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Zimbabwean journalism needs to look at itself

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I’ve just read this impassioned piece by Japhet Ncube who works for City Press in South Africa. Japhet takes aim at the Cross Border Association of Journalists (CAJ) for alleging that the attack on Zimbabwean journalist Abel Mutsakani was orchestrated by Zanu PF. I think Japhet makes some really good points about the state of journalism in Zimbabwe, in particular the partisan reporting of BOTH the “independent” and the state-controlled press. Japhet suggests that many “independent” journalists/publications are merely an extension of the Movement for Democratic Change. Below is Japhet’s position:

This is very sad, indeed. I know Abel very well. We even worked together at The Financial Gazette with Sydney Masamvu, Basildon Peta, Nqobile Nyathi, Patience Rusere and others under the editorship of Francis Mdlongwa.

He is a great guy to work with. He is arguably one of the finest journalists to emerge from post-independent Zimbabwe. He does not deserve this.

I last saw him in Rosebank last year some time and we chatted briefly. I had not seen him in years.

I wish him a speedy recovery, and that his attackers rot in jail.

Something disturbs me, though. I do not mean to be insensitive, but perhaps this will help you understand why we shun using copy from certain journalists and certain news agencies. And in the end we get accused of not supporting the Zimbabwe cause, and that allegation is as baseless and idiotic as it is moronic.

The truth is that they are not impartial in their reportage. Finding a Zimbabwean journalist whose writing is balanced and impartial is like finding a virgin in Hillbrow, and that’s very worrying for me.

What kind of news are we feeding the international community? Is the world so naive as to believe this kind of reportage?

Like someone sending me a story that says Pius Ncube has been set up because he is a Mugabe critic. I mean, gentlemen, did Mugabe plant that woman in the good reverend’s bedroom? And unzip the good reverend’s pants?

Sure, Mugabe is an evil despot who deserves death by vicious lightning, but are we going to always find a Mugabe link in our reportage of Zimbabwe? Even if it happens in a sovereign, democratic place like South Africa?

The cleric has neither denied nor confirmed he is indeed the gentleman in that shocking footage, but journalists have already made up their minds – that he is being victimized because of his calls for Britain to invade Zimbabwe.

I reject the story because I thrive to be an open-minded news editor who thinks out of the box, and I get called all sorts of names. By Zimbabweans in the diaspora, who believe that for me to earn their respect, I must run these relentless, unbalanced and unsubstantiated stories on Mugabe and Zimbabwe.

Is that the journalism Zimbabweans want the world to remember them for?

Sure, let’s wage war against the bloodthirsty Mugabe regime by exposing the human and women rights abuses, the suffering of the people, the collapse of that country, and so on. But let’s do it responsibly and truthfully. There are a zillion stories of this nature that can be done in Zimbabwe today.

But how many times have you seen some stories on Zimbabwe, written by a journalist who has not set foot in Zimbabwe in years? With no comment from anyone? At least City Press’s man in Zim, Tangai, is on the ground with the people. We hired him for a reason: he knows what’s going on better than we do up here in Joburg. The economic and political crisis affects him every single second.

At least Peta Thornycroft, one of my earliest inspirations while she worked with Andy Moyse at Parade magazine, goes to Zim every now and again. She has first-hand information on what is going down in that ruined country. I am bound to believe what she writes.

I just want us to think clearly, as journalists, before we decide on angles that will sell our stories better in Britain and America, even if we as journalists know we are not being truthful and honest.

Has it been confirmed that this was an assassination attempt? Where is CJA getting these facts, because we would be interested in running the story if you can prove this to us.

And how do we get the Zanu PF link? How does Zanu PF pursue you guys here in exile? Also, why would they come and shoot someone here in Joburg when they can’t shoot the journalists and MDC officials roaming the streets of Harare and Bulawayo? Pardon me, but I find that very strange.

Or do you know something we do not know? Why are you not taking that valuable information to the police then, to speed up justice so that Abel’s family can know the truth?

Zimonline has not made any claims of a link between this shooting and the government. I read their story when I heard about this from former colleague Eric Matingo, who is in Harare. So where does CJA get this link?

Why Abel? Why not Basildon Peta, their biggest enemy among the exiled newspapermen? Why not me? Why not Kwinika? Why not Mutumwa Mawere, who is a pain in Mugabe’s ass? Why not Tsvangirai, who comes here all the time without any bodyguards?

Is Abel not a victim of crime in SA? Did it not cross your mind that this could be a criminal act? Is the story then not that this guy who ran away from persecution from Mugabe has become a case of jumping from the pan into the fire? From political persecution, to crime.

If I were you I would wait for Abel to recover and come tell his story of how he survived at the hands of the three nameless, faceless cowards. Either way, whether it was an “assassination attempt” or a pure criminal act, it would make for touching, riveting writing rarely seen in the newspapers today.

When I get shot in Joburg sometime, which is possible if you look at the crime statistics recently released, I do not want people to rush into these kinds of conclusions. South Africa faces a serious crime problem, and people get shot all the time. You saw the Dumisani Khumalo’s story. He is the envoy to the UN and was shot at a party just after he arrived from the airport. There was no political link there. It was purely crime.

The Necsa manager who was gunned down two weeks ago, that too was a criminal act. Police are still investigating, we can’t then rush to say it was a hit.

