Zimbabwe State Journalists Protect, Not Expose, Corrupt Politicians

By  Makusha Mugabe 

Zimbabwean state media editors, their hands already with full trying to spin that Zimbabwe is now coming out of its doldrums following some aid and ‘deals’ with China, found themselves in the line of fire from social media activists when they came out to defend their allegedly corrupt boss, instead of exposing him. Zimbabweans are not buying the spin that agreements signed in energy, roads, railways, telecommunications, agriculture and tourism will translate into economic recovery soon, not least because of the corruption inherent in Zanu (PF). Chronicle Editor Mduduzi and Zimmail (Mpofu) Editor Chimakure putting journalim to shame? Social media activist Gift Mawire trying to bring back the pride. By the admission of one of Zanu (PF)‘s own editors, if indeed China does fund the envisaged projects under ZimAsset, then next year would be year 0 of ZimAsset implementation – the first year and-a-half of Zanu (PF)’s term having been squandered in succession politics and the search for the resources. But that is a whole other story; the one that blazed the Zimbabwean social media space at the weekend is the one in which Zimbabwe’s teflon-coated deputy Minister of Information, Supa Mandiwanzira, was accused of corruption in an online article – published on the same day that President Mugabe was assuring his Chinese benefactors that his government will crack down on corruption. The Transport Ministry and the national roads authority Zinara had admitted before a Parliamentary Committee that they had violated procurement procedures by not going to tender when they bought several graders (JCBs) fitted with snow-ploughs for $200 000 each, when Zimbabwe does not need the snow-ploughs. Besides not going through tender, they reportedly paid $70 000 more than the next bigger, though it is still not clear whether there was a second bidder as there was not tender. No mention was made in Parliament of who the equipment was bought from, nor why it was bought from local companies who are obviously only agents of agents, instead of buying from reputable suppliers of the equipment who can also provide viable service agreements. The public immediately smelled corruption and started wondering who “ate” on that deal. It did not take long, as on-line publishers, Zimbabwe Mail named Supa Mandiwanzira, a deputy Minister, and owner of radio ZiFM, at whose premises some earthmoving equipment was parked, as the one who supplied the equipment – complete with photographic “evidence” of graders parked at ZiFM premises. Commercial incest and high level corruption, cried on-line activist, Gift Mawire, urging the government to investigate deal, and accusing the state media of being scared to report about the Parliamentary Committee findings because Supa Mandiwanzira is their boss, by virtue of being the deputy Minister of Information. All hell broke loose, the public outraged and pointing out that there was just too much corruption and impunity in Zimbabwe, and the country would ever rise out of its economic quagmire because of it. Others were still wondering what use snow-ploughs were going to be put to in Zimbabwe which has had no snow in the current eon – not realising that the Zimbabwean government officials had been convinced to buy the snow-ploughs anyway because that would increase their share of the bribe if they bought from this particular supplier. It soon got exiting when, firstly, Constantine Chimakure, editor of Obert Mpofu’s Zimbabwe Mail – entered the fray, exonerating his boss by pointing out that the graders were bought by Zinara before Minister Mpofu became transport minister. Chimakure’s newspaper itself is largely seen as the product of Mpofu’s laundering of the proceeds of his corrupt deals – superintending the looting of Chiadzwa diamonds. Mandiwanzira runs a road construction company XCMG, but the graders were apparently bought from a company called Unavem Enterprises, not XCMG, came the information, being volunteered on Facebook. Chimakure was quickly reminded that, as an Editor of a national newspaper, the fact that he worked for Mpofu did not mean that he ceased being a journalist and protecting the interests of the reading public – he should actually follow up the Parliament story – that a state entity flouted tender procedures and bought graders at grossly inflated prices. He should tell us who was involved in this corruption, instead of exonerating Mandiwanzira who has been accused by someone who claims to have that information.The story quickly turned from being one about Mandiwanzira to being about journalism and journalists in Zimbabwe – no doubt the result of much pent up anger as the profession has been dragged through mud, by one of the world’s most tenacious, and longest-lasting dictatorships. Editors are appointed and promoted and demoted and dismissed according to how well then serve the ruling party, but up to know there had been a semblance of trying to live up to the tenets of the profession. Obviously