By Tafi Mhaka
On 21 September the Herald waded into Dr Peter Magombeyi’s disappearance by casting doubt on the doctor’s abduction. In an editorial, titled, ‘Sorry Dr Magombeyi, your story does not add up” the daily newspaper urges the doctor to ‘sober up soon and tell the world the true story behind his so-called abduction’.
Not satisfied with merely casting aspersions on Magombeyi’s integrity, the paper strongly suggests that while the Zanu-PF government might find interest in subduing perceived adversaries, ‘’In this case, we do not believe that Dr Magombeyi was of much interest to the State, except that he was leading the doctors’ association.
Given the government’s notorious history of carrying out abductions and enforced disappearances, the Herald somehow forgot to explain the circumstances under which the government previously found it feasible to forcibly disappear and torture alleged adversaries.
It didn’t refer to the supposedly justifiable ‘interest’ or constitutional right state security forces used to abduct, torture and humiliate ordinary citizens such as former Standard Editor Mark Chavhunduka and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko.
In fact, reading the government-controlled Herald newspaper is unendingly a massive tutorial in contrived escapism. In the Herald’s distinctly bright and sunny world, Zimbabwe is a land of enviable progression, astute leadership and an ever-understanding, delightedly content populace.
What’s more, the Herald’s unbelievably surreal headlines, typically wonderful, feel-good fare, constantly celebrate the government’s apparent largesse, duty-bound commitment and unsubstantiated successes. Take, for example, some of Friday’s leading stories: ‘The government releases US$37 million to rectify Harare’s water woes. Mugabe children thank government. Government averts disruption of services at hospitals.’
In the Herald’s perfectly constructed world, providing unembellished, critical context, or well-researched criticism for its factory-style, bubble-gum brand of reporting is a cumbersome, superfluous burden. The headlines, ever so often, are published side by side with glaring, aggressive lies and jingoistic rhetoric: ‘MDC-A behind abductions. Matuke urges nation to be vigilant. Uncle Sam ups black ops in Zim.’
The Herald, all at once, undoubtedly, manufactures dreams and nightmares, hope and disaster, untruths and ignorance. It’s shareholder, the government, represented by the Ministry of Information, has long believed in its fanciful right to generate an alternative reality to sell to its ‘people’: an often-faulty, duplicitous narrative informed by a most improbable Zimbabwean identity intimately tied to Zanu-PF membership.
The information ministry has abrogated all citizens’ constitutionally mandated media rights and pronounced itself as the people’s voice. However, the government doesn’t deserve full, impartial or unreserved entitlement to craft and disseminate partisan, party-affiliated sentiment, on our behalf, using publicly funded media platforms.
While it should be well-equipped to provide essential information, the government shouldn’t exercise control over widely-read papers such as the Herald or, indeed, any private, public or Zimpapers-owned media entity. And it’s about time that injustice is treated as an impending threat to civil expression and Zimbabwe’s democracy.
The progressive urgency with which civil society and the public at large reacted to Dr Magombeyi’s disappearance clearly provides ample guidance to how government’s daily misinformation capacity must be challenged and permanently cancelled. A credible democracy must be underpinned by widespread, liberal expressions of thought, reflection and analysis in freely accessible, publicly funded spaces.
Unfortunately, the Herald, like all ZBC radio stations and ZTV, is a shameful, unapologetic Zanu-PF mouthpiece. It’s overseen by an information ministry that is led by an uninspiring duo lacking in substance and brimming with discriminatory tendencies.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa, a party cadre who constantly defaults to the war of liberation, as her first line of defence against government’s non-performance, believes the right to protest is inimical to national development.
And deputy minister Energy Mutodi is a tribalist, who believes the Ndebele people are foreigners and refugees. It’s an offensive, reckless belief that must be shunned and punished for questioning our cultural diversity and established statehood, but it certainly does tally with Zanu-PF’s Shona-based hegemony. Predictably, that statement, along with plenty of burning, divisive and problematic matters pronounced and committed by Zanu-PF officials, have obviously escaped the Herald’s investigative eye.
Where are the Herald’s in-depth features on struggling doctors, underpaid nurses and worried, sickly patients? Where are the Herald’s incisive editorials on the government’s pervasive failure to resuscitate a rapidly deteriorating healthcare sector?
If I had to choose between believing Dr Magombeyi’s people-centred struggles and subscribing to the Herald’s fantasy world, would I be at liberty to ask Itai Dzamara for advice?