HomeBusiness DigestMuckraker: Press and Democracy: Biti Should Know Better

Muckraker: Press and Democracy: Biti Should Know Better

THERE was much discussion in the government media over the holiday period of Nestlé’s decision to suspend operations in Zimbabwe. That decision has since been rescinded but we should not leave the subject before noting the following paragraph in the Herald of December 23.

“The move by the Switzerland-headquartered food company comes after it bowed to pressure from activists that are against Zimbabwe’s land reform programme to stop buying milk from Gushungo Dairy Estate, which is owned by the First Family, and (from) seven other farms in October.”
The decision was strongly criticised by the AAG, we are told, which said the move was “tantamount to the company imposing sanctions on the country”.
Nowhere in the Herald’s account was there any mention of Zanu PF’s ban on multiple-farm ownership. Instead readers were led to believe that the First Family’s farming operations had fallen victim to opponents of Zimbabwe’s “land reform programme”. Industry minister Welshman Ncube went so far as to blame the media for the dispute. This enabled Indigenisation and Empowerment minister Saviour Kasukuwere to weigh in with threats to “bring under indigenous control all companies that continue to pursue the policy of sanctions”.
In other words companies that don’t toe the line will be nationalised just when government has been busy assuring investors that it will not do any such thing.

And what about the missing dimension to this debate? Is land reform to be measured by the number of farms owned by the First Family? And should they not be subject to the same rules that govern other farmers? No wonder there has been a concerted attempt to keep Roy Bennett out of the Agriculture ministry.
We note the concern of the business sector expressed in newspaper adverts about the safety of Nestlé employees. This followed the arrest of Nestlé company chairman, Kumbirayi Katsande.
You can imagine what message that heavy-handed intervention sent to investors. What sort of a country is it where a company chairman is arrested and interrogated because his company would not purchase milk from a company belonging to the First Family?
A statement by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Chamber of Mines, and Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce expressed its concern that “the fragile economic recovery underway should not be adversely affected by perceptions of inappropriate actions to dealing with simple commercial issues”.
Indeed. Cde Kasukuwere should take note. He has struck another blow to Zimbabwe’s ailing economy.

We need to remind ourselves why Sadc became involved in helping to resolve Zimbabwe’s problems in the first place: to prevent Zanu PF inflicting further damage on the regional economy. That the assault on Nestlé should be linked to land seizures is a useful pointer to the country’s underlying problems.
Another underlying problem is the MDC’s inability to see issues clearly. Speaking at Manchester University recently, Tendai Biti seemed to think newspapers are not important for democratic reform.
Complaining about the West’s refusal to lift sanctions, he said: “They (Western countries) have adopted a chicken-and-egg approach. They say ‘give us newspapers’ and then we reintegrate you and so on. It’s not mathematics. You can’t do that.”
Biti needs to wake up. Without a diversity of views in the press Zimbabweans won’t be able to make an informed choice at the polls. It is understandable that Zimbabwe’s friends abroad should insist on media freedom as a precondition of aid and investment in the country.
We always wondered why the MDC was dragging its heels on Aippa and appeared happy to have cosy little arrangements with Zanu PF on media reform without consulting local journalists. It all stems from the same ignorance on the role of the press in a democratic society.
Biti should make it clear that his party is working hard to secure a free media instead of making fatuous remarks about chickens and eggs.

Gorden Moyo has been making the same mistake. He thinks the West should support parastatals before structural reforms have been completed. The promise of reform should be sufficient to unlock funds, he thinks.
Can you imagine serious donors or investors handing large amounts of money to Air Zimbabwe, Tel*One, Zisco and other delinquent outfits before first being satisfied that reforms are showing results?
In a lot of cases the reasons why sanctions were imposed have yet to be addressed. Zanu PF is continuing to pretend that sanctions were imposed in response to “land reform”. They are still in denial about electoral violence, abductions, and torture.
Zimbabwe’s friends abroad should ignore Biti and Moyo’s blandishments. In several key areas there has been no progress whatsoever.
For instance, little noticed in the list of those appointed to the Human Rights Commission is Elasto Mugwadi who, as chief immigration officer, ignored several High Court orders instructing his officials not to deport Guardian correspondent Andrew Meldrum who was a permanent resident of Zimbabwe.
That is Zanu PF’s view of human rights and media freedom. Useful to have it advertised. But the MDC said nothing about Mugwadi’s appointment apart from nodding it through.

We enjoyed the picture in the Herald of Joice Mujuru holding up the latest recruit at the Border Gezi Training Camp last week. He cannot have been any older than one. We understand that the patriotic forces Simon Moyo spoke about in his address are in short supply, but recruiting toddlers is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Mujuru warned of “selling out tendencies” that were evident in Zanu PF while SK Moyo, now national chairman after country-wide manipulation, spoke of Unity Day, December 22, as a “special day”.
“We cannot allow our revolution to be hijacked by vana mafikizolos. The enemy is here,” he warned. In the audience were Webster Shamu, Olivia Muchena, Jonathan Moyo and Philip Chiyangwa.
Even more revealing was a Herald editorial claiming that a “strong reactionary group” had emerged ahead of elections in 2008 to challenge Zanu PF that “used lies and deceit to swing almost half of the population to its side”.
The Herald should understand that it is a cardinal rule in politics not to insult voters. If they choose to reject the “lies and deceit” of Zanu PF at the polls they should be able to exercise that right without being attacked in the editorial pages of the state press. It is obviously a bitter pill to swallow when voters reject your party, but Zanu PF should be advised to do so graciously instead of heaping vitriol on the electorate. Then they can get on with the serious business of examining why their stale shibboleths and empty nationalism no longer cut any ice with voters.