Chimakure knew better about who sold the graders to government, but he did not want to say, insisting instead that the online editor retract his story which he claimed was not true. “We are very interested in knowing who sold the graders to Zinara without going to tender and now that you have told us its Unavem and not Supa’s company, would you care to tell us who is behind Unavem? Who are its shareholders and beneficial owners because that is certainly news and of interest to us given that this company was involved in the misuse of taxpayers’ funds,” fired Mawire. He cannot be blamed for believing that any editor would see news value in that story, but this is Zimbabwe, and it’s time to break out the popcorn, and the journalist who had voluntarily brought information on Mawire’s Facebook wall, were now no longer willing to divulge further information, leading to their being taunted by the substantial online community that follows Mawire. For the same reasons that they could not investigate this case, they could not now divulge more information about the stinking deal, despite having come on social media – thus exposing live internationally the poverty of their journalism. But this was only the introduction. Behind the anonymity of facebook other activists joined the fray, telling Chimakure that as a journalist he was working for one of the most corrupt ministers (we can repeat it here because the allegations have been made in internationally published reports and there are court cases that have been going on for more than six years in another manifestation of the pervasive corruption. As a journalist Chimakure was actually defending the corrupt system to pay his bills, said the anonymous poster who also took on Nelson Bwaya who had also volunteered information to exonerate Mandiwanzira, but not going further to say who had sold the graders. Did he not think it was an important story, or was he in the pockets of the Jonathan Moyo and Mandiwanzira, or Mpofus, especially as he was appointed consultant to the Minister, on a $300-a-day contract. Chimakure’s attempt to now retreat from the conversation through silence was met with more allegations, that his sister Auxillia was given a job by Mandiwanzira at ZiFM while Bwanya was also exposed has being related to Mandiwanzira as a brother-in-law, thus compromising his reliability as a commentator who could speak truth to power – at least not in this case. What the activists wanted was to expose the likes of Supa Mandiwanzira and Obert Mpofu as “tenderpreneurs” and thieves, living off funds that were meant for hospitals, clean water and schools, rather than genuine businessmen. “They are stealing money meant for buying pain killers for my grandmother in Dotito, for your 80 year old grandmother in Uzumba, for everyone’s grand parents. “They have NO compassion for the down trodden. They are no different from robbers who mug people coming from a burial in the middle of the night. They are burning and looting every little shred of decency left in ZANU PF.” Sure enough Chimakure was dragged back to feed another piece of information which he though would quell the relentless assault – the graders were bought during Goche’s tenure as minister. But the seemingly knowledgeable social media activist said they were actually bought from Supa way back then, then another company, Unavem, was used to cover up the shady deal. It seems the days of sweeping dirty deals under the carpet are now gone, with the social media reaching just as many, if not more people than the newspapers, which explains why the defenders of the accused were also coming to the social media – following the audience, but also risking a mauling. Enter Mduduzi Mathuthu the editor of the Chronicle, unsolicited and without saying in what capacity he was speaking on social media: “Mr Mawire, Cde Supa Mandiwanzira would like you to know it was in fact his company that quoted $130,000. Mr Mawire, further, the said tender was “won” by Sany! Cde Mandiwanzira handles XCMG. You have done some legwork going to Newlands to get these pictures, but a simple check of what brand equipment was supplied would have helped you to see past your malice and avoid dragging Cde Mandiwanzira’s name into this.” More pop-corn! The big guns have been drawn into the fray, an assemblage of national Editors, lining up to defend teflon-Mandiwanzira, who, through connections to President’s family, Zanu (PF) patronage, including carrying out sting operations on its opponents, rose from obscurity in the high density suburbs of Mutare to being one of the richest people in Zimbabwe, owning a construction firm, a radio station, and a media production company, besides being a deputy Minister in Government. The battle lines are drawn, say those who can see. “Cde Supa Mandiwanzira” has called in his second line, but the embarrassing thing is that these are the editors of the national newspapers which Mandiwanzira would like the world to believe are independent government and government ministers. This has to be the lowest moment in the