Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for March, 2008

Could Mugabe try to steal the election in plain sight of the world?

Posted by CM on March 31, 2008

Incredible. 48 hours after the end of one of the world’s most anticipated, most watched elections and there have only been a handful of results, and no explanation as to why. Could Mugabe be so foolish and desperate as to try to steal an election which many pointers suggest his party and him personally massively lost? Could be be doing the exact crooked thing much of Zimbabwe and the world suspected and feared he would do? Virtually in broad daylight?

It seems hard to believe that he would risk whatever little credibility he still has left by doing this, but it is very difficult to imagine any other reason for such an awkward, embarrassing delay.

Many questions come to mind. Why do this now, instead of just having postponed the election under one pretext or another? Having taken the trouble to organise an election, and knowing the sceptical global microscope under which it was being conducted, why make a mockery of your own electoral process in this way? If Mugabe once had a plausible reason for arguing that he could win or at least get a respectable proportion of the vote, the believability of that claim is going up in smoke with every additional minute of delay.

Is it possible that Mugabe and ZANU-PF really believed they could honestly win this election? Are they dis-oriented and trying to figure out what to do because they had not seriously considered losing? Could they really have been that cut off from public sentiment?

Rigging, like propaganda, requires a certain amount of believability on the part of the practitioner. If the delay is to figure out a way to cook the results to show victories for Mugabe and ZANU-PF in the presidential and parliamentary elections respectively, then surely that delay has been counter-productive. Even in those areas where they might have legitimately won, the effect of the tardiness in announcing the results will be to put a big question mark on all those figures. Even more than before the election, Mugabe & Co. have scored a massive own-goal by ensuring that the only  result that will be widely considered to be honest would be the declaration of wins for Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC.

If the decision has been made to disregard the will of the voters, then rigging the process by announcing victories for Mugabe and ZANU-PF would be the wrong way to do it. Elections are about giving the winner legal and moral authority; credibility. There is no way a rigged election at this time and under the present circumstances can bestow any of these qualities on Mugabe. It would almost be more honest to just say, “I lost heavily but I have decided to stay on as a formal dictator and see what happens.”

The few official parliamentary results that have been announced include the not very surprising news that close Mugabe henchmen have lost. The losers include justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, agricultural mechanization minister Joseph Made, information minister Sikhanyiso Ndhlovu. Vice President Joice Mujuru is also said to have lost in her parliamentary constituency, although another report casts doubt on the veracity of that result.

If the idea is to rig the election, then these announced losses also make that difficult. These people were not just at Mugabe’s right hand, they were in charge of portfolios critical to the whole thrust of what he said he wanted to continue in power for. It will be very difficult to argue that these close aides of Mugabe’s, and no doubt many others whose losses are yet to be announced,  could have been massively rejected by the electorate but their boss and appointer convincingly re-elected. They are making as much of a mess of the attempted rigging plot as they have done of the country.

Perhaps the delay is not to figure out a half plausible rigging strategy after all. Perhaps despite the shock and panic of having been rejected by Zimbabweans, there still remains enough common sense amongst Mugabe and his cronies to realise that although they have been able to get away with a lot over the years, pulling off a coup of this sort will be a tall, uncomfortable order.

Maybe the delay is to give Mugabe & Co. just enough time to perform clean up tasks like destroy incriminating documents, loot whatever is left in the treasury, pack their  bags and make preparations for a quick get-away to whatever countries will take them.

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Another Mugabe term would be an empty ‘win’ for him

Posted by CM on March 30, 2008

Its that period of uncertainty between the end of voting and the first official announcement of results. There is little to do except twiddle one’s thumbs.

The results of a Tsvangirai victory are not hard to predict: there will be an outpouring of relief and celebration at having kicked out the oppressive, ruinous Mugabe. Even people like me, who have deep misgivings about Tsvangirai and the MDC, will join in the elation of the passing of the Mugabe era.

It would be interesting to see how much of a honeymoon period Zimbabweans would be willing to give Tsvangirai and his MDC party. How long would they be given to “settle in” before beginning to deliver measurable results. Six months, one year, two years? They are likely to argue for an indefinite period to begin to turn around Mugabe’s long, now very negative legacy. During that indefinite period, MDC officials would likely help themselves to the feeding trough every bit as much as the party they would have deposed.

I will be generous and give them a full one month in power before criticizing signs of the old way of doing things. I have low expectations of Tsvangirai and the MDC and would be very pleasantly surprised and pleased to be proven wrong. But even if my worst fears are realised, their coming into power would still be a momentous political progression for Zimbabwe on many levels.

The “founding” president would have been peacefully, democratically deposed. We would have moved from the era where the all-important qualification for political office was liberation war-era participation, to hopefully one in which one’s ideas and potential contribution to problem-solving was the most important criterion for holding political office. We would have hopefully put behind us an era where political discourse was dominated by anger and insults meant to intimidate those with opposing ideas into silence, to one where different ideas were welcomed and conditions to debate them in a civil manner were created. We will hopefully move on from putting so much of our stock as a new nation on our engagement with British colonialism and on what Britain did or should have done after independence in 1980. We would have begun to get used to the idea that governments come and go; rather than that when they come, they can then never be asked to leave when they have failed to perform.

