ZIMBABWE - LETTER FROM THE DIASPORA !
31 July 2009
Well, well, wonders will never cease! There on the main BBC One TV News last night was the BBC's man reporting legally, repeat legally, from Zimbabwe. He was doing a piece on the economy and one shot showed supermarket shelves in Harare crammed with goods, "Imported and local" commented the BBC's man, a natural mistake, you might say; after all what does a Brit know about brand names of local goods? Now, it so happened that yesterday I had spent a wonderful day with members of my extended family who happened to be visiting the UK. Of course, we spent the day talking about Zimbabwe and exchanging family news but one of the things I wanted to know was did they still have to travel from Bulawayo where they live to Botswana to buy their groceries or could they get stuff easily now and was it local or imported? Hollow laughter at the mention of locally produced goods! "You know," they told me, "We even import sugar, sugar of all things, from South Africa and, believe it or not, we're drinking South African milk."
So naturally, when I saw the BBC piece I started to wonder...was this a genuine opening up of the media or was it just another PR exercise on the part of the Zimbabwean 'government' to make the rest of the world believe that all is now well in this bankrupt country of ours. Anything to spread the word to potential investors that Zimbabwe is a safe place to invest!
In complete contrast to the rosy picture the Inclusive Government would like the media to portray, Channel Four had earlier in the week screened an excellent documentary entitled Bankrolling Mugabe showing how British based companies located in the City of London were funding Mugabe and Zanu PF and thereby enabling them to stay in power. The documentary focused particularly on Billy Rautenbach's vast financial empire with its links to shadowy companies all used to divert monies to the once ruling party. We saw Rautenbach's vast farms and his ongoing attempts to turn black African farmers off their cattle farms and thus extend his own empire. Zimbabweans know that Rautenbach is not the only white man involved is shoring up Mugabe; Nicholas van Hoogstraten and Bredenkamp are two other names that spring to mind. The Channel Four piece was 'undercover', by the way. It remains to be seen whether ITN will also be allowed to operate legally in Zimbabwe. I see today that CNN has also been de-listed and can now report freely from inside the country.
It was interesting to read this morning that the BBC had negotiated their 'deal' with Webster Shamu and George Charamba, two staunch Zanu PF loyalists. Cynic that I am, I can't help wondering if the BBC haven't been hoodwinked by the smooth talking Zanu PF stalwarts. Will the BBC now be free to travel all over the country? Will they be able report on the ongoing violent farm invasions, or the arrests of MDC MPs - the number now stands at seventeen since the GPA - or the activities of the Green Bombers in the rural areas or incidents such as the arrest of protestors for wearing black clothing during the so-called National Healing exercise? And more to the point in a country where the rule of law has virtually collapsed, will the Zimbabwean police respect the agreement that allows the BBC to operate legally? How long before we see BBC journalists being bundled into the back of police trucks, I wonder.
The BBC World News Editor's statement on the agreement is very relevant here. "We are pleased we have been able to reach an agreement," he says. "We all recognise the realities of the situation. If we look back we will never look forward." (How's that for classic British double-speak!) "We have different perspectives on this but we both agree we need to look forward. The most important thing is not what happened over the past ten years, it is that we can go into Zimbabwe and report openly" It is that last remark, "its not what happened over the past ten years" that is most significant. It is so redolent of the 'sweep it all under the carpet' talk that we are hearing from both sides of the political divide these days. Such a comment from the BBC's top man suggests to me that he has been well and truly taken in by the Zanu PF speak that he got from the likes of Shamu and Charamba. It is certainly not in Zanu's interest to dwell on the events of the past ten years: the killings and beatings, the disappearances and brutal repression of MDC members; that would bring prosecution for human rights abuses much too close to home for the comfort of the former ruling party.
It was the shot of the BBC's reporter being welcomed into 'Shake-Shake' House that was the most intriguing. He had been invited into Zanu PF headquarters by none other than John Nkomo, Mugabe's 'urbane right hand man' was how they described him. Nkomo's words certainly reflected his urbanity! "Let me say the hardliners have come to accept that change is inevitable" then he added the give away line, "There is so much interest in investing in the country." So that's what this is all about! This is not about opening up the media because it's the democratic thing to do; it's not even about making life better for the majority of Zimbabweans. It's about more business opportunities for greedy politicians and they are using the BBC to make the country look good in the eyes of the world. "Accepting that change is inevitable" hardly seems to apply to the likes of Joseph Chinotimba, a hardliner if ever there was one, as he and his so-called war vets disrupted the Constitutional Conference! "I don't think there are any hardliners in Zanu PF" declares the 'urbane' John Nkomo and adds, "President Mugabe is a principled man. Once he agrees on a programme he wants it implemented." Well, yes, we can all concur on that one. We have a starving and impoverished nation to prove it.
So I for one will be watching and listening to the BBC's coverage of Zimbabwe with considerable interest - and not a little cynicism. I hope my cynicism will prove misplaced and that we shall see all the media outlets inside the country being given the same freedom - if indeed it is genuine 'freedom' - as the BBC and CNN. Until AIPPA is repealed and the airwaves are freed up so that SW Radio Africa and The Zimbabwean are free to do their jobs inside the country, I remain cynical.
Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.
Labels: Zimbabwe Diaspora