history of Zimbabwe’s media, says Mawire. “When editors brazenly stand up in defence of corrupt individuals and transactions instead of scrutinising them. We all know you are singing for your supper, which you have been shamelessly eating since you began cavorting with Jonathan Moyo, your godfather and employer at Zimpapers,” came the first salvo aimed at Mathuthu. It is followed by the same which was asked of Chimakure. “So if you know the facts, why don’t you tell the world who owns Unavem and why this transaction did not go to tender? “Why as an editor of a national paper (the Chronicle) have you not investigated this clear scam and many others? All you do now at the Chronicle is write tabloid nonsense about goblins. Nothing that holds the State to account. You have dragged that paper into a Kwayedza. Why don’t you just ask them to transfer you to Umthunywa so that the Chronicle can return to more competent hands?” Ouch! All Mduduzi Mathuthu could say was: Supa Mandiwanzira DID NOT win the tender as you claim. You are lying when you say ‘the graders were sold by an entity owned by Supa Mandiwanzira’. But the issue has gone beyond the facts about the deal, to the “obscenity of journalists corrupting the media, though Mathuthu wont be dragged there, choosing instead to only talk about how the tender was won by SANY despite Supa’s bid being cheaper at $130,000/grader. But why would a government minister accused of corruption ask newspaper editors from an organisation which claims to be independent of governmental to be his spokesman? Why doesn’t he carry his own cross instead of asking Mathuthu and Chimakure to answer for something so simple. But is it so simple? Was there a tender or not, were there any bids, or were some companies fronting for the real beneficiaries, covering their tracks? Whatever the answer, shouldn’t the editors be investigating these things rather than jumping in defence as if powerful who have been accused? All goes quite for several hours until Mduduzi Mathuthu comes back spitting expelling unprintables, but not taking the discussion and further and succeeding only in drawing ridicule to himself, capped with advice that imbibing and social media don’t go very well together. But as he had raised the temperature so came the suggestion that the former New Zimbabwedotcom editor would be better off at B-Metro or some other of their cheap tabloid, before he totally ruins what was once a reputable newspaper, with a reputation for busting corruption scandals, not burying them – The Bulawayo Chronicle. In fact Mandiwanzira whom Mduduzi was trying to defend had maligned himself when engaged, while still a journalist, in being used by the CIO to doctor video tape to show Ari Ben Manashe plotting with MDC to kill President Mugabe, came a new and sensational accusation from our ‘knowledgeable’ surfer. He maligned himself when he was used by the CIO in the sting Bishop Ncube in Bulawayo, (this we also know about) when they set up The Patriot with the CIO, and even ZiFM, when he benefited from Gideon Gono’s largesse and then turned against him on the instigation of Jonathan Moyo, comes more fire from Cyberspace, all allegations not unbelievable. He got favours from Didymus Mutasa then worked against him, telling people that Mutasa forced him to employ his girlfriends at ZiFM; the people who helped him get where he is through his CIO membership have realised that he is now working against them, as the factions developed in Zanu (PF), and they are now exposing his deals, including the graders issue! So if Mduduzi is going to be Mandiwanzira’s PR, he has got his work cut out. Then they went after after Mduduzi himself; how he keeps talking about a company that won the tender when the Parliamentary Committee found that the transaction did not go to tender. Which tender might Mduduzi be referring to, was he poorly briefed, why are the journalists not digging deeper into what emerged from the Parliamentary Committee hearing. Who benefited from this corruption? Why are you not running a story that exposes corruption? Analysts noted that while Mduduzi was engaging with the Facebook audience, their other colleague and senior editor, Mabasa Sasa was “liking” every comment, without commenting, which he thought was sinister – suggesting that a large number of Zimpapers senior editors were on this case. Why was it considered so important to have three senior editors defending Mandiwanzira on Facebook all day instead of investigating who the beneficiaries of the tender violations were. The rest of the posting was also just as fascinating, suggesting that Mduduzi lied about being persecuted in Zimbabwe to get asylum in Britain and was now not just singing for his supper from Zanu (PF), but for his safety since he might not be able to reclaim his British stay. He now has to be really convincing to Zanu (PF). It all makes one wonder where to begin to rehabilitate journalism in Zimbabwe, a key ingredient to any movement that would stand any chance to mobilise the the people against the Mugabe dictatorship.