By Lance Guma
President Robert Mugabe’s spokesman has issued a threat to the private media claiming that their coverage of factional fighting in the ruling Zanu PF party meant that they were “turning themselves into infrastructure for the opposition” and “they should not cry foul when the hammer falls.”
The threat by George Charamba immediately invoked memories of the bombing of the independent Daily News newspaper by suspected state security agents in 2001.
The paper was subsequently forced to close in September 2003 and only came back in late March 2011 — after a seven-year battle in the courts.
Ominously the paper was bombed hours after then Information Minister Jonathan Moyo threatened to silence the Daily News once and for all.
Charamba who doubles up as Mugabe’s spokesman and also Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information claimed Mugabe was not worried about the “fictitious framing of factions” by the media and that Mugabe worked well with both Vice-Presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko.
“I meet the President everyday. He is not even worried about those reports. He is irritated by them actually. You get a feeling of irritation not of concern. He works so well with his two Vice-Presidents and the two Vice-Presidents work so well with each other. Decisions in the party are done consensually. They are not done by factions because they don’t exist.
“Now what you are looking at are little editors who want to overreach. They think they can hurry past the President to put on the table a succession debate. They think they can defeat Zanu-PF on behalf of the opposition because they themselves have put themselves in the opposition camp.
“Also, even if they can’t defeat Zanu-PF, they think they can make Zanu-PF less sexy. Who they want to look sexy when Zanu-PF is not looking sexy, they can’t say because the opposition is inherently ugly. They know it and they accept it.”
Charamba claimed there was anger in both Zanu PF and the opposition over the conduct of the private media and they could pass laws to deal with them.
“Now there is anger in the opposition against the private media and there is anger in the ruling party against the same. Now those two put together will give you the legislature, the lawmakers. What is more, as a civil servant, I have to make recommendations to the politicians, best practices.
“I will recommend most effective ways of controlling errant behaviour in the newsroom. So you will have a piece of legislation that seeks to restrain rather than to enable media practices. Now it’s not in the long-term interest of the media to begin to threaten political players. There is a difference between watching them and threatening them. If you want to play your watchdog role, please do, but let your watching be founded,” he said.
“You can’t tell me that from day one to last day, its Mnangagwa this, Mnangagwa that, Grace Mugabe this, Grace Mugabe that, Kasukuwere this, Kasukuwere that — from January to December. Is that the only reality in this world?
“Its clear that this is now manipulative reporting. Its no longer professional reporting. Mind you laws are not models. They have to be tethered in social reality. We might have best model laws for media legislation, they will never be transposed to Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwe must still look at its own situation and then make laws that respond to that situation. Now the situation we are having is one of media excesses and vasazochema.”
“Let’s be very clear. The media has to be free, but the media has to be professional. That’s the downside of it, that’s the trade off. By the way, media freedom, press freedom is not an absolute right and we all know it. And the key is that that freedom has to be earned.
“You can’t cry press freedom against the evidence of excesses. In any case when you do so, where do you go for recourse? The same legislators who you have abused from day one to the last day are the same people giving you the law. So where do you go for remedy? KumaBritish and Americans?
“There is no constitution that privileges political players and if you are in the media and you chose to leave the media desk to become an extension of publicity department of a political party, we treat you as a politician.
“And please don’t cry wolf. Don’t feel unfairly treated when the hammer descends on you because wada mabrickbats yet you are staying in a glass house,” warned Charamba.
Tsvangirai’s spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka, a former journalist, hit back saying;
“On a day George Charamba is laughably trying to deny the existence of factions in Zanu PF, young (Godfrey) Tsenengamu from Mashonaland Central (province), a Mnangagwa ally, confirms the war in this disintegrating party by lashing out at the G40. There are times when it becomes difficult to paper over the glaring cracks!”
Tsenengamu is the Zanu-PF Mashonaland Central Youth League chairman but is reported to have lost his post, alongside secretary for administration Paul Rwodzi and secretary for security, Batsirai Musani for allegedly inviting Mnangagwa to a controversial function organised by an apostolic sect recently.
At the centre of the factional fighting in Zanu PF is the battle to succeed the increasingly frail 91-year-old Mugabe. The front-runner, VP Mnangagwa is now having to battle a group of youthful politicians calling themselves ‘Generation 40’ and who have now roped in the First Lady Grace Mugabe to fight their war.
Tsenengamu accused Local Government minister and Zanu PF political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere, and his brother, who is also provincial chair Dickson Mafios of “persecuting them and plotting to destroy their political careers”.
“We are being persecuted because we have refused to be part of their Generation 40 project…a group of people who are working hard to remove the President [Mugabe],” Tsenengamu alleged.
“They are saying I invited Vice President Mnangagwa at the Wimbo church without their knowledge but the truth is I did not invite him, he was invited by the church and it happens that I go to that church,” he said.
“Let this be known that I will not be part of their cabal which seeks to remove President Mugabe and have G40 as our leaders. We will defend the president at all cost even if they are to fire us, we will still defend the president from outside”.