No news isn’t good news

No wind of change on Zim

Finweek English Edition - - Openers - BY FRIK ELS frike@fin­week.co.za

IT SEEMS THAT Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki gets all his news from the SABC. It’s not as if Mbeki has ever talked tough about Zim­babwe, but this quote from an SABC3 evening news re­port sets a new stan­dard for the softly-softly approach. “Crit­ics ac­cuse Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe of mis­man­ag­ing the econ­omy” is the help­ful con­text the SABC of­fers to view­ers fol­low­ing the SADC’s don’tcall-it-a-cri­sis meet­ing on Zim.

The SABC’s eco­nomics desk has never been par­tic­u­larly strong, but I thought they could have done a bit more with this. To be bal­anced they should have asked what the sup­port­ers of hyper­in­fla­tion think about Mu­gabe. Mis­man­age­ment also sounds fairly be­nign. As if to­tal eco­nomic col­lapse is the sort of thing you can fix at a week­end bos­ber­aad.

The news out of Dar es Salaam also wasn’t con­sid­ered im­por­tant enough for an ear­lier SABC news bul­letin, de­spite the out­come of the spe­cial sum­mit hav­ing been on a loop on the BBC and CNN for most of the evening. When at 10 the SABC thought to pick up on it, the seg­ment came in third. The Limpopo town of Makhado re­vert­ing back to its old name was thought to have a big­ger ef­fect on the coun­try than the bene­fac­tion of Bob.

A few days later, SABC ra­dio in­ter­viewed Zam­bia's first pres­i­dent Ken­neth Kaunda about Mu­gabe’s SADC en­dorse­ment. He should have some real in­sight into the mind of Mu­gabe, since he shares the birth year of 1924 with him. With­out in­ter­rup­tions from the in­ter­viewer, Kaunda lauded the de­ci­sion and spoke at length about Bri­tish politi­cian Harold Macmil­lan’s “Wind of change” speech of 1960. The in­ter­viewer never got the chance to ask Kaunda the rel­e­vance of all this. It was time for the SABC news.

Mbeki must have lis­tened to that il­lu­mi­nat­ing in­sert be­cause he also largely ig­nored the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Zim and delved into the past in an in­ter­view with the Lon­don Fi­nan­cial Times last week. “Robert Mu­gabe was a stu­dent at Fort Hare in his youth… We have a long his­tory with Zim­babwe,” Mbeki ex­plained. Kaunda was one of Bob’s var­sity bud­dies in the For­ties, as was Mbeki’s fa­ther Go­van. We get this lit­tle tit­bit about Mu­gabe’s alma mater but nary a word about Zim­bab­wean refugees over­whelm­ing towns like Makhado, 100km from Beit Bridge. The des­per­a­tion of the un-SABC me­dia for any hint of a change in Mbeki’s strat­egy was ev­i­dent from the glow­ing terms in which the FT in­ter­view was re­ported on.

Maybe I shouldn’t be too pes­simistic. Manto Tsha­bal­ala-Msi­mang, an­other Fort Harean, did even­tu­ally change her ways, though it took a liver trans­plant. Mu­gabe, how­ever, ap­pears fit­ter than ever. FIN­WEEK is pleased to an­nounce the win­ner of its “Win the Most Ex­pen­sive Busi­ness Book in the World Com­pe­ti­tion”. Con­tes­tants had to come up with their own idea on how to make a mil­lion. The idea of Ameeth Lakhani, a man­age­ment ac­coun­tant at a big bank. was a re­place­ment for the af­ter­dinner mint that also min­imises so­cial em­bar­rass­ments.

Auld Lang Syne. Robert Mu­gabe and Mbeki’s fa­ther at Fort Hare.

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