So Robert Mugabe is having a birthday party this weekend while a new case of cholera is registered at a rate of one a minute.
In this video by the Guardian a woman tells the heart-wrenching story of having no money to pay for the drip her sick husband needed: “On Wednesday I had no money. On Thursday he died”. Mugabe’s birthday party is said to cost £350 000.
Not surprisingly, Mugabe also dismissed demands for media freedom in the country.
These are the legacies that the new government of national unity will have to deal with – amid skepticism that the power-wrangling between Mugabe and Tsvangirai will bring about significant change soon enough to stem the tide of disease in the country.
One thing you cannot accuse John Pilger of is pack journalism. His strident style has earned him his fair share of enemies, but he has the courage to put forward independent, well-researched views. For this he is often vilified, as was the case with documentary about South Africa, Apartheid did not die (about which Sean Jacobs wrote insightfully in his PhD dissertation), which the South African media lashed out against. It would be interesting to see the reaction on this piece in the South African Mail and Guardian newspaper, in which he points out that one of the gravest sins of Robert Mugabe’s regime is the fact that it gives Western powers an excuse to justify their own prejudicial views and unfair economic practices, usually hidden under a thinly-veiled yet persistent colonial attitude towards Africa. Of course this does not in turn give any legitimacy to Robert Mugabe’s cruel reign (or his crude anti-colonialist rhetoric), but it puts the suffering of Zimbabweans in broader perspective, and warns against thinking Mugabe’s removal will be the only solution to the country’s woes.
According to a story in the reputable South African paper Business Day, Robert Mugabe’s party Zanu-PF approached the South African publishing giant Caxton to print a million copies of a voter information booklet on why Zimbabweans should vote for the party that has run the country into ruin (and forced its press underground). Price tag: R3 million ($375 000). Being of sound mind and principle, the former liberal leader of the Progressive Federal Party, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert reportedly threatened to resign as chairman of the company if the deal went ahead, so Caxton declined Mugabe’s money. But then Zanu-PF found another big South African publishing company willing to publish its propaganda. Now who would that be? Here’s a hint: It’s a company that was associated with another oppressive regime in the past. Another clue: the company repositioned itself after 1994 as a global media conglomerate that promises that “whether we are entertaining, informing, educating or creating network solutions, we always do so with integrity”. And it’s a company whose newspapers have consistently taken an anti-Mugabe position in their editorials. But it seems that talk is cheap when money buys the whisky.
Yes, it’s Naspers (its subsidiary Paarl Web did the printing). Rumour has it that a number of the company’s senior journalists are now petitioning the company’s chairman, Ton Vosloo, to donate the proceeds of the printing job to organisations working with the victims of the regime whose voter campaign they helped support.
Cartoon pic: CoxandForkum.com
Don’t get me wrong, I respect journalists who brave dangers to bring us news from the frontlines. Their first-hand reports are becoming increasingly rare as the pressures of the relentless 24/7 news cycle, combined with cost-cutting of major news companies, are resulting in ‘churnalism’ rather than proper investigative journalism. In the case of that powder keg in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe, it is all the more important that fearless journalists do everything they can to circumvent the repressive measures Mugabe’s government are bringing to bear on the press to keep that country on the agenda of the international media – which, as we know, have a short attention span. But when foreign reporting becomes reporting about foreign correspondents themselves rather than the news subject – about their heroism rather than that of the people they should be reporting on – \foreign correspondents get in the way of their story. This is an example: if Ian Pannell, reporting for the BBC from Zimbabwe, has “spoken to people with deep gouged wounds in their buttocks and their feet, broken limbs, burnt down homes, even the bereaved”, why are we hearing more about his (very understandable) fear in the face of government-sponsored violence than about that of the Zimbabweans themselves?
The Media Institute of Southern Africa reports that the CEO of the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) was fired last month after reportedly defying ministerial orders to deny the opposition political party, the Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) favourable coverage in the run-up to the 29 March 2008 elections in which the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will face the incumbent Robert Mugabe as presidential candidate. In another report , MISA condemns the attack on a delivery truck bringing in copies of The Zimbabwean newspaper into the country from South Africa. In the attack 60 000 copies of the newspaper were destroyed.
These incidents are making it clear that in the period running up to the upcoming presidential contest in Zimbabwe, the media will continue to be one of the battlegrounds upon which the struggle for democracy in the country will be fought.