Caught napping – and meanwhile a central banker has been making a mint to help “”Grasping Grace”

Would our Labour Party be more successful if Phil Goff followed this example?

Alf stumbled upon news of Robert Mugabe becoming prone to snoozing more often than in the past.

Bearing in mind the bugger’s ripe old age, this should come as no surprise. Indeed, Alf is apt to drop off during tedious sessions in The House and sometimes during select committee hearings.

The problem seems to be that Mugagbe drops off at times when maybe he should be paying attention to what is happening because he is The Boss in his country.

He might be snoozing while his missus is making a mint trafficking diamonds, for example, although Alf emphasises the word ‘might’ . He further emphasises that the evidence for such a thing happening on this occasion comes from an American Ambassador, and American Ambassadors have been found to be more than a tad fanciful in what they report back to Washington from Wellington, so we should not expect them to do any better when they are reporting home from Harare.

Oh – and this is a nice touch – Zimbabwe’s central bank governor seems to be involved by printing the money needed to buy the diamonds.

Can you imagine Alan Bollard doing that for Mrs Key???

No, not really.

But Mugabe – now aged 86 – seems to be sleeping on other occasions.

MDC-T Secretary General and Finance Minister Tendai Biti has been reported as saying he is sleeping through important meetings.

Biti told party supporters at a rally in Kuwadzana that he held a two-and-a-half hour meeting with Mugabe during which the aging leader slept most of the time.

“I had a meeting with President Robert Mugabe and he slept for the better part of the meeting,” Biti said.

Mugabe – for those of Alf’s constituents who do not know – has been Zimbabwe’s leader since independence in 1980.

Biti said the Zanu PF leader was “now tired” and should leave office.

“A person who was born in 1980 will be 31 years next year but he only knows one President (Mugabe),” he said.

“People like Samora Machel (Mozambique), Joachim Chissano (Mozambique), Nelson Mandela (South Africa) and Thabo Mbeki (South Africa) have come and gone, but he (Mugabe) is still there. We need a new beginning.”

Tell that to Mugabe, who gives no sign of intending to step down. To the contrary, he has been endorsed by his Zanu PF party as its Presidential candidate for general elections expected next year.

And as we all know, without requiring WikiLeaks to tell us, he has a fair chance of winning because he is a dab hand at tampering with ballot boxes and frightening off voters who might support the opposition, if he doesn’t simply have them killed or jailed.

Mugabe will be 87 by the time he begins another five-year term as President.

Recent WikiLeaks cable releases have given him the pretext for calling such elections next year.

The WikiLeaks reports have heightened tensions within Zimbabwe’s coalition government, with Zanu-PF charging that the American cables vindicate its claim that the MDC is working with the west to oust Mugabe.

More than that, they have led to Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai facing – or being likely to face – a treason inquiry.

Johannes Tomana, the attorney general, said he would appoint a commission of five lawyers to examine whether recent disclosures in leaked American embassy cables amount to a breach of the constitution.

High treason in Zimbabwe can result in the death penalty. Tomana told the state-owned Herald newspaper: “With immediate effect, I am going to instruct a team of practising lawyers to look into the issues that arise from the WikiLeaks.

“The WikiLeaks appear to show a treasonous collusion between local Zimbabweans and the aggressive international world, particularly the United States.”

State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare.

Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.

A US embassy cable dated 24 December 2009 suggests Tsvangirai privately insisted sanctions “must be kept in place”.

A more fascinating leak is of a US diplomatic cable which accuses Mugabe’s missus of involvement in diamond trafficking.

If she didn’t prosper out of that business, she certainly seems intent on prospering in the courts.

She is demanding 15 million US dollars in damages from an independent newspaper, The Standard.

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the libel suit, although Alf is bound to say they sound like a particularly precious bunch of pricks.

If the Dominion-Post were to quote a diplomatic cable claiming Mrs Grumble was doing nicely, thank you, from trading in paua – let’s say – he would expect her to sue too.

But these Reporters Without Borders people reckon the Zimbabwean First Lady’s libel suit aims to undermine The Standard, which simply reported information available to everyone thanks to WikiLeaks.

“It highlights the dangers of reporting compromising allegations about senior officials or people linked to the government in Zimbabwe. Grace Mugabe did not think twice about abusing her position in an attempt to cripple this newspaper”

The press freedom organization added: “This case is one more example of how the government is trying to strangle critical news media financially. Suing The Standard for such an exorbitant sum in damages is tantamount to forcing it to shut down.”

“Once you are sued, you are forced to turn to lawyers, which is very expensive” said Wilf Mbanga, the publisher of another newspaper, The Zimbabwean. “Little by little, this can bankrupt us,” he added.

The libel suit was filed on 15 December.

It was triggered by a report about a 2008 cable in which the then US ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, told Washington that Grace Mugabe and other members of the Zimbabwean elite were earning substantial sums from trafficking in diamonds from the Chiadzwa mine in the eastern region of Marange.

He estimated that the First Lady and her partners were earning “several hundred thousand dollars a month” from the trade.

Of course, this stuff about diamonds was being bandied by British media several months ago.

London’s Sunday Times called Mrs Mugabe “Grasping Grace” and revealed that the Mugabes were building interests in the Far East to featherbed any future exile.

WHEN President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace landed in Hong Kong last month on the final lap of a lengthy Asian holiday, she had more on her mind than her usual extravagant shopping for baubles and handbags.

The first lady was focused on two investments designed to keep the Mugabes rich should they one day be forced into exile from Zimbabwe, where thousands are starving and ravaged by cholera and opponents are jailed, beaten and tortured.

One investment was a £4m Hong Kong property in a walled and gated complex where residents enjoy quiet gardens, a clubhouse and a swimming pool. The other was a multi-million-pound diamond venture she is considering launching in China. This involves locating a centre for cutting and polishing diamonds at Qingdao, on China’s east coast, in conjunction with Zimbabwe’s central bank, which is notorious for funding her extravagant travels abroad.

But it seems to Alf the libel business is a promising source of riches, too (although the payouts must be in some overseas currency, because millions of Zimbabwean dollars would provide you with nothing better than cheap bog paper).

The libel suits brought by Grace Mugabe and by central bank governor Gideon Gono, who is alleged to have printed additional Zimbabwean banknotes to finance her purchases of diamonds from the mine, come on the heels of other lawsuits that have been brought against the weekly.

Mines Minister Obert Mpofu is suing the newspaper for 25 million US dollars over a story about a property-buying spree.

Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe is suing it for 500,000 US dollars over an article that insinuated she was pregnant by a wealthy Zimbabwean businessman.

The state-owned Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation is suing it for 10 million US dollars over a story saying its executives were getting rich while delaying the payment of journalists’ salaries.

The First Lady’s libel suit has exacerbated the already tense relations between the authorities and The Standard, one of few independent newspapers in a country that has been deprived of press freedom for many years. Last month, its editor, Nevanji Madanhire, was detained for more than 24 hours, while one of its reporters Nqobani Ndlovu, was held for nine days

Alf would like to see more of this sort of thing in our country, to bring the media to heel, except he thinks we need a law enabling MPs like him to sue for having nothing said about them.

This serious oversight amounts to a defamation by implying we are not worth the slightest smidgeon of newspaper space or broadcasting time.

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