7 May 2007

Zimbabwe: Column - Mary Revesai


IN THE Bible, St. Paul wisely advises those wishing to communicate with their fellow men: "Except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air."

The Apostle Paul may not have had any country in mind when he offered this advice centuries ago, but Zimbabwe's latest aspiring spin doctor, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, needs such a reminder.

Since taking over as Robert Mugabe's "Josef Goebbels" some months ago, Ndlovu has taken government propaganda to new depths of denial, deception and self-delusion.

While as Zimbabwe's trailblazing propaganda warrior, Jonathan Moyo, relied on distortion and exaggeration in his bid to defend the indefensible, Ndlovu has chosen to resort to an outright refusal to acknowledge objective realities.

This of course, is heart-of-stone Mugabe's long established modus operandi , but one would have expected Ndlovu to bring a more humane and realistic perspective. But lo and behold, the renowned educationist did not even give himself time to pause and take stock before jumping in headlong to embrace "the big lie".

And while younger men like Moyo and his former sidekick, George Charamba, can hope to live down the spectacle they have made of themselves in the service of Zimbabwe's despotic ruler, what chance is there for a 70-year old man to retain his dignity and credibility after a similar stint?

When Ndlovu was appointed Minister of Information and Publicity after a recent cabinet reshuffle, some hoped he would bring sanity and moderation to the portfolio, which has become one of the most unpopular arms of government because of the ministry's adversarial approach in dealing with the media and other stakeholders. Alas, this was not to be and Ndlovu has been willing to defend Mugabe's paranoid ranting with almost juvenile gusto.

He seems totally unaware that communication starts with a climate of belief built by performance and reflecting a sincere desire to serve the interests of the receiver. An unbridgeable credibility gap is created when a communicator loses the respect of stakeholders as Ndlovu has rapidly done through his perplexing eagerness to be his master's voice regardless of what a fool he makes of himself.

A simple lesson for Ndlovu is that words must mean the same to the receiver as they do to the sender. The Mugabe regime's utterances are no longer in sync with established realities and rules of logic. Take the argument about the imposition of targeted sanctions, which the Mugabe regime is clumsily trying to turn on its head. Being clueless on how to reverse the economic ruin and confusion they have wrought upon the country, Zimbabwean authorities believe they can now dupe everybody by attributing the prevailing chaos to "illegal sanctions".

The first question is, illegal by whose criterion? It is a bad piece of propaganda for a country where lawlessness is rampant to insist on legality on the part of others. The targeted sanctions have been imposed on Mugabe and his lieutenants for the flagrant human rights abuses and brutal atrocities they are perpetrating against a defenceless populace.

Ndlovu has been at the forefront in trying to put a spin on the targeted sanctions, which must be biting to be such a sore point for the globe-trotting Mugabe. He can no longer fly to Western capitals at the drop of a hat as he used to do, hence his bitter assertions that the sanctions must be lifted. Ndlovu has swallowed this drivel hook, line and sinker. Instead of advising his boss to address the governance issues that necessitated the imposition of the measures in the first place, he has been singing for his supper in a sickening way for a man of his age.

One moment Ndlovu says the sanctions are a "non-event" and supposedly therefore of no consequence but in the next breath he blasts the West for causing the misery and deprivation that Zimbabweans are enduring. Ndlovu recently claimed that by "harping on economic hardships" in Zimbabwe the American government was confirming that it imposed sanctions against the country. The sanctions were, however, doomed to fail, Ndlovu gloated. What doublespeak! The people are not fooled and are fully aware who is responsible for causing their suffering and pauperisation.

There is no earthly reason for them to feel any sympathy for their tormentors as implied by Mugabe's taunt during the last independence celebrations that Zimbabweans should "unite against sanctions" .If Mugabe and his regime genuinely cared about the plight of the people they would be addressing the issues that have rendered a once thriving country a pariah and failed state.

Ndlovu seems to forget that the economic problems in Zimbabwe are self-inflicted and are a result of corruption and mismanagement. They can be traced directly to the mishandling of the land reform programme, which has resulted in the ruination of the agricultural sector.

No amount of spinning on Ndlovu's part on tired themes like sovereignty and the inane claim that "Zimbabwe will never be a colony again" can change the fact that Mugabe and his avaricious cronies have destroyed the country through corruption, inefficiency and selfishness. They are in government only to enrich themselves and do not give a hoot about the needs and aspirations of the people.

On the eve of the last independence "celebrations" on April 18, Ndlovu made the astonishing statement that independence and sovereignty meant that Zimbabweans were now free to walk along First Street in Harare.

Firstly, it is not true that blacks were barred from any part of the capital during the reign of the Smith regime, so this is an outright lie. Secondly, Ndlovu neglected to mention that roaming the streets on empty stomachs is no fun for those outside the ZANU PF political patronage system. Some Zimbabweans venture into the centre of town not to walk proudly with heads held high but to beg.

If Ndlovu had taken a walk in the centre of the capital on April 18, he would have found some pavements impassable because of uncollected garbage. Is this what freedom is supposed to mean for the ordinary man and woman while for chefs like Ndlovu it means exclusive and unlimited access to national resources and facilities that should benefit all Zimbabweans?

Commenting on an American government statement on increasing tyranny and repression in Zimbabwe, Ndlovu was quoted as saying the United States had no right to lecture other countries on democracy. "In Zimbabwe, we do not run our country or need American praise commendations at all, we do what we do as a sovereign, independent country."

What he neglected to say is that the Mugabe regime does not listen to anybody - including the people of Zimbabwe. This is why Mugabe needs people like Ndlovu, who despite their mature age, experience and assumed "Ubuntu" or "Hunhu" are prepared to bear false witness against the people by spouting hot air.

Mary Revesai is a New Zimbabwe.com columnist and writes from Harare.

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