If the outcome that is announced in the coming hours and days is a Mugabe victory, it would be a strange ‘win’ for him. I can imagine outrage and disbelief, but I cannot imagine any significant widespread joy beyond his inner circle and the elite whose privileges depend on Mugabe’s tenure. Even among those who buy his oft-stated mantra that the country’s economy is in such pitiful straits because of a Western conspiracy, it will be obvious that hardship and the nation’s poor prospects will only intensify under Mugabe.

Any mass protests at the announcement of a Mugabe victory will be viciously suppressed. On that score Mugabe can be relied to be a man of his word. But regardless of his penchant for ruthlessness, he will not be able to just be sworn in and “enjoy” his victory. Just on the basis of significant recent phenomena like the split within his own party represented by Simba Makoni’s independent candidacy, things will be different.

Even though none of the promised ZANU-PF heavy weights of Makoni’s campaign came to publicly support him, there is little doubt any more that there is widespread unhappiness even within Mugabe’s own ranks about his rulership of the country. Mugabe can simply no longer delude himself into believing that he is surrounded by genuinely loyal supporters. He will likely become even more paranoid than he has become notorious for, and with more justification than ever before. And he will wear the title of president in an environment where very few in the world will believe that he honestly earned the right to do so. The crown of presidency that he is desperate to hold on to will be more ill-fitting, awkward and meaningless than it has ever been in Mugabe’s long reign.

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Tsvangirai or Makoni win would only be first steps of gradual post-Mugabe Zimbabwe transition

Posted by CM on March 27, 2008

by Chido Makunike

In a few days all the Zimbabwean electoral crystal ball-gazing of the last several months will finally be over. We will know if Robert Mugabe’s rule continues or if we get a new president.

Zimbabwe is in for miserable times if Mugabe continues as president. There is absolutely no reason to believe that he has any new formula to reverse the decline he has presided over.

Yet a win for Morgan Tsvangirai or long-shot candidate Simba Makoni, or a coalition between them, will not suddenly usher in some golden age of enlightenment and prosperity. It will just be another phase in the gradual progression of Zimbabwe’s politics.

Majority rule in 1980 was merely another such progression, although of course it was a much greater psychic and political leap than the many other changes the society will have to undergo. But it is clear now how naive and unrealistic it was to believe that the political transition alone from one set of rulers to another, or even the more fundamental one of moving from racial minority to majority rule, could address all the long-term macro issues of the society.

For example, issues of land and economic reform were always going to be difficult, long processes even if they had been done differently from the ruinous ways of Mugabe. Building up a tradition of genuine racial and ethnic harmony could not just happen on the basis of one reconciliation speech, but would take years, perhaps generations, of deliberate work.

The material depravations and political repression of the last several years of Mugabe’s rule are the immediate focal points of Zimbabweans on what has gone so wrong in their country. But it seems clear now in retrospect that we did not know, and could not have known, how much work building a still functional, prosperous but more just, democratic and equitable Zimbabwe out of the ashes of Rhodesia could have been.

I wish I could confidently say this means we will be more realistic about the work and time frame of post-Mugabe recovery, but I am not sure it does.

The best we should hope for in a good president is an effective, dedicated, fair leader/motivator/uniter/inspirer, not a ‘deliverer.’ Unfortunately, the requirements of electioneering in any country seem to be that a presidential candidate promise to be an instant miracle worker. This unreasonable expectation merely sets everybody up for disappointment, particularly in a situation like Zimbabwe’s, where so many systems have stopped functioning as they should and need to be revived. But this is what voters often want and expect, and most politicians dishonestly or naively promise this mirage.

Zimbabwe’s revival will need to go way beyond getting money from abroad for the revival of physical infrastructure or to support the currency, for instance. These and many others will be enough of a challenge on their own. But just as difficult will be healing old and new wounds, restoring a sense of accountability amongst politicians to the electorate; restoring in the citizens a sense of faith about the political process as an expression of popular feeling and an agent of change. It will be a long time before the police and armed forces are respected as institutions to protect the public rather than oppress them. Reviving an economic ethic based on innovation and risk-taking based on production instead of speculation and non-productive “deal-making” will take years. And so on.

These confidence-rebuilding measures will not just be difficult: the process is not even guaranteed to take place at all with a new government. Much depends on how genuinely that new government desires/is pressured to deliver fundamental change beyond just having new officeholders. A lot also depends on whether the citizens have learned the importance of keeping close watch over politicians and keeping them on their toes even when they are still newly in office and “popular.”

Mugabe’s reign is ending (whether you define this electorally or in terms of the 84 year old man’s life expectancy) with so much misery and hardship that either of his two main opponents’ win would be welcomed with overwhelming relief. “Anything but more years of Mugabe” will inform the votes of many Zimbabweans in the election the day after tomorrow. But the widespread desire that Mugabe goes does not mean his replacement guarantees the democratic, peaceful, prosperous Zimbabwe we had hoped to have had by now.

The more I observe the MDC, the less confident I am that its vision of rulership is what Zimbabwe needs. The boorish way it conducts its own affairs suggests to me its political culture has more in common with ZANU-PF’s than they are different. I expect cronyism from an MDC government. I expect a cynical kind of “democracy.” Long before they experienced the power of governorship, many of the party’s prominent officials show in word and deed that they have a sense of “entitlement” to the spoils of political office. I expect that many appointments in an MDC government would be made on the basis of anti-Mugabe “struggle history” more than any other qualification, just as anti-Rhodesia struggle history in Mugabe’s government became a qualification for high office as well as an excuse for everything including murder.

