…and the comrades who marched to a new tune
By Patience Zirima
Between November 14 and 24 2017, Zimbabwean media
operated under strange circumstances. The military
temporarily took over the country from President Robert
Mugabe before he resigned and ceded power to his
exiled former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwe was experiencing a rare phenomenon that needed
to be documented comprehensively. This paper assesses the
quality of reportage exhibited by the local mainstream media
during this transition.
Heavy censorship on all local media platforms
The nature of reporting in the mainstream media appeared to
be driven by fear as indicated by the increased censorship in the
mainstream media. It seemed as though there was an invisible
hand influencing how the media was reporting on the events
that occurred during this period.
More critical information about what was happening in Harare
emanated from social media platforms and from the international
media. It was peculiar that local traditional media platforms
were being scooped by social media platforms and international
news agencies. This being a Zimbabwean development one
hoped the local media would dictate the pace as to how the
intervention was covered.
Lack of diversity in voices quoted during the transition
The November 2017 transition affected all Zimbabweans
differently. It was the media’s duty to make sure they captured
varying reactions and perspectives on the issue. This was however
not the case in the local media’s reports. The voices of politicians
dominated news coverage during the military intervention, they
made up 44% of the recorded sources ahead of private citizens
(16%). The army, which led the transition, accounted for 11%
of the sources recorded followed by foreign envoys (6%) and
Ideally, the voices of analysts should have been enlisted to
interpret possible meanings and outcomes of events to the
public. As it was, the transition was presented in the media
through the eyes of politicians, the military and citizens.
Overall, sources from ZANU PF dominated views on the military
intervention. They made up 78% of the voices quoted in local
print and electronic media. This was probably because, Party
bigwig, Patrick Chinamasa had declared that the intervention
was an internal ZANU PF process. He was quoted as
“What happened today has nothing to do with the
opposition, it has nothing to do with the national
government, we are cleansing our own party… We
were correcting our own mess, we have the majority
in Parliament, we can expel the President alone and
we are the ruling party, so where does a coalition come
in, we don’t need them? …The removal of (President)
Mugabe and his cabal was to enable us to go to
elections as a strong force after some rogue elements
had infiltrated the party”.
The country’s main opposition party, Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC-T) then led by the now late Morgan Tsvangirai
accounted for 12% of all voices and other smaller political parties
accounted for 10% of the quoted voices. The skewed sourcing
patterns are reflective of media polarization, ownership and
control issues in the local media.
The state-controlled dailies of The Herald and Chronicle
exclusively quoted politicians from ZANU PF regarding the events
of the military intervention. In contrast the privately owned press
quoted politicians from the opposition, ordinary citizens and
This trend confirms that state owned media are duty bound to
serve the government of the day and private media are the voice
of opposition politics and marginalised constituents. Furthermore,
it can be argued that journalists from the private media do not
enjoy the same access to sources as journalists from state media
have to government authorities and ZANU PF politicians.
Underrepresentation of women’s voices during the
Women were grossly under sourced during the military
intervention. Their perspective was underrepresented in both the
electronic and print media. Women’s voices were heard 16% of
the time while men constituted 84%.
Thus, the “political transition” had a masculine characteristic in
which the newsmakers were the men in army camouflage and
ZANU PF male politicians in suits. This skewed distribution of
voices reflects the patriarchal nature of the Zimbabwean society.
It can be argued with plausibility that women shy from national
political processes and are absent in strategic decision-making
positions both in government institutions and political party
structures. The media can also be blamed for under sourcing
women and failing to fairly alternate the views of women and
men on the military intervention.
There is need for training of journalists in alternative sourcing
and gender sensitive reporting so that stories are gender balanced
and there is a fair distribution of voices by women, men, boys
and girls. The media is also challenged to give a gendered
perspective on Zimbabweans’ aspirations and security concerns.
Lack of editorial Independence
There was a dramatic shift in the prevailing narrative in the
media from the days preceding Emmerson Mnangagwa’s initial
dismissal as Vice President to his inauguration on the 24th of
There was a sharp contrast in the messages that were relayed
by the media before, during and after the military intervention.
