon.

That is why it is worrying to hear civil servants like George Charamba trying to block media reforms by insisting that journalists must be accredited with a defunct state-controlled media commission. Charamba was quoted in the Herald yesterday claiming that accreditation of journalists will continue despite the fact that the Media and Information Commission has ceased to exist in law.

In trying to buttress his argument, Charamba roped in his personal lawyer, Mercy Chineunye-Chizodza, who made a very bad case for him.

Chineunye-Chizodza claimed that the amendments to the constitution and the law “didn’t take away the reality of the administrative functions of the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity”.

She alleged the amendments “didn’t take away the reality that there is a parent ministry in place and that it works with other relevant government department in the administration of the law”. Further, she said what was affected by the amendments was the old media commission and “not the role of the parent ministry”. What on earth is this?

The amendments precisely removed Tafataona Mahoso’s Media and Information Commission and replaced it with an independent constitutionally-entrenched body, the Zimbabwe Media Commission which is yet to be appointed. The new commission should work without any interference or direction from the Information ministry or any government department. This is the whole point of the amendments agreed to by Zanu PF and the MDC at the end of 2007.

Insisting on doing things the same old way despite changes to the constitution, which override the current relevant legislation to the extent the statute is in conflict with the fundamental law, is tantamount to political resistance to change.

Instead of trying to fight Tsvangirai after his remarks that accreditation is now unnecessary and in the process getting trapped in legal mumbo-jumbo, Charamba should be promoting media reforms.

There is nothing lawless about getting rid of repressive statutes. What we need is not to cling to discredited institutions and their administrative practices, but introduce new ones, in this case the Zimbabwe Media Commission, to deal with such issues. If anything is lawless it is acting on the basis of defunct laws.

This brings me back to the issue of farms. The new battles over farms provide the clearest evidence yet that little has changed in Zimbabwe since the formation of the unity government. In that context, Tsvangirai is not helping matters by parroting Mugabe’s line that farm invasions are “isolated incidents” that have been “blown out of proportion”.

He must ask CFU president Trevor Gifford, director Hendrik Olivier, Ian Campbell-Morrison or Ben Freeth and hear what they say. It will also tell us who is “spinning a yarn”.

CFU Vice President Deon Theron this week said that Tsvangirai was deliberately playing down continued farm disruptions because the government is desperate to secure foreign funding. He said his comments are “absurd” and “simply not true”, indicating that the reality on the ground was that farm attacks have escalated since Tsvangirai came into office.

“It is like hoodwinking the international community into giving up funds by making them believe everything is fine on the agricultural front,” Theron said. “If agriculture does not recover, Zimbabwe will not recover.”

This is precisely the point. Instead of the prime minister pushing the dishonest Zanu PF line that there are no fresh land invasions or disruptions, he should be dealing with the problem head-on as part of a holistic economic recovery programme. The ministerial committee should not be there to airbrush the crisis, but resolve it.

What is puzzling is that Tsvangirai has on many occasions of late condemned these farm disruptions, but he sometimes gives conflicting signals about his real position. The prime minister must remain consistent on the need for reforms, including on the land. Where is the land audit we were promised?

Tsvangirai is a popular politician and should use that leverage to push for sweeping reforms across the board. That is the way forward.


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