Marianne Thamm

Let them ring room service

2007-04-18 09:15

Marianne Thamm

At first I thought it was his idea of a joke. You know the kind bad stand-up comics sometimes tell and then you're not quite sure whether you should laugh or not.

But this past Sunday (April 15), Jeremy Maggs, hosting an installment of his regular progamme Media@Safm on SAFM, did an interview with his boss, Herr Doktor Snuki Zikalala, SABC Managing Director of News and Current Affairs.

The SABC führer announced the public broadcaster's (or should that be state broadcaster?) intention of opening a bureau in Zimbabwe in a few months' time.

This would be done, said the führer, to help tell the "real" Zimbabwean story. We get most of our news about Zimbabwe, Zikalala told Maggs, from the BBC, CNN and Al Jezeera, and it was about time that we got an "African perspective".

Maggs forgot to remind Zikalala at this point that the BBC, SKY and CNN have all been kicked out of Zimbabwe but why let facts get in the way of the boss's monologue.

At one point Herr Doktor Zikalala told Maggs; "For instance people say there is no food in Zimbabwe but this is nonsense. There is food, it's just very expensive."

(I've called for a transcript of the programme just to make sure there wasn't something strange about the aromatherapy oil I had poured into the bath before tuning into SAFM).

I waited for Maggs to burst out laughing, as I was about to do.

And then my stomach turned as I realised Zikalala was serious, dead serious.

As serious as he was in 2005 after the Zimbabwean parliamentary elections when he told members of his SABC editorial staff that it was a lie that there was no food in Zimbabwe and that people were starving.

Room service for the masses

Back then he had told a group of journalists (and others) that during his stay in the Sheraton in Harare he had in fact enjoyed freshly baked bread rolls daily.

He added that he had also had no trouble ordering Johnny Walker Black and even mineral water. And what's more, he insisted triumphantly, he had even got room service to bring it to him so what the hell was everyone on about?

Of course, that's the answer, why didn't we think of it! Zimbabweans just need to ring the Sheraton's room service to solve their food problems!

This in the same week that the Star kicked off a series by journalist Fiona Farr, who snuck into Zim as an Irish tourist over the Easter holidays.

Talking to ordinary Zimbabweans Farr found deprivation, fear and a deep terror of speaking out against ZANU-PF or Mugabe.

Farr, who was being interviewed by SAFM's Xolani Gwala, said Star editor, Moegsien Williams, had wanted to focus on the ordinary lives of Zimbabweans rather than on the political situation.

"It's on the brink of becoming a second Ethiopia," she told Gwala with regard levels of starvation, particularly in rural areas.

The more things change...

Not surprising perhaps, as the former Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, has lived in Zimbabwe since 1991 and is a great friend of Mr Mugabe's.

No doubt Mengistu has shared his successful "food as a weapon of oppression" policy with Mr Mugabe.

It is unlikely that the SABC Zimbabwe bureau will duplicate Farr's brand of "real reporting", not while Herr Doktor Zikalala is the MD.

Coincidentally on Thursday last week I attended the 11th birthday of Pieter-Dirk Uys' fabulously revamped theatre in the railway station in Darling.

Pieter-Dirk does a wonderful impersonation of former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pik Botha, and in his new show Hello Darling he did snippet of Pik admonishing the foreign media for "exaggerating" what was happening in apartheid South Africa.

On Sunday, as I listened to Dr Zikalala I was reminded of those mad, bad times and thought "the more things change..."

Send your comments to Marianne.

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