When senior journalists step into the lion’s den

November 30, 2020

Tawanda Majoni

When Zanu PF invites you to a cocktail party—a cheap-whisky one in this case—be sure about one thing. It will poison you!

Well, not quite like how they did a powder job on Victor Matemadanda recently and left him puffed up in the face. Not even like when they fed the then Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa on ice-cream three years ago and left his innards needing a needle. Or Vice President Constantino Chiwenga who had to spend long months in China as some evil people wished him very dead. Or Shuvai Mahofa in 2017.

The thing is, Zanu PF is a poisonous party. You then, naturally, get a hot sweat when editors are invited to a dinner thrown by the ruling party, gleefully accept the invitation and proudly pose for photo shoots with Patrick Chinamasa and all after a glass or two of the cheap stuff.

Last Friday, the ruling party extended a curious—if not strange—invitation to Zimbabwe’s editors for an “end-of-year Zanu PF national spokesperson’s (Chinamasa’s) editors’ cocktail dinner”. In the programme, the event changes its description to a “Zanu PF media cocktail dinner”. Never mind the inconsistency, the difference is the same because we are talking Zanu PF throughout.

Does Zanu PF love editors and journalists that much? Of course not! Journalists are useful to the ruling party only if they aid its propaganda and power schemes. So, when the party invited them to its so-called cocktail dinner, there was no other agenda besides poisoning their minds and buying their souls. Something the editors must have known right from the start.

Here is the same host, Chinamasa, who did what George Charamba now habitually calls a “slur” on Hopewell Chin’ono just before he was arrested and spent months in high security prison for what still appears a naughty and sinister charge. Hopewell was among the journalists who publicised Covid-19 corruption among public officials but they are accusing him of seeking regime change, a pretty different thing.

Unless you are prepared to sell your soul, you don’t wine and dine with a person who, literally, activated Chin’ono’s arrest. You don’t do selfies with someone whose voice has gone hoarse calling journalists, regime change agents for doing their work. And here is a party that has forced scores of journalists into hiding or flight to foreign land for doing their job. A party that is likely to come after the very editors that were making merry with Chinamasa and the other chaps and forgot to use the proverbial long fork.

Hawking your soul to the devil—this Illuminati called Zanu PF—is a simple job. You don’t know it until you have lost it. It looks and feels sweet as you do it and it’s so tempting. You will remember, in folktale, how Faust the wizard made a pact to serve Satan in exchange for power and renown. You will also remember how Robert Johnson, a bluesman, is said to have met the devil at a crossroads and surrendered to dark powers just so that his musical career would blossom.

In Zimbabwe, there is a big elephant in the room now. It’s called media capture. It’s threatening to become the biggest fraud in history, after Ponzi. This scandal was named after Charles Ponzi, a northern American who used it so smartly in the early 20th century. Ponzi thrived on blind loyalty and hope and duped people into investing their wealth for quick bucks. But the scheme was a sham, just as subsequent Ponzi schemes have proved to be shams.

The point is, when you are invited to a Zanu PF cocktail dinner and you go, you are dealing with a Charles Ponzi of sorts, just that this one is cruder. You are invited into a façade from which escaping will be difficult. They pamper you and make you feel important. They will snare you in illusion and steal your tongue with a slimy kiss.  

Zanu PF is a power party. It sees nothing beyond power. You will remember that they admitted the same immediately after throwing Mugabe out of power in 2017. By early 2018, President Mnangagwa was promising the people the “economy, economy, economy” and less of “politics, politics, politics”.

The ruling guys directly admitted that the problem with Zanu PF from 1980 when the country got its independence to the removal of Mugabe was that they were obsessed with power at the expense of the economy and prosperity. But the post-Mugabe Zanu PF quickly slid back into power mode, and that’s where it is now.

What’s the meaning of this? It shows that the party will do anything and everything that will keep it in power. That includes pampering editors. If you capture the editors, you have captured the whole media. These are the people who make decisions on a day-to-day basis. And it becomes worse if the publishers also get captured.

There is nothing like a free cocktail dinner, just as there is no free breakfast or lunch. This is probably the first time we have seen such a thing, when editors even from the so-called private media dress up to kill so as to be spoilt by the ruling party whose media freedom record is as soiled as a sewer tank. The invitation flier and the programme spoke well on the Zanu PF plot. The picture of the president is so imposing. It’s the first thing that you will see and it will stick.

The message, therefore, becomes just too loud. It’s saying, “Come into President Mnangagwa’s lair”, into his den. The flier and programme are saying to you: “This thing is about the president, come celebrate him”. This is particularly important to remember considering that the dinner came at a time the authorities were complaining sorely that the media was soiling the president and the first family.

Let’s get things straight up here. This is not to say editors must never engage Zanu PF. In fact, such engagement is very critical. The media needs to talk to Zanu PF on declining levels of media freedom and cause it to look at journalists with a more sympathetic eye. Not cocktails. Whatever you are going to say or do at a cocktail party remains stuck in the mirage of splendour that the invitees find themselves in. There is no serious or genuine business at a party.

The moment the editors submitted to the cocktail dinner, they succumbed to sublime capture. Their acceptance of the invitation was a naïve subscription to partisanship. They should have resisted the temptation to dine with Zanu PF alone. Instead, they should have sought to bring Zanu PF and the opposition together and talk real media business if that was going to make some sense.  

You know all too well how a python catches its meal. It lures its target with its seductive skin. Before you know it, you are in the mouth of the reptile and the rest is dinner talk.

Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on tmajoni@idt.org.zw.

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