A closer look at the headlines in The Herald between 6 and
24 November 2017 shows how power had shifted from the
Mugabes to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and eventually to
Strangely, the shift appeared to be automatic as the paper did
not question or interrogate the implications of what was
happening, which is indicative of a news platform lacking editorial
independence and has very little capacity to hold the authorities
Contrasting headlines about personalities before,
during and after the intervention (The Herald)
Initial narrative & Changed narrative
• First Lady for VP: Provinces (6/11) • Youth league slams uncultured
First Lady (20/11)
• 9/10 Provinces back ED sacking • 8 Provinces want President to
quit (18/11) EDenezer! (24/11)
• ZANU PF unfazed by Chiwenga • ZDF hailed for upholding rights
• Custodians returning revolution
to source (16/11)
• In defense of the nation’s founding
values and, gains of
• We will defend President with our lives • Chipanga apologises, spills beans
Youths (15/11) • Chipanga under bus, Dangarembizi
sings (16/11) • ZANU PF Youths blast Chipanga
Before the transition, statements by the Mugabes and their
allies, Saviour Kasukuwere, Professor Jonathan Moyo, Ignatius
Chombo and Patrick Zhuwawo were published as fact without
interrogation. There was no right of reply accorded to those who
had fallen out of their favour.
Marching to a new tune
However, the same trend obtained after the army took over.
The voices of Mugabe and his allies faded from the government
media and were vilified more while Mnangagwa’s allies, the
likes of General Constantino Chiwenga, Oppah Muchinguri,
Chris Mutsvangwa and Patrick Chinamasa became more
prominent in news stories.
A bit more critical analysis in the Private press
During the same period, the private media afforded a voice to
political actors who had fallen out of ZANU PF’s favour.
Before November 16, the privately-owned media followed up
on the whereabouts of Emmerson Mnangagwa and gave him
a platform to comment on his dismissal. They also published the
statement he posted whilst in exile which was ignored by the
state controlled media.
In addition, the privately-owned media also gave updates on
the developments that were happening in ZANU PF, their main
thrust was for the party to stop fighting amongst themselves
and focus on resuscitating the economy.
They also interrogated the consequences of Mnangagwa’s
dismissal, as well as the implications of having President Mugabe
and his wife as President and vice among other issues. During
the course of the intervention they enlisted the help of political
analysts from civil society and academia to interpret the meaning
of some of the developments as highlighted in the
• ED Departure End of ZANU PF era (7/11)
• Fights will not solve Zim economic wars
• Chiwenga’s statement possible meaning,
• This is a time for cool heads (16/11)
• Army should facilitate return to civilian rule (16/11)
• Mugabe must manage succession well to ensure
• ED sacking creates Mugabe dynasty (8/11)
• Zim faces worst dictatorship should Grace
• ZANU PF fights stall govt progress (9/11)
• Military takeover should be temporary (16/11)
• Real change is what we want (22/11)
While the state controlled media was mum on the issue of the
government setup that should be adopted after Mugabe’s
departure, the privately owned media pushed for a unity
government. However, talk of the unity government lost its legs
when Mnangagwa was inaugurated. The very press that had
called for a government of national unity turned a blind eye and
accepted a Mnangagwa led ZANU PF government.
Lack of investigation
During the intervention, there was a tendency by the local media
to rely solely on official statements and ‘leaks’ from people who
were ‘privy’ to details of the intervention. There was very little
effort on the part of the media to investigate independently
what was going on. A year after the military intervention, there
has been no follow up on:
1) How the army successfully took over from President Mugabe?
2) Had President Mnangagwa and General Constantino
Chiwenga spoken about the intervention beforehand?
3) The whereabouts and welfare of the ‘criminals’ that had
been targeted by the army.
4) The legality of the military intervention? Was it a coup?
The High Court ruled that it was not, and has noted that Mugabe
The occurrences of November 2017 were unique and
could be a once in a lifetime development in Zimbabwe,
which therefore required a vigilant and vibrant media
to document for the rest of he world what was
happening in the country.
This was however not the case as the local media appeared to
be hesitant in their approach and as a result failed to critically
investigate what was going on in the country without fear or
favour. Save for the special editions that were published by The
Herald and NewsDay on the 15th of November 2017, few
innovations were developed by the local media to ensure full
surface coverage of the military intervention.
The electronic media had the opportunity to give blow-by-blow
coverage of events as well as specialised current affairs
programmes where analysts would interpret what was happening
for the general public. This role was played largely by foreign
news platforms like NCA, SABC News, CNN and BBC, which
sent correspondents onto the ground to specifically cover the
transition. They also had current affairs programmes that discussed
what was happening in Zimbabwe.
This could have been indicative of the lack of media freedom in
the country. Journalists may have decided to censor themselves
for fear of victimization since the existing media laws were yet
to be aligned with the constitution.
1 Daily News (22/11/17) Chinamasa must keep quiet, Page 10
Patience Zirima is the Director of Media Monitors and chairperson of Gender and Media Connect She is a media
and communications specialist with a passion for societal development
and women’s rights. She has worked in various capacities in differerent
media related and civil society organisations in Zimbabwe and the SADC region
The article was originally published by Media Monitors in the book Change of Guard: Zimbabwe Media: Mugabe to Mnangagwa Transition…with support from OSISA.