By Nduduzo Tshuma in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
President Mugabe does not owe former Zanu-PF Mashonaland East provincial chair Mr Ray Kaukonde any money, contrary to reports by privately-owned newspaper NewsDay, Presidential Spokesperson Mr George Charamba has said.
Last week, the newspaper quoted a Zanu-PF “Politburo member” claiming the President told them in a meeting two weeks ago that he owed Mr Kaukonde US$30 million and anticipated a lawsuit for its recovery.
Zanu-PF Politburo members Simon Khaya Moyo (Information and Publicity), Saviour Kasukuwere (Commissariat), Joshua Malinga (Secretary for the Disabled) and Professor Jonathan Moyo (Science and Technology), all dismissed the article as a fabrication driven by malicious intent.
Addressing journalists soon after President Mugabe landed here yesterday for a two-day consultative visit, Mr Charamba said: “I can confirm to the nation that the President does not borrow and, therefore, cannot owe. He does not borrow from a private citizen and, therefore, cannot owe. If he has to borrow, he does it with the right institutions, namely banks.
“It is, therefore, inconceivable for the President to be associated with such a transaction involving a private citizen. Whether in his private or official capacity, he doesn’t have such a relationship and anyone making such allegations is attacking the person of the President as well as the dignity of his Office.
“There is a way in which these allegations traduce the Office of the President and for me that can only come from a certain type of journalism I’ve termed ‘ill-will journalism’, which is really animated with unmitigated malice.”
Mr Charamba said the story was an insult as it overlooked the fact that President Mugabe was a successful farmer who had been delivering “tonnes and tonnes” of maize, wheat, soya as well as mega litres of processed milk to Zimbabweans for years.
“In other words, the First Family is in business and to try to imply that they are hard-up is really to demean the First Family. We have been observing a trend in the private media where there is a malicious targeting of the First Family. It is not erratic, it is actually systemic and sustained.
“Just when we were about to leave for this trip, there was a story of some company which has invested in a concern which does dairy products, I think it’s Dendairy, and then the headline was ‘Company invests to challenge Mugabe in the dairy industry’.”
He added, “Right now, we have the First Family in the dairy industry, we have Dairiboard in the dairy industry and many other little players. How does a foreign direct investment into a Zimbabwean company necessarily links up with the President?
“You just can’t see the link and you can read this as real ill-will against the First Family. I think there is a key difference between holding politicians to account and holding them up for ridicule. There is a vast difference.
“Holding politicians up for account is a key component of democracy and is permissible in a democracy, but simply attacking the politicians gratuitously to satisfy your hatred of a person cannot have any dignity let alone protection in the law of the land.
“If anything, it invites a very strong response and there is no way we can ever imagine in the media that a strong press is founded on ill will, it can’t.”
Mr Charamba said Government was in the process of working on a legal regime for the media “against the background of all the inquiries we have done and the investments which are taking place in the broadcasting industry”.
“One key law which has come up for discussion is one relating to criminal defamation and the general argument has been to say this is a left-over from the Rhodesian era and for that reason, it sits ill on a new dispensation of Independence, but what has never been interrogated is whether the behaviour of the media is not the kind of behaviour which is inviting that kind of strong legislative response.
“And from what I’ve been seeing of late, it is clear that there is a way in which the media is accosting legislators and members of the executive to give a very robust response to unprofessional media conduct. It, therefore, becomes difficult for the ministry to persuade other sister departments to scrap off the law against this conduct because it’s a conduct that invites a stronger legislative response.”
Explaining the delay in making a statement on the matter, Mr Charamba said he needed to first consult the President as the story touched on his personal life.
“The President has not pronounced himself on the matter; I consulted with him and I’m speaking as a Press Secretary. I consulted with him – not that it was necessary, but just to fulfill protocol to the extent that this was a matter which was personal to the life of the President.
“Generally, my approach is that on official issues, Governmental issues, I just go by broad policy; but if there is an allegation that touches on the President’s personal life, I’m very cautious, which is why you noticed I was not in a hurry to jump into the story.
“I just wanted to make sure that when I pronounce myself on that matter on his behalf, my position is sufficiently canvassed.” The Sunday Mail