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‘Winning the International Anti-Corruption Award vindicates Anti-Corruption fight in Zimbabwe’

Yesterday morning was one of the most important milestones in my career as an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker, when the Emir (King) of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thanihanded handed over the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award to me in Qatar in the presence of the United Nations Special Advocate for the Prevention of Corruption Dr. Ali Bin Fetais Al-Marri, the United Nations Under Secretary Dr Ghada Waly and President Kagame of Rwanda.

I have won the African journalist of the year awards twice, but winning the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award was an extremely humbling moment because it is not only about my skill set as a journalist, but the issues that I tackle and how they affect the well-being of my compatriots in Zimbabwe.

Today it is International Anti-Corruption Day, a day where one would expect our Government to celebrate the works of all Anti-Corruption institutions like the Auditor-General, but that is not happening because the Government sits at the citadel of rampant corruption.

The Emir (King) of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thanihanded handing over the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award to Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin'ono
The Emir (King) of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thanihanded handing over the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award to Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono

I never set out to become an investigative journalist, I just became an accidental witness to the corruption crimes committed against the most vulnerable members of my society by the very people elected to advance the interests of Zimbabweans, political elites.

As a trained journalist, I merely did what I was trained to do, inquire and write, yet doing these basic journalistic tenets has turned my life upside down.

Fighting corruption is not an easy task when living in a society without a fair Justice system to protect and defend the country’s constitution.

I live in one of the most corrupt countries in the world where billions of public funds are looted annually leaving hospitals without the most basic of necessities like paracetamol pain killers or even wound bandages.

The Emir (King) of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thanihanded handing over the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award to Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin'ono
The Emir (King) of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thanihanded handing over the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award to Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono

The biggest public hospital in my country, Sally Mugabe formerly known as Harare Hospital, only has one working maternity theater built by the colonial Government in 1977.

For that theatre to continue working 45 years later, it had to be refurbished by a local commercial bank, Stanbic.

As a result, 2500 women die every year giving birth in Zimbabwe, that is the equivalent of 14 jumbo jets crashing every year, and killing all pregnant women on board.

A maternity theater costs only US$37,000 to build in Zimbabwe, one Toyota Landcruiser would build 11 maternity theaters, yet our Government has hundreds if not thousands of these Toyota Landcruisers in use by political elites.

Our Government shamefully blames targeted sanctions imposed by Western countries for its failure to build life-saving maternity theaters, yet it splashes money on luxury cars which are more expensive than maternity theaters year after year.

The Emir (King) of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thanihanded handing over the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award to Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin'ono in the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame
The Emir (King) of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thanihanded handing over the International Anti-Corruption Excellence Award to Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono in the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame

I live in a country where there is no single working radiotherapy cancer machine in all its public hospitals, so if you get a cancer diagnosis today, and you have no money for radiotherapy treatment in the private healthcare sector, you will be literally having a death sentence hanging over your head waiting for your number to come up.

One radiotherapy machine cost only US$2 million to buy, yet our President Emmerson Mnangagwa authorized his Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube to pay roughly a one off payment of US$34 million to his Ministers and Members of Parliament according to independent parliamentarian Temba Mliswa.

I also live under a State where the whole country has no heart by-pass machine.
If you need a heart operation done, and you have no money to fly out of the country for treatment, you will meet your maker.

So, my accidental journey as an investigative journalist in Zimbabwe was more out of circumstances than a planned career choice.

There was a military coup in my country which saw the removal of strongman and long-time dictator, Robert Mugabe in November 2017.

The military commander who executed the coup, Constantino Chiwenga is now the Vice President of Zimbabwe.

He blamed the country’s disastrous economy on Mugabe’s reign a day before the coup in 2017.

The current President Emmerson Mnangagwa who had escaped into exile just before the coup after he was fired as Vice President by Mugabe said that Zimbabwe was backward because of Mugabe’s rule and failed policies, and that he wanted to change the political and economic direction.

He indeed changed the direction, corruption is now on steroids, hospitals have collapsed, the economy went into a tailspin and is now in comatose, State institutions have been captured, the looting of public funds has gone through the roof.
The country now only gets 4 to 6 hours of electricity per day.

In what would culminate with my first persecutory arrest, I bumped into a newspaper article about a Covid-19 procurement anomaly in the Ministry of Health.

I investigated what I thought was just an anomaly, that was the beginning of finding out that people whose responsibility was to protect the nation from the Covid-19 pandemic were actually planning to loot the public funds meant to protect Zimbabweans, exposing all of us to an unprepared health delivery system.

It was a planned looting bonanza where Covid-19 masks that cost 65 cents each were being sold to the Government for US$28 each with the connivance of powerful people.

I flew too close to the sun when I mentioned that people directly linked to the President were involved in this corruption scandal.

The ruling party held 2 press conferences where I was directly warned to stop what I was doing and saying, or else I would be dealt with.

My investigations and insistence for action to be taken against the main culprits got the Minister of Health fired from Government, but that was not the end, this dismissal was only a sideshow.

I was arrested on a trumped-up charge of inciting public violence for merely supporting an Anti-Corruption protest, something which is allowed by the country’s constitution.

Seven State security gunmen came to my home in Colne Valley in Chisipite on 20 July 2020, they broke into my home through my dining room French door and arrested me.

They made me walk through the broken door on top of the broken glass barefooted.

I was detained without trial for 45 days for something that I had not done, and for merely doing my legitimate work as a journalist.