I am uncomfortable with what I believe to be the MDC’s old-style client-patron relationship with the West. I fear going from the one extreme of Mugabe’s self-serving,  demonising and blaming of the West for all his failures, to another extreme of a Tsvangirai presidency in which Zimbabwe is slavishly beholden to and controlled by that West. We need a middle ground of relating to the West on the basis of common interest but also mutual respect, not animosity on one hand or dependency and paternalism on the other. I do not trust the MDC to make the distinctions necessary for this, and fear that they would be starting their tenure already horribly compromised in this regard. Money will likely flow in, but in the old, dysfunctional, demeaning donor-receipient relationship that has served Africa so poorly over the decades of the post-colonial era.

What to do about reviving commercial agriculture will be a critical issue, and Tsvangirai would have to deal with this issue under the cloud of being suspected by some to be hostage to white farming interests. Yet arguably the model of huge farming estates run by white “bwanas” with hundreds or thousands of native workers has run its course. No matter how “successful ” it was in strict crop yield and foreign currency-earning terms, it is a model that I believe no longer fits the times based on many social, political and even economic factors. It is time to think hard about a new commercial farming model that meets the country’s economic needs while paying attention to many other societal imperatives.

Long-shot Makoni may actually initially benefit from his wishy-washiness and Johnny-come-lately entry into the presidential race in the unlikely event that he won. He has tried to pose as both a ZANU-PF loyalist and anti-Mugabe campaigner, but his political past does not back him up in this awkward attempted balancing act. The more prominent of his aides have at best dubious reputations as reformers, and until recently were beneficiaries and strong supporters of a Mugabe dispensation that has not just recently become repressive, corrupt and incompetent, but has been that way for a long time. But a win for Makoni would make all this largely irrelevant.

Makoni has been derided for claiming strong support within ZANU-PF for his candidacy when none of those strong supporters are willing to go public. He has been accused of not espousing any particularly defined economic or political ideology. Yet if he won, this would give him unprecedented freedom to choose a governing team from any and every part of Zimbabwe’s political spectrum, and even outside of that political spectrum. He would have an unusual governing latitude at the beginning before he began to build his own political machinery, for better or for worse for the country. If he is a good, sincere leader he can use this freedom for healing across the many divides of the society and to make appointments based on competence rather than political affiliation. But if he is cynical in the mould of Mugabe and is allowed to do so by the citizens, he could use that political independence to make himself too-powerful, with all the negative consequences we have seen with Mugabe.

Makoni, far more than Tsvangirai, seems to at least recognise that despite his many failures, Mugabe has been asking some very relevant questions about building a new African society in the post-colonial era; about the very meaning and the essence of independence/majority rule. What Mugabe has spectacularly failed to do is to provide working answers to those good questions he has posed; to give practical, functional answers to his rhetoric of African empowerment.

I hope for Mugabe’s defeat, but would not initially be jumping up and down with any great excitement under a Tsvangirai or Makoni presidency. Even if this is the election that deservedly dispatches Mugabe into retirement, it would just be the first of many steps of building a new Zimbabwe.

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Are Peta Thornycroft’s Zimbabwe articles for the UK Daily Telegraph news or opinion?

Posted by CM on March 24, 2008

Peta Thornycroft, a political editorialist who somehow gets away with being considered a reporter, has written an article headlined, “Robert Mugabe turns the screw on Zimbabwe’s dwindling white farmers” for the UK Daily Telegraph.

Mr. Mugabe is a cold-hearted, violent despot who has shamefully brought Zimbabwe to ruin under the guise of a black empowerment that has gone horribly wrong. He is brilliant at turning people off and revels in his notoriety in the Western world. He is now stuck in the rut of justifying trying to stay on in power long after his usefulness expired by invoking racial bitterness at what he considers his spurning by a Britain whose approval he once so slavishly sought.

Mugabe’s Western notoriety is fed by the shrill racial emotionalism of people like Ms. Thornycroft and publications like the Daily Telegraph. The opposing shrillness of Mugabe and his supporters on one side and Thornycroft and papers such as The Telegraph on the other encapsulates the racial, political and historical bitterness of what Zimbabwe symbolically represents.

In her latest article, Thornycroft relates the experiences of white farmers battling government efforts to evict them from their farms. What struck me about the article is her almost palpable bitterness and outrage at what the subjects of her article are undergoing. And indeed, countless numbers of Zimbabweans have suffered all manner of hardships and indignities in the county’s extremely violent history, of which the last few years at the hands of its latest government is just the most recent episode.

Thornycroft’s writing is heart-felt and gripping to read, but it is not reporting. It belongs in the editorial/opinion section of The Telegraph, not its news pages. The outraged emotionalism of her main theme, the treatment of white farmers at the hands of Mugabe, has become as raw and knee-jerk as Mugabe’s uncontrolled, apoplectic rage at the mere mention of the word “Britain.”

Writing about a white farmer on trial for resisting eviction from his dairy farm outside Harare, she mentions that “the property has been targeted by Elias Musakwe, an executive of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.” She then goes on to mix giving us information and opinion with sentences like, “He has planted maize, which will never germinate (my italics), on the cattle pasture, and is intimidating the family by parking a tractor against the Therons’ daughter’s bedroom window.”

While Thornycroft does not help her non-agricultural readers by explaining why the maize “will never germinate,” there are indeed several reasons why this could be the case. But without stating what they are in this particular situation, the insertion of that phrase here not only is her opinion in what is ostensibly a news story, my suspicious mind detects a sneer behind it.