David Bullard, the Sunday Times columnist, was also shot at his home while he and his wife were minding their own business. He could have easily claimed he was being attacked for what he writes. But he is not headline hungry, yet his story was told and it touched many of us. Even if we did not know him personally.

There are many other recent cases, which show you that in this country, like everywhere else in the world, crime knows no race, no tribe. Journalists, envoys, businessmen, CEOs, MECs, spin doctors, we all get attacked from time to time. We become statistics.

Did Abel know his attackers perhaps? And has he spoken to your agency to confirm that he knows them, that they are CIO operatives (agcwele ama CIO here in Jozi by the way)?

My view is that your agency, which tends to behave like a division of the MDC, could still have sold this story to all your outlets worldwide without having to find a Zanu PF link you can’t prove. That a top editor and former Zimbabwean journalist has been shot and is battling for his life in a Joburg hospital would still be a hot news item. Even The Herald would run that story on their front page, regardless of Abel’s political affiliation, if any.

I can even vividly remember my discussion with you, Kwinika, over the double standards you display. One of your stories appeared in The Herald not long ago. And I asked you: how do you come here and claim political asylum, when you write for the government mouthpiece? A paper owned by the same man whom you fled from? Does it make any sense?

You did not answer me. Water under the bridge for me, but it tells you exactly what I am trying to say in so many words: that Zimbabwean journalism needs to look at itself. I can assure you that we won’t like what we see. Ethics of this loved craft have been massacred by some among us because we have, wittingly or unwittingly, swallowed the political hook and this time we sing for a different master. We are no better than our friends and colleagues at The Herald and Sunday Mail, who have to get used to naked propaganda.

Believe me, Mugabe won’t lose sleep over the stories you guys publish outside his borders. He should worry more about the guys writing right back in Zimbabwe, the likes of Dumisani Muleya, because the people that matter most are those inside Zimbabwe, who will vote. How many Zimbabweans back home have access to Internet newspapers? Only the elite, and they are in the minority.

Why do you think The Daily News was banned? Do you think Mugabe would care if you came to publish it here? No he won’t. The threat was internally, not external. He managed to silence that voice.

If you drive across Zimbabwe today, anytime, you will see The Zimbabwean, Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, etc, being sold on the streets. Do you think Mugabe cares about them? No, he doesn’t.

His eyes are now squarely on the last remaining independent papers inside Zim – The Independent, The Standard and The Financial Gazette. If he is going to shoot anyone for what they write, he knows exactly where to find them.

I find it very funny that Mugabe would send his henchmen to Joburg to shoot Abel, and leave the guys at The Standard, The Independent and The Financial Gazette. City Press has a full-time correspondent in Harare, Tangai Chipangura. He writes whatever he likes and we publish. Is he going to get shot? Possibly. And if he is mugged or attacked with a knife, we will not jump into conclusions.

Let’s rally behind Mutsakani in this hour of need, but let’s also be careful not to jump the gun. Police will investigate the shooting and release their findings. This is not Zimbabwe. We have a functional police and justice system in this country. Let’s wait for due processes before we find Mugabe guilty.

Even when Mugabe is eventually nailed, which will happen someday, he will be taken to court and the people will present evidence of his human rights abuses. The judge will be an impartial chap who will listen to the evidence, then decide Bob’s fate.

I hate Zanu PF with all my heart, I hate Robert Mugabe to the last drop of my Ndebele blood, but let’s be impartial in our coverage of Zimbabwe. We are journalists, not opposition members.

Trust me, I would never even take up the editorship of The Herald or Sunday Mail even if you paid me 20 barrels of fuel a day. Never. Not in Mugabe’s lifetime. Because my soul cannot be sold.

I still stand for impartial, balanced journalism. If I err, which is human, I own up and life goes on. I will not go out of my way to lie.

I do not have to be a member of the MDC or any other opposition party for me to be part of the struggle for a better, free Zimbabwe. In my own way, I can help in the struggle. For that reason, I will not sell my soul. Not to the MDC, not to Zanu PF, not to anyone.

And that’s what I would like to be remembered for.

2 comments to “Zimbabwean journalism needs to look at itself”

  1. Comment by Kubatana.net speaks out from Zimbabwe » Blog Archive » Propaganda over professionalism?:

    [...] At the time, it was unclear if Mutsakani’s attack was one more unfortunate incident in South Africa’s struggle with violent crime, of if something more sinister was at play. Bev Clark shared some of City Press news editor and Zimbabwean journalist Japhet Ncube’s comments on professionalism and journalistic ethics in Zimbabwean journalism needs to look at itself. Commenting on Mutsakani’s murder, Ncube noted that most news agencies had chosen a conservative (in his view, professional) angle to the story, stating simply that the motivation for the attack, and the identity of the shooters, remained unclear. He criticised the Cross Border Association of Journalists for jumping to conclusions and labelling the attack a pre-meditated “hit” orchestrated by the Mugabe regime. [...]

  2. Comment by Randy:

    Interesting Japhet,can see Chronicle has indeed gotten out of you.You dont make any reference to your links with the paper.You dont even cite it anywhere…by the way, Chronicle,Herald and Sunday Mail are all Mugabe’s papers, that’s why his men (if ever they decide to come over) will not look for you coz they still remember and probably value the good service at Chronicle.However,I agree with you……PROFESSIONAL media should ALWAYS desist from making unsubstantiated claims.