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Magistrate Ngoni Nduna gave frivolous excuses for denying me bail twice before it was eventually given by the High Court of Zimbabwe.

Courageous clerics wrote an open letter to President Mnangagwa in which they mentioned that they knew that I had been arrested for my Anti-Corruption reporting.

That was an important intervention because it recognized my work as a journalist, and its importance in fighting for a fair society, the same way that yesterday’s international Anti-Corruption Excellence Award speaks to the recognition of the importance of Anti-Corruption work in Zimbabwe and beyond.

Two months after my release from jail after my July 2020 arrest, I was arrested again after exposing that the President’s niece, Henrietta Rushwaya, who had been arrested at the international airport trying to smuggle 6 kilograms of Gold to Dubai, had been offered bail unopposed by the National Prosecution Authority of Zimbabwe.

My second arrest was initially based on a bogus charge which falsely said that I had violated by bail conditions from my previous July 2020 arrest.

After a day in police detention on 4 November 2020, the State dropped the false bail violation charge and formally charged me with exposing the President’s niece’s deal, they called it Obstruction to Justice.

Henrietta Rushwaya is not only related to the President, she is also a cousin to Zimbabwe’s Deputy Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Martin Rushwaya.

I wondered why the most powerful man in the country and his cousin who served him as Deputy Chief Secretary would allow their names to be linked to bogus arrests through association.

I was jailed for 22 days without trial by the magistrate’s court before getting bail in the High Court of Zimbabwe.

The magistrate who presided over this bail hearing, Marehwanazvo Gofa denied me bail on the basis that she had found me guilty on a balance of probability, yet there was no trial.

I eventually got bail in the High Court of Zimbabwe, and the judge in the bail application, Justice Tapiwa Chitapi questioned how magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa could find me guilty without a trial taking place.

This Obstruction to Justice charge has been hanging over my head for two years, the State gave many frivolous excuses for failing to bring the case to trial.

I eventually went to trial three weeks ago, and the charge was read out in court accused me of tweeting about a case pending in court.

This is the Henrieta Rushwaya Gold smuggling case in which I exposed the corrupt deal giving her bail without opposition from the State prosecutors.

Even the magistrate who presided over her case, Ngoni Nduna questioned how she could get bail without opposition, forcing the State to withdraw that corrupt arrangement.

I tweeted on the 26th of October 2020 that she had been offered bail without opposition, the case only went to court the next day on the 27th of October 2020, so there was no case pending before the courts.

We applied for the case to be thrown away because the law is clear that for obstruction to stand, there must be a case pending before the courts.

However as expected by my lawyers, the trial magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa who had previously found me guilty without a trial taking place in the same case in 2020 when denying me bail, said that there was a case to answer.

My third arrest came on 8 January 2021 when 3 State security officers picked me up under arrest from my home for something I had not done.
The police accused me of tweeting falsehoods about the conduct of an unnamed police man.

I had not done that, they charged me using a law that doesn’t exist, and I was jailed without trial for 23 days.

The magistrate hearing my bail application, Lazini Ncube, denied me bail on the basis that there was overwhelming evidence before the court, yet the police officer giving evidence during my bail hearing had said that he had no evidence to put before the court, and that he could only bring the evidence 72 hours later.

It was blatant political persecution at play to punish me for my Anti-Corruption reporting.

The Incitement and Falsehood charges were eventually thrown out by the High Court, the court said there was no such law.

These personal experiences are a painful reflection of how difficult it is for my professional peers especially the young ones to do their work due to fear of political elites jailing them.

Therefore, yesterday’s recognition by the Emir of Qatar in conjunction with the United Nations Special Advocate for the Prevention of Corruption is an important milestone not only for my professional peers back home in Zimbabwe and across the world, but for the fight against corruption.

It is an important acknowledgment of our work as journalists in Zimbabwe, and also for the many journalists across the world who are striving for fair societies as they fight corruption through the pen.

Zimbabwe’s Gross National Product (GDP) was almost the same as Qatar’s in 1980, yet today Zimbabwe’s GDP is nine times smaller than that of Qatar.

South Africa’s GDP is twice that of Qatar, yet today South Africa has no regular electricity and Qatar has outpaced even Britain’s GDP per capita.

All these indicators point towards a visionary leadership, and the importance of not allowing corruption to be at the centre of Governance depriving citizens of basic necessities of life like healthcare.

Like Qatar, Zimbabwe has a lot of natural resources available for its growth, but unlike Qatar, these resources have been used by the political elites to the exclusion of the masses.

Zimbabwe has more mineral resources than Qatar can ever dream of, yet today Zimbabwe’s roads are potholed and urban residents have no clean drinking water.

Zimbabwe has only 5 central hospitals that require only US$50 million to run smoothly, yet today they don’t even have pain killers.

Yet US$150 million worth of Gold is smuggled out of the country every month by the political elites.

What they steal and smuggle from the citizens in Gold alone in one month can run all the public central hospitals for 3 years.

So, it is great that I received this important award in country that has set an example, just like Singapore, that with the right leadership at the top, its people can have access to all there is to basic necessities of life and more.

Ultimately, it is corruption that has killed the many dreams of millions of Zimbabweans, the fact that the struggle to shine a torch in the dark corners where their miseries are manufactured has been acknowledged internationally is their victory to celebrate.

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award-winning Zimbabwean journalist, documentary filmmaker and Anti-Corruption activist