How is that important? As a way of bolstering my refrain about the subjectivity and emotionalism of a large section of the British media in writing about Zimbabwe.

Ms. Thornycroft, who has publicly talked about how she gave up her British citizenship in order to be able to retain her Zimbabwean one, is not only getting more emotional in her reporting, she is also getting sloppy. The man whose name she gives as “Musakwe” is not only an RBZ executive, he is also a public figure, well known as a music producer in Zimbabwe. Ms. Thornycroft has lived in Zimbabwe for many years and it is presumably the expectation of The Telegraph that she corresponds for about Zimbabwe that she will be knowledgeable, thorough and authoritative on her subject. Given all this, to me it is an example of the kind of blind, emotional sloppiness to which she has descended that she could not spell this well known man’s name correctly as “Musakwa.”

She mentions another besieged white farmer, Doug Taylor-Freeme, who “has a gang of men allied to the ruling Zanu-PF party camped outside his kitchen door, ordered there by Chief Wilson Memakonde, a Zanu-PF senator who has already taken possession of five white-owned farms.”

The chief has recently gained infamy as a “multiple farm owner” in mockery of the Mugabe regime’s stated one-person one-farm policy. Apart from his notoriety in this regard, he would obviously also be well-known as a politician and a traditional leader, being a senator as well as a chief. It is therefore astonishing to me that Thornycroft, with her long experience and deep, quite obvious emotional ties to  Zimbabwe would mis-spell a Shona name as well known as Nemakonde.

The Telegraph and British readers for whom Thornycroft writes are too far from ground zero to catch these errors that would be inexcusable in a cub reporter’s story, let alone a famous “foreign correspondent” such as Madame Thornycroft. I can also understand how even when pointed out, those readers would consider these errors as really minor issues that in no way change the import of Thornycroft’s main point: how Mugabe is persecuting the white farmers.

Besides, surely everyone understands that those awkward African names are so difficult to remember and spell! How big of an issue can it be that Thornycroft can’t tell the difference between Musakwe and Musakwa, or between Memakonde and Nemakonde?

“Geez, you Africans are so sensitive, such a chip on your shoulders!”

Perhaps, but imagine the derision an African reporter who has lived in Britain for decades would get for not being able to know what a faux pas it was to not understand the weight of an error like spelling the name “Brown” as “Crown.” The error is far more significant than the misplacement of one letter.

My point is not to dispute the substance of Thornycroft’s article. I am in no position to know the veracity of her accounts, but it is not in doubt that white farmers have had a torrid time at the hands of the Mugabe government in recent years.

I am using this example of Thornycroft’s writing to re-iterate my point about how professionalism, accuracy and objectivity about Zimbabwe have largely gone out the door in much of British media reporting.

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White Zimbabwean farmers highlight Nigeria’s agricultural failures

Posted by CM on March 24, 2008

Every few months there is some story about how white Zimbabweans whose farms were expropriated by the Mugabe government and moved to start over in Nigeria are faring.

The latest such article describes…(full article)

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Christina Lamb “explains” Africa to her British readers

Posted by CM on March 23, 2008

by Chido Makunike

Christina Lamb, a British journalist, has carved out a niche for herself as some sort of “Zimbabwe expert,”  supposedly brilliantly able to explain the intricacies of “the Zimbabwe crisis” to her fellow Britons and Westerners.

It has not been hard for her to do, as Western readers seem to like to have puzzling-to-them Africa “explained” to them by one of their own, rather than actually listen to what the Africans have to say about their own reality.

Lamb cemented her image as Africa-expert/explainer-to-the-British with her book ‘Zimbabwe, House of Stone.’ The publisher’s online blurb describes it as a “powerful narrative (which ) traces the brutal Rhodesian civil war and the hope then despair of the Mugabe years, through the lives of two people she met who find themselves on opposing sides.” It chronicles the perspectives of a white farmer besieged by war veterans at the height of the farm takeovers in 2002, as well as that of one of his African employees.

I may come back to the book another time, but for now, Ms. Lamb has written an article for the Sunday Times (UK) about Mike Campbell, a white farmer who has been fighting attempts by the Mugabe regime to take over and evict him from his Zimbabwean farm at the SADC Tribunal, based in Namibia. The tribunal was set up in April 2007 as part of  a peer review mechanism within SADC. It aims to ensure that the objectives of the SADC Treaty to which Zimbabwe is a signatory, such as human rights and property rights, are upheld.

I have a lot of trouble with Ms. Lamb’s writings on Zimbabwe, as I do with those of many other British writers. She tries, particularly in her book, to be careful to treat the racial and historical aspects of what has brought Zimbabwe’s to its present pass with objectivity. But to me, her understandable sympathies for the white farmers and revulsion for Robert Mugabe stick out like a sore thumb that makes much of her work, including the present article, an expose of white feeling about Zimbabwe/Africa as much as it claims to be just attempting to tell us about the genesis of “the problem.”

There is no sin in this. Similarly, much of black/African sentiment to “the Zimbabwe issue” is also informed by racial/political feelings that go deep into the past.

Coming back to Lamb, the kinship that she so clearly displays with the white farmers makes her, for me, an opinionist more than a journalist just relating what is going on. For many blacks all over the world the symbolism that “Zimbabwe” represents is far more complicated than just the issues of economic decline or political repression. Likewise for some white people, especially of British extraction, “Zimbabwe” has another set of racial, political and historical symbolisms. The contrasting symbolisms are not monolithic for either group, and obviously there are some white and black people who see and interpret the wide array of symbolisms “Zimbabwe” represents in similar ways.

