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Comment: Zim Deserves Better

VISITORS to Zimbabwe’s capital this week would have got a reality check as women planning to protest against the political stalemate in the country were tear-gassed and arrested.

Other groups such as students were involved in the skirmishes that took place in the city. The Rainbow Towers Hotel where the Sadc Troika was meeting was sealed off to the public.


This will have provided a useful insight to the many travel writers the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority has paid to come here to report on how normal the situation is. But, more to the point, it exposes the repressive character of the regime that is seeking international endorsement of its continued purchase on power.

As members of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe were being rounded up and incarcerated, ruling party supporters were being bused into the Zanu PF headquarters to express support for President Mugabe.

In Bulawayo, two leaders of Woza have spent two weeks in detention because they protested against current conditions. The state opposed bail because it said they had other pending cases against them. In fact no previous charges have been successful.

Meanwhile Arthur Mutambara and the Standard newspaper are fighting charges of publishing views that were prejudicial to the state.

As all these episodes illustrate, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe remains a profoundly repressive state where democratic rules are ignored. The September 15 agreement was quite clear in seeking to “uphold and develop press freedom” and ensure people have “equitable and wide access to information”.

That self-evidently is not happening as the so-called public media provide the ruling party with platforms to attack the opposition in general and Morgan Tsvangirai in particular. The persistence of partisan and unprofessional behaviour in that part of the media beholden to Zanu PF is one of the more striking features of the government’s failure to abide by the September 15 agreement.  The public, as a result, are denied access to information and prevented from making an informed choice when voting.

The other emblematic issue that has received much press comment recently is that of Tsvangirai’s passport. The Registrar-General has claimed that his office did everything possible to oblige the MDC leader by issuing him with an emergency travel document for travel to Swaziland on October 20. Tsvangirai understandably says he is entitled to a passport like everybody else instead of ad hoc documents that can be issued or withheld at the RG’s pleasure. The claim that there is no passport paper because of sanctions is simply fatuous when others are being issued with theirs.

Indeed, what this affair reveals is the need for a Minister of Home Affairs who can instill democratic and professional values in public servants.

The same goes for the police. When Dumiso Dabengwa took over at Home Affairs in 1990 he made it his priority to introduce a culture of non-partisan professionalism in the ZRP, a stance no doubt informed by his own experience. There is a similar need now for ministers to ensure public servants carry out their duties with a sense of professionalism and accountability to the public they serve. That is not only true of Home Affairs but extends to appointments of senior diplomats who have been compromised of late by political pronouncements that have damaged Zimbabwe’s international standing.

As well as inculcating a culture of professionalism we would have thought this was an ideal opportunity for Mugabe to take an axe to the deadwood surrounding him. He complained recently about the quality of his current cabinet. So why does he insist upon retaining them? The process of adding value to government extends well beyond the inclusion of opposition ministers. It provides a perfect opportunity for the president to include in his cabinet individuals who can manage a government department with skill and dedication. There must surely be one or two such individuals with a seat in parliament!

At the end of the day, what we have is a ruling party and government that is determined to pretend their electoral defeat in March was merely an aberration by a people temporarily distracted by hardship and Anglo-American interference.

In fact it was for the first time since 2000 a nation passing judgement on its indifferent and delinquent rulers. Unless they take that judgement on board and eschew the comforting illusions of their own propaganda, there will be little prospect of a lasting settlement. What in any case does Zanu PF want to do to the country that it has not already done? After 28 years there is so obviously a need for fresh thinking and international support.

But sadly, Zanu PF thinks it was cheated in March and has a mandate for more damaging policies. So long as this idiocy persists, we can look forward to nothing more than a divided and broken nation with no hope for the future.

Zimbabweans deserve better than this but will clearly be made to suffer for a while longer.

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