The state’s public relations machine was over the weekend creaking into action to persuade an understandably sceptical public that President Mugabe’s huge salary increase was “ever so ‘umble’”, as one of Dickens’ characters might say.
The Sunday Mail reported that the head of state could now go shopping following his pay rise from US$400 to US$1 750.
President Mugabe can now be “a happy shopper”, the paper reported. He can open an account at Edgars.
The hike represented a relatively small amount when compared to the salaries of parastatal bosses, we were assured.
Wasn’t Mugabe already a “happy shopper”? Is it seriously suggested that on all those trips abroad he didn’t bring home a single item? Purleez!
And is it also seriously suggested that Zimbabwe’s top retail stores would have refused him credit when he was earning US$400 a month? Somebody could lose their head for such lèse majesté!
Still on the subject of presidential perks, we were surprised to note First Lady Grace Mugabe being referred to in newspaper advertisements as “Her Excellency”.
Only the president and foreign ambassadors based here carry that title. Admittedly members of the “first family” can call themselves what they like. Even the title “First Lady” is a courtesy title with no constitutional basis. In fact it is an Americanism and it has no official standing there either!
We suspect this was a case of somebody who doesn’t know any better handing out “airs and graces”, as the expression goes! Or is it “Heirs and Graces”?
It appeared in a large ad headed “Appreciation Note”. It said “the Marufu family and Her Excellency, the First Lady Mrs G Mugabe would like to extend their appreciation to the following people who assisted during the funeral of Cde Reward Marufu”.
There then followed a long list headed by “His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe”.
The Salvation Army in Bindura, war veterans, Zaoga Bindura, and Food King were among those thanked. We were rather surprised to see Vice-President John Nkomo’s name missing from the line-up. And why did the Director-General, President’s Department and Staff, not ensure the president’s many titles, which we see everday in the state media, were included.
There has been much discussion in the media of the new fees for passports. And in every report there has been emphasis on the need to ensure the Passport Office is ready for the surge of applicants keen to take advantage of the reduced fees.
But predictably the Passport Office was swamped by applicants last Friday.
They could only manage 230 people a day, those lining up were told. Come back on Monday.
Rather like Beitbridge, this is a human disaster. Why can’t the Registrar-General’s office get its act together? Why should the Zimbabwean public be made to undergo this ordeal, especially when it was anticipated? Why did the RG’s office make an announcement on reduced fees when it wasn’t prepared to manage the consequences?
Another point needs to be raised here. Zimbabwean passports have very few pages compared with other countries. And many countries have imposed visa requirements on our nationals for various reasons in recent years which fills up the pages.
Many applicants would be happy to pay extra for a larger passport. Wouldn’t that reduce queues and increase revenues?
Meanwhile, what is happening about the building near the old Drill Hall that has been standing there unused for years? Isn’t that supposed to be a Passport Office? And wasn’t this a scheme that involved affirmative action-builders with political backgrounds?
The name Kuchi comes to mind!
Does Stan Mudenge want public respect or public ridicule? First he was threatening to jail the heads of tertiary institutions. Then he was playing fast and loose with the Queen’s English (or the Queen’s language as the state media likes to say).
Principals and vice-chancellors should know they were breaking the law by excluding students who couldn’t pay fees, Mudenge announced at the Harare Polytechnic graduation ceremony. He lashed out at the media for reporting that students were prevented from writing exams for non-payment of fees.
“Such a claim is playing fandango dance with the facts; it is based on a farrago of confusion which has created a phantasmagoria of conflicting images of dreamland on the minds of the public,” the minister said to laughter from his audience.
Our question is: was the laughter with him or at him?
We understand the minister is one of many advanced degree holders in cabinet. But does he have to show off like this? As for his assurance that no students had been expelled for non-payment of fees, there is another word the minister needs to be familiar with: populism!
A good speech last weekend came from VP Joyce Mujuru. Underscoring the fact that Zanu PF deplored all forms of violence, the Herald reported her as saying: “Zanu PF liberated the nation from the colonial yoke and there was no reason for the party to turn against the people it had freed.”
Indeed! But we should of course add that it wasn’t Zanu PF alone that liberated the country. There were one or two others involved!
What does Theresa Makone think about the arrest and detention of American doctors who were providing their skills to assist poor sick Zimbabweans who cannot access healthcare? These African American Christian volunteers were here to help. In particular they were assisting Aids patients. A New Zealander and a Zimbabwean were also arrested as part of the volunteer medical group.
Makone told the Zimbabwe Independent recently that reforms in the police force would result in a less partisan force. That presumably means fewer arbitrary arrests.
The state media has been talking endlessly recently about changing “negative perceptions” of Zimbabwe. Nothing could have been more calculated to portray a negative perception of Zimbabwe than the arrest and detention in filthy cells of volunteer doctors providing help to sick Zimbabweans whose government is no longer able to help them.
This is another own goal that will be reported widely around the world. Let’s have no more squealing about “negative perceptions” from apologists for this regime.
Police were on high alert last Friday because they were suspicious of advertisements in the local media by a company urging people to wear red, the Herald reported.
Africom, a communications company, had been advertising in the local media urging people to “simply wear a dash of red”.
Prizes were offered for people wearing the best outfit.
Police spokesperson Andrew Phiri, who said he had “received conflicting reports” on the intentions of the organisers, warned the public to be “on their guard and report to the nearest police station any suspicious or anti-social developments”.
It is not known how many Zimbabweans reported “anti-social developments” in their vicinity. Perhaps Phiri should tell us what “conflicting reports” he had received, if any. Messages such as “Get ready to celebrate the arrival of Zimbabwe’s most advanced communications network” might be deemed subversive in certain paranoid circles but most people would see it for what it was — a simple rebranding exercise.
What we can be sure about is that foreign companies seeking to invest here will be deterred by this sort of heavy-handed response to a simple advertisement by a company that sought to raise its business profile.
Muckraker was intrigued by reports of “scores of illegal settlers” who have “helped themselves” to farms in the Chakari area of Mashonaland West. The settlers began moving in last year, the Herald told us, and have intensified their activities in the last two months “endangering developmental plans by the rightful farm owners”.
Then came this announcement: “Zanu PF last week said they had never ordered anyone to invade land and if their supporters were involved, it was a criminal act on their own part.” The party called for the eviction of all illegal settlers.
One of the affected farmers said: “These people are MDC-T supporters. They want to cause confusion on farms and they are supported by NGOs.”
Provincial chairman Robert Sikanyika joined in: “We don’t welcome any invasion of private property. We have already made our position clear regarding this issue and these squatters should be chased away.”
Delightful isn’t it? “Rightful owners chasing away squatters”. What goes around comes around.
We only have one question: Were the “invaders” wearing red?
Finally, Muckraker was distinctly unimpressed by Reuters’ interview with the president.
It was designed to show how well and alert Mugabe is. And it did the very opposite.
There were long pauses during which the presidential mind appeared to drift, and just when the interviewer thought it safe to venture a question, the monologue resumed.
There were too many of these stops and starts to suggest all was well. At times he looked as if he was reading the paper in front of him.
The interview will have done little to inspire public confidence. And why did we have to have Reuben Barwe doing a voice-over against scenes of traffic? Was this a Reuters interview or not? If so, there should have been far more interventions from interviewer Cris Chinaka and none at all from Barwe.
What we did hear was Chinaka laughing his head off at Mugabe’s not-so-funny reference to chickens and eagles. Interviewers should never be impressed by the person they are interviewing. It is Rule No 1 of good interviewing.
Generally, Mugabe was allowed to get away with all sorts of claims such as the suggestion that regime change would come when the people wanted it. The last time they wanted it, in 2008, they were brutally denied it. Then there was the claim that he had politically outlived Bush and Blair. The difference of course is that in democracies heads of government change!
In all it was a very unsatisfying performance from all concerned. And Reuters should never have provided a platform of this sort unless they were going to ask some reasonably robust questions.