I have long maintained that writers like Lamb and much of the British media have become so emotional about “Zimbabwe” that much of their reportage is more post-colonial catharsis than it is just reporting about a country in deep distress. This is not only because of the colonial link between Britain and Zimbabwe, but because of the presence of a continuing, though now very small, white “community” there, and also because of how Mugabe has so consistently, mercilessly hurled British “sins” in their faces.

Mugabe has long sunk into an ugly despot, but a lot of what he says about Britain and its colonial role resonates with Africans everywhere. It just as strongly discomforts the British. All this influences the many disparate and inflamed emotions over the symbolic “Zimbabwe.”

For supporters of Zimbabwe, particularly for many Africans/blacks outside Zimbabwe, this means a “Mugabe is right” posture that transcends the mess he has caused to become of the country he rules. To others, and I would argue that people like Lamb fall into this group, the sting of Mugabe’s utterances, coupled with his repression and the economic ruin he has visited on Zimbabwe, gives them a way to subtly make statements about deeply held negative feelings about Africa and the Africans under the guise of “we are so concerned for their oppression and penury.”

In the short Sunday Times article  in question (Zimbabwe: white farmer Mike Campbell mounts last stand over land grab), Lamb paints Campbell in heroic terms while the Africans, not just Mugabe, are the traditional bad guys in a quite classic way that has become typical of much of the British press.

This is not at all to say that Campbell has not been subjected to shabby, unjust treatment by a Mugabe regime that selectively, cynically interprets and applies its own laws to ride roughshod over anyone standing in its way.

In going so over the top in portraying Campbell as a “white knight” and the natives as evil, shifty characters of low moral worth (obviously Lamb does not say so; this is my own interpretation based on reading her book, whose style is very much reflected in this latest Sunday Times article by her), she simplifies and distorts the complicated reality of the long black-white conflict of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe. She does so in a way I suspect is appealing to much of her readership. But what this pleasingly skewed reportage does is also to leave them with a distorted, limited understanding of the complicated, still evolving African reaction to the whole experience of British colonialism.

Lamb tells us of the trauma of the farm invasions of the early 2000s by the experiences of the Campbell’s horse, Ginger, who was so frightened that “she has followed Campbell’s wife Angela everywhere since she was attacked by Mugabe’s war veterans. ”

I am not in a position to doubt the trauma that Lamb says Ginger suffered at the hands of the purpoted war veterans, nor is it my point to want to do so. My point is that we are being set up by Lamb to understand just what nasty, nefarious characters these war veterans must have been. Imagine ow evil must be a group of people who would so scare the wits out of a nice, sensitive horse sweetly named “Ginger!” It is quite clear that what we are being told at some level is a group of cruel, vicious natives with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. “No wonder the country is such a mess,” is just one of the messages behind the words, unintentionally or otherwise.

This possibly subliminal, un-nuanced but not at all uncommon portrayal of the African is a far more powerful message than the mere recitation of facts. Just as Africans like me recoil at this historical Western stereotyping of our humanity by the likes of Lamb and The Times, The Telegraph and publications of that ilk, I am sure there are many Westerners to whom this stereotypical “reporting” appeals because that is how they see Africa and the Africans. On a certain level Lamb is merely providing modern-day fodder for what the West believes it “knows” about Africa and the African.

But if it is a comforting re-assertion of Western stereotypes, it leaves the really inquisitive non-African reader non the wiser about the complicated, sometimes contradictory reality of African feeling towards the continent’s experiences with the West. It leaves the target audience perhaps somewhat smug about their prejudices towards “those puzzling natives” but with their understanding of them no deeper, and perhaps more twisted and confused than before.

We are told about the skull of a young giraffe that caught its head in a snare. Campbell’s “British son in law Ben Freeth” explains how the skull grew around the wire, eventually cutting into the brain and killing the giraffe. “To me, this symbolises what has happened over the last eight years here – the slow strangulation of everything,” Lamb quotes Freeth as saying. The mention of Freeth’s being a Briton automatically makes the British/Western reader sympathise with whatever the writer is going to relate about his experiences in deep, dark Africa at the hands of the natives. And hearing the “reasoned” voice of a Briton lends an extra authenticity to whatever he says, and to Lamb’s account to her British readers, unlike the utterances of those unreliable, irrational , possibly even pro-Mugabe natives!

I do not disagree with Freeth’s poetically presented description of what Mugabe has wrought in Zimbabwe. What causes me discomfort and suspicion is how that is consistently used to cast pre-land upheavals Zimbabwe as an idyllic country of blameless, hard working white heroes like the Campbells. Again, this is not to question that they are hard working or perhaps even heroic in one way or another. I don’t know them. It is, instead, to say that British writers like Lamb ever so subtly juxtapose positive and negative racial stereotypes in such a way that the whole weight of a long complicated history of inter-racial mistrust and violence that explains the group feelings of whites and blacks about themselves and each other is dispensed with.

To the non-Zimbabwean, non-African reader of narratives like Lamb’s, the stage has been set for them to see the symbolic “Zimbabwe” in its complexity reduced to good, hard working and peaceful white versus shifty, lazy, violent native, a massive distortion of the historical record. Once this mental, psychological stage has been set, the native just can’t win, and all the subsequent details of whatever the particular article is about merely confirms what a loser that native is. And Mugabe serves as the perfect villain to confirm this because of his excesses, not just against the whites, but even against the very people he claims to love so much that he wants to “empower.”

Particularly for observers like Lamb, it becomes very difficult to separate antipathy towards Mugabe from the appeal of much of his message to many Africans. That appeal is only strengthened by the slant of the writings of people like Lamb. Instead of explaining “Mugabe may be a cruel despot but this is why parts of his message have such appeal to many Africans,” Lamb and much of the British press have conveniently simplified things to “Mugabe is a cruel despot so everything associated with official Zimbabwe is bad/negative/wrong/invalid.” They go further to then paint his opponents, and particularly the white farmers, as the therefore all-good opposite of Mugabe.

Certainly neat and simple, but also wrong and misleading. Lamb’s Western readers do not know enough about the history, the present it has wrought or the resulting African sentiment to see and question her on the simplicity of her accounts. And as said before, they are not inclined to doubt the depth and veracity of her accounts when they serve to entrench long-held Western stereotypes about the African.

African protests at reportage like Lamb’s can easily be dismissed as the normal complaining of the natives, who are to be studied but cannot be relied on to express their own narratives or explanations. That is best done by Western “Africa experts” like Lamb.

Lamb tells us how Campbell “admits he would not be able to carry on without the support of his family and their strong Christian faith.” No doubt true, and very touching. Call me overly cynical, but here is invoked the Western imagery of the decent, brave and “civilising” missionary out to do good amongst the unruly natives. The subliminal message here goes far deeper than that of a journalist who is merely telling her readers about a farmer attempting to legally defend his interests against a repressive regime.

What these consistent subliminal messages from much of the British media about “the Zimbabwe crisis” serve to do is make me immediately suspicious of their accounts, fairly or unfairly.

The most absurd example of “white-good, African-bad” subliminal messaging in Lamb’s article? The almost comical, “The war vets who took over  Bruce’s (Campbell’s son) farm brought cerebral malaria into the valley, killing 11 workers.”

How on earth could Lamb epidemiologically back up such a claim? And if she can, such an assertion would surely demand that she cite some sort of proof of it. But no, it is not necessary: having already been conditioned to understand what nasty characters the war veterans are, we are not expected to be surprised by or question how these bad guys could be proven to be the source of the malaria that killed the workers of the hero of the piece! Besides, being agents of the hated Mugabe, obviously the war veterans would have been quite up to “bringing” the cerebral malaria that not only wiped out a chunk of Campbell’s work force, but that also “killed Bruce’s wife Heidi (who) was four months pregnant with twins, leaving him a single parent to their five-year-old daughter. ”

Now of course the deaths were tragic, whatever the source of the cerebral malaria. My point here is that Lamb has long gone beyond merely telling the story of Campbell’s court challenge of the attempts to expropriate his farm. Ms. Lamb is in completely different territory now, where she is subliminally (consciously or otherwise on her part) telling the reader other racial narratives.

None of this necessarily suggests that Lamb is a cynical writer with some purposefully diabolical anti-African agenda. It is merely to suggest that in staring into the pool of “the Zimbabwe story,” she is no longer an objective observer/explainer. She has been sucked into the pool and reports from a jaundiced viewpoint, based perhaps  on her own background, just as many defenders of Mugabe view and report the story from other non-objective viewpoints.

Lamb’s work represents tragically horrible stereotypes that distort all the characters of “the Zimbabwe crisis,” both the natives as well as the white farmers whose understandable sympathy for informs so much of her work. Rather than making Zimbabwe any clearer to her readers, she instead caricatures its people and their tortured history and present.

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Pius Ncube owns up to adultery

Posted by CM on March 23, 2008

by Chido Makunike
The following story about Pius Ncube finally admitting that he did indeed mess around with a married woman is nauseatingly self-congratulatory and really doesn’t have too much substance.
Much is made of how Ncube was “secretly” filmed in a “final, exclusive” interview before he flew out of Zimbabwe for The Vatican in Rome. But Ncube has always been quite brave to speak his mind, so the need for “secrecy” in interviewing him sees utterly contrived.
The appearance of heroic effort to talk to him is given, when the “secrecy” that is probably being alluded to is just that the interviewers sneaked into the country under some non-journalistic  cover because of Zimbabwe’s ridiculous media laws.
Apart from their ineffectiveness in the age of easily accessible, high-technology communications tools, the silliness of those laws is shown in this case by how they allow a foreign crew doing a mediocre interview can paint themselves as brave super-heroes in doing so.
In addition to Ncube’s admission of his not keeping his priestly vows of celibacy, we are told The Vatican summoned him to Rome after last year’s scandal and ordered him to “stop speaking out about conditions in his devastated country.”

“It is true, I do admit that I did fail in keeping God’s commandment with regard to adultery,” he said in the filmed interview. “Having failed in keeping the Seventh Commandment Thou shalt not commit adultery, I would like to apologise to you, I’d like to apologise that so many of you were praying for me, for the fact that so many of you standing with me in fact suffered so much.”

This is rather pathetic, after Ncube so strenuously denied the allegations at the time. He needs to apologise for not having coming clean after having been caught or trapped, whichever was the case. Misleading his well-wishers even after the scandal broke may have been even more of a “sin” than messing around with a consenting adult.

The article claims Ncube’s apology “was directed to the people of Zimbabwe, where the majority of Christians are Catholics.” This rather grand assertion seems absurd when one considers that the article and film are for a foreign audience. There are any number of more effective ways Ncube could have directed an apology “to the people of Zimbabwe,” such as through the pulpit or the local media. But the claim may have more to do with the self-importance of the Scottish newspaper in which the article is published, or the “secret film interviewers” than with Ncube himself.

And as for whether the majority of Zimbabweans who call themselves Christians are Catholics, is this true?

It was only in his final filmed interview that Ncube revealed he was going to Rome. He added: “I’m disturbed. I’m very traumatised by this situation. My mouth just dries up. I did fail my vows. The problem is how do you repent, how do you turn round, how do you regain your integrity?

You do not regain your integrity by continuing with denial of the veracity of the allegations against you for months, and then only owning up in a “secret interview” with a dodgy crew of foreign journalists! That is not facing up to your Zimbabwean flock and supporters.

Zimbabwe has lost in the immediate term what was one of the most courageous and best-known voices of opposition to Mugabe. In the longer term, the controversy will inevitably raise questions about the gap between how prelates in Rome believe the faithful in Africa should behave, and the reality on the ground.

It is no great secret among those who live in Africa that Roman Catholic priests on that continent often honour the vow of celibacy as much in the breach as in the practice. Some priests have children, while others listen to the quiet advice of their bishops to practice birth control. Roman Catholic nuns sometimes defy papal doctrine and freely distribute condoms to their flocks to help counter the HIV/Aids pandemic, which is cutting a swathe through Africa. Many Zimbabweans and other Africans are likely to see as disproportionate the Vatican smothering of a powerful focus of opposition to Mugabe on account of an all too human failing – one that the Zimbabwe regime was bound to spot and exploit.

The question for me is why Africans continue to so slavishly hold on to imported dogmas they clearly have large areas of disagreement with. If you agree to be a Catholic or whatever other flavour of religion, you either accept its rules or work to change them from within. If you can’t, why is it so important to still hold on to the self-identity of “Catholic” (or whatever) when doing so means living a lie or a contradiction? There is increasing discussion the world over about the Catholic injunction of priestly celibacy, but if one does not agree with it, one is not forced to be a Catholic priest!

I have long respected Ncube for his outspokenness against the depredations of Mugabe against the people of Zimbabwe. The truth of Ncube’s message against Mugabe is not in any way lessened by Ncube’s philandering, even if his moral image is severely dented. As the article points out, Mugabe, who also tightly holds on to the self-identity of a Catholic, is not qualified to point moral fingers at anybody on the basis of sexual indiscretion!

But the idea that Ncube is so chastened and faithful to a Catholicism that we now clearly know he does not strictly adhere to that he would accept to be “silenced” by The Vatican to me is alienating. Why not consider the period of having been a Catholic priest as just a phase of his life, quit and move on to doing something else, including continuing to speak out against Mugabe and fostering healing in the post-Mugabe era. He could do all this just as effectively once freed from the clutches of the Church of Rome, perhaps even much more so.

And he would be able to openly and honestly indulge his very natural sex drive, though hopefully not with married women! For me what was so much more of a pity was that he had to have furtive sex with married members of his flock, not the fact that he broke silly medieval church vows that long ago needed to be discarded. Quit the Catholic church, get a girlfriend and continue with your important work of speaking out against Mugabe’s political repression.

It is time for Africa to not feel beholden to swallowing whole philosophies, rituals and dogmas that are products of particular periods in Western history. The time when how “civilised” we were considered to be depended on how faithfully we copied and regurgitated what we have absorbed from Western culture should be behind us now. What Africa needs are people who can help us fashion a new, more functional and relevant-to-us synthesis of the new/imported and the old/indigenous.

Priests who are dressed up in elaborate garb, mouthing obscure European liturgies, observing quaint old European religious rituals and pretending to believe in strange, dysfunctional customs like priestly celibacy are simply an embarrassment to the new Africa we should be trying to build. Africa should now be at a level of self-confidence where it does not feel the need to force itself into these bizarre, outsider-imposed and now African self-imposed strait jackets.

The article based on the “secret” interview appeared in the Scottish Sunday Herald .

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Joseph Made at his wild guessing games about agriculture again

Posted by CM on March 17, 2008

Mugabe minister Joseph Made is a man given to making sweeping statements. Several years ago, as then agriculture minister, he took a helicopter trip around the country and on that basis declared the country was about to enjoy a bumper maize harvest. The maize deficit that resulted and has continued every year since then earned Made much scorn and derision.

He now has the grand title of minister of Agricultural Engineering, Mechanisation and Irrigation. His portfolio may have changed, but not his penchant for wild, optimistic guessing games.

Every gambit by the Mugabe government to revive agriculture over the last eight years or so has been a disastrous failure. Now, two weeks before a crucial election, Made predicts the electioneering tactic of parceling out recently imported agricultural machinery will achieve what every other action of the Mugabe government has failed to do.

From The Herald of March 17:

Business Reporter

THE distribution of various farming implements last week under Phase 3 of the mechanisation programme, coupled with the machinery distributed under phase 1 and 2, will have the net effect of increasing production by no less than 50 percent in the short term.

Agricultural Engineering, Mechanisation and Irrigation Minister Dr Joseph Made said this would, however, depend on the effective use of the equipment, especially tractors.

A total of 500 tractors were distributed under Phase three while 1 200 tractors were distributed under phase 2 and 925 under phase one giving a cumulative figure of 2 625 tractors distributed so far.

Dr Made said if the tractors are used at the right time and in the right manner the yield capacity could go up to as much as 100 percent or 200 percent. The yield per unit for a small farmer receiving assistance from the District Development Fund, he said, should be around 200 percent.

Dr Made said if fertilizer availability improves, the yield capacity could go up by as much as 400 or 500 percent. “I am talking about sufficient quantities of proper base fertilizers, top dressing fertilizer, herbicides, pest control chemicals,” he said.

He added that the increase in production was also dependent on proper care and maintenance of the equipment. This, he said, could be achieved if farmers stick to periodic maintenance instructions prescribed by the manufacturers. “If all farmers are able to do this we will only start thinking about a major massive service after five years,” he said.

Given such a scenario, Dr Made said, production capacity in the next five years could surpass 1 000 percent.

I get the distinct impression the man is just throwing around whatever figures come to his mind! Without any context or details he predicts agricultural productivity will go up by huge, conveniently nice round numbers.

It is good for farmers to get farmers and other farm equipment. Unfortunately, there are so many factors working against their success that the equipment is unlikely to lead to anywhere near the kind of productivity increases Made daydreams about. Made actually gives hints of this by all the “ifs” he qualifies his predictions with.

“If” used at the right time, “if” fertiliser is made available, “if” the equipment is properly maintained, and so on.

Diesel is neither widely nor easily available so it is not a simple matter to use one’s tractor “at the right time.” Fertiliser and other inputs have not been affordably and widely available for close to ten years now, and as the forex crunch continues, there is no reason to believe that this situation will change any time soon. Maintenance of any equipment in Zimbabwe is hard because of the expense and difficulty of getting service items like oil and air filters, so it is a safe bet that many of these tractors will simply be run un-serviced until they quit.

The way Made expresses himself makes it quite clear that he is aware of all this.

The equipment being parceled out and all the other ad hoc agricultural measures are being tried when there is so much that is fundamentally wrong with the economy that they will largely go to waste. Once again we have evidence of how things have deteriorated to a stage where band-aid measures are no longer enough and a wholesale, surgical renewal operation is required.

Posted in Agriculture | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Zimbabwe’s mining skills going

Posted by CM on March 17, 2008

Zimbabwe’s mining sector has lost more than half its skilled personnel in the last year with workers lured abroad by the chance of boosting their pay more than ten-fold, an industry body said.

According to a new study carried out by the chamber of mines, there are now 1,116 vacancies for professional and technical staff following the departure of workers, mainly to neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Mozambique.

“The industry has lost more than half of its skilled personnel to the region and beyond,” Jack Murehwa, president of the Chamber of Mines, said. “Under the current situation, the employer is struggling to make money, the taxes are among the highest in the world and price distortions make earnings based on the official exchange rate a mockery.”Zimbabwe’s mines, which produce gold, palladium, chrome, platinum and diamonds among other minerals, earned the country $849-million up from $702-million in 2006, according to central bank figures. However, problems over power supply and a dearth of foreign currency are beginning to bite in the inflation-ravaged country, with production of gold falling by more than a third last year.

Murehwa said the industry’s future “looks bleak” in the light of the skills flight, electricity shortages and government plans to force foreign-owned mines to cede transfer majority shares to indigenous blacks.

So the Mugabe regime intends to take over equity in mining companies at the same time the country is losing the skills to make those takeovers profitable and successful! It already looks like yet another colossal planning disaster in the making.

Just as with the Mugabe-caused disaster in the agricultural sector, a basic concept seems to have been misunderstood: natural resources are only potential wealth. They only become actual wealth with capital, technology, conducive policies and skills. Without these qualities, you can have the most mineral-rich and agriculturally-fertile soils but still be a pathetic, declining country.

No number of populist “empowerment laws” will improve Zimbabwe’s economic prospects until these basic lessons are learned.

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Mbeki, do it for your own legacy

Posted by CM on March 17, 2008

We have had enough years of South African President Thabo “hear no evil, see no evil in Zimbabwe” Mbeki to know that there is no prospect of him even so much as mildly chiding Robert Mugabe for the destruction he has caused the country he rules. Mbeki’s utter failure to have any influence at all on Mugabe will be remembered long after Mbeki has left office.

South Africa’s official excuse for its embarrassing reluctance to admit that Zimbabwe has been on a steep slide for years and that its rulers bear responsibility for it is that the latter country is a sovereign country. “Our hands are tied,” is official South Africa’s excuse for not even being able to protest at the destruction of thousands of poor Zimbabweans homes by the state, or the public beatings of opposition officials. It has also been suggested that “quiet diplomacy” which does not ruffle Mugabe’s feathers has better prospects of influencing his behaviour than publicly berating him, as many people would have liked Mbeki to have done.

But “quiet diplomacy” has been a colossal failure. Another reason for Mbeki and South Africa speaking out against the horrors of how Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe would be for them to maintain a semblance of being true to the democratic ideals they claim for themselves.

Opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is not known for his eloquence. But he was eloquent when he urged Mbeki, who was appointed by Southern African countries to mediate between Zanu-PF and the MDC on creating the conditions for free and fair elections, to “break with his policy of quiet support for the dictatorship in Zimbabwe.”

“If you won’t do it for us, if you won’t do it for Africa, do it for your own country and for your own legacy,” he said.

But this assumes a sense of honor and principle which Mbeki may not possess.

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