On December 24 the Herald carried a letter to the editor in the place often occupied by government spokesmen. The letter, headed “Let us be united against sanctions”, was attributed to “Honourable Paul C Kaseke, Junior Governor, Harare Metropolitan Province”.
Has anybody heard of this outfit? Kaseke said he was writing on behalf of the children and youth of the country on the occasion of Unity Day yet the language was clearly that of Zanu PF. Kaseke, for instance, denounced “some sections of the media that thrive on negative nation-splitting reporting at the cost of national unity”.
The Unity Accord was rejected by the voters of Matabeleland in 2000, 2005 and 2008.
We recall in the past children dressed up as soldiers, policemen and councillors as part of the former ruling party’s agenda of indoctrination. Their antics were always given generous coverage in the state media. It is remarkable that they are still being put to work!
Here once again we see the losing party in the 2008 elections manipulating the government media to explain why they performed so badly! This is media abuse writ large.

The MDC need to remind the Speaker of the House of Assembly Lovemore Moyo that he is a servant of parliament, not its master.
The Zimbabwe Independent carried a story before the holiday of Moyo demanding that his portrait be hung in every office at parliament and in constituency information centres around the country.
Official portraits had been commissioned in 2008 but the Speaker took a dislike to them and asked that they be done again.
Secretary to parliament Austin Zvoma put his foot down, saying “we cannot justify a repeat of expenditure already incurred”.
We suspect this may be part of a wider struggle. But whatever the case, we expect greater humility and less pomposity from MDC officials.
Are we being a tad naïve here?

Muckraker was interested to read President Mugabe’s comments on the government of national unity made at a press conference with the other principals. He called for patience and said the three parties represented should reach out and find each other.
There was no one who could claim to be more Zimbabwean than others, he said.
“We belong to Zimbabwe, all of us, and we have a common destiny.”
Curious that, because just a couple of weeks earlier, addressing the Zanu PF Congress, he said something very different. The MDC-T should open its eyes, he told delegates to the party congress.
“This is your country and not for whites. Not the Bennetts. They are settlers. Even if they were born here, they are offspring of settlers.”
So what do we conclude from this: that racism trumps nation-building?

The Zimbabwe Independent reported on December 18 that Zanu PF had refused to dismantle the Joint Operations Command, a state security organ that was reportedly behind the bloody presidential poll run-off in 2008. The MDC-T argues there was no need for JOC now a National Security Council was in place. Furthermore, the NSC is mandated by the GPA, JOC is not.
Now we learn that JOC has been busy abusing its powers by stationing troops on farms whose ownership is in dispute, in some cases before the courts. VOA reports that members of the ZNA have been deployed to many farms around the country in what sources said was a push to remove the last few hundred remaining white commercial farmers from such properties. VOA cited sources as saying the deployment was ordered by JOC.
The Commercial Farmers Union told VOA that of the approximately 300 white commercial farmers still on the land, 152 face the imminent threat of losing their properties to politicians of the former ruling Zanu PF party. Attorney-General Johannes Tomana told VOA that the army is justified in deploying soldiers on the farms, charging that the white farmers have disregarded eviction notices.
But political analyst Pedzisayi Ruhanya told VOA that the attorney-general is misreading the law and the military should not be used for enforcement purposes. Commentator John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe warned that the latest military deployment will scare away investors, adding that Tomana wrongly concludes white Zimbabwean farmers have no rights.
A tribunal of the Southern African Development Community in 2008 found in favour of a group of Zimbabwean and South African white farmers who argued that their property had been illegally seized, and that they had not been compensated properly under the land reform programme which the court described as racist.

It was rather unedifying to see a gushing advert by Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa, defence officials and service chiefs congratulating President Mugabe on being re-elected president and first secretary of Zanu PF at the recent Zanu PF Congress.
This suggests that delegates actually had a choice.
“Gushungo, you proved to the world, our detractors and prophets of doom that Zimbabwe is not for sale…” the ad declared. “We applaud you for galvanising party cadres to defend our God-given natural resources and people’s economic empowerment.”
Now we can see why he is called “Gushungo” with all that gushing going on around him. As for defending natural resources, we were under the impression that many of these had been mortgaged to the Chinese. And apart from an avaricious post-liberation aristocracy making gushing noises, who exactly has benefited from “people’s economic empowerment”?

The Herald, in an editorial comment on January 1 said ordinary people would “probably be shocked that unanimity could not be easily achieved among indigenous Zimbabweans on the need to complete the liberation struggle.
“We are confident that history will record accurately these revolutionary efforts,” it said.
In fact history has already noted the ruthless plundering of the economy by a political elite that has led to unprecedented privation among those sections of the community whose interests they claim to be upholding.
The Herald is right to refer to the onslaught against a sovereign nation taking place and how the international community has joined forces with the democratic parties to prevent this destruction of a once prosperous nation. This year
should put an end to the hypocrisy and mendacity of editorial writers hiding in the dark corridors of power who saw the unambiguous rejection of their corrupt project in 2008 and haven’t forgiven the voters of Zimbabwe for preferring the party of reform.


Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading