Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo has dismissed the notion that the security sector cannot be scrutinised by journalists as fears of a government crackdown on the private media mount.
Information minister Chris Mushohwe repeated his controversial claims last week that the security sector was “sacred” in a veiled threat to the private media.
President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba has also issued similar threats that have been amplified by the State media in chilling fashion.
Mushohwe warned that journalists who preyed into security sector issues were venturing into a crocodile-infested pool.
However, Moyo, a two time Information minister, posted on Twitter that the assertions were wrong as the Constitution ensured that there were no sacred cows.
“It’s wrong to say some sectors are outside media coverage. Nothing is above the Constitution,” Moyo tweeted on Friday.
“It’s the law, stupid! The Constitution is supreme. So no sacred cows,” he added.
Moyo was Information minister when the controversial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was crafted.
The law was used to persecute independent media and some critical newspapers were forced to close down.
Moyo has since toned down and after his appointment in 2013, he tried to extend an olive branch to the independent media.
He has also been critical of defamation laws used by the government to silence critical media institutions and has also spoken out against the arrest of journalists.
He was replaced by Mushohwe in a Cabinet reshuffle last year, a move that signalled the government’s renewed onslaught against journalists.
Police recently arrested NewsDay deputy editor Nqaba Matshazi and reporter Xolisani Ncube after the paper reported that Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) operatives had been paid bonuses ahead of other government workers.
The government has also been angered by the coverage of the security sector’s involvement in the fluid battle to succeed Mugabe by Zanu PF factions.
Academic Ibbo Mandaza said government’s threats against the private media were meant to silence journalists.
“They just want to intimidate the media and cover up for the shortcomings currently in the State and exacerbated by the succession battles,” he said.
“There are cracks they would never want exposed because they reflect the weaknesses in the state.”
Former Zanu PF official Kudzai Mbudzi, who is now associated with former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s People First movement, said the media had a right to “shine light on the security sector’s misdemeanours”.
“The media should not be harassed, intimidated or arrested for writing stories about military officials dabbling in civilian politics,” he said.
“Mugabe’s administration should instead focus energies on de-politicisation and reform of the State security sector as that is crucial to achieving durable peace, improving governance and aiding democratic consolidation.
“Mugabe in December admitted at the party’s conference that the military were dabbling in Zanu PF politics and for his administration to then threaten journalists for writing about it shows gross disregard and disrespect of the role of the media.”
Mbudzi said Mugabe has for years allowed the security forces to dabble in politics in contravention of the Constitution.
“The military, police, and CIO have no business meddling in civilian politics, and if they so do, journalists have a right to report on such,” he added.
“The Constitution says defence forces are expected to be non-partisan and professional in the discharge of their duties.”
There are reports that the security sector is divided along Zanu factional lines, with some said to be behind Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, while others allegedly support First Lady Grace Mugabe and a faction known as Generation 40.
Some are believed to be still loyal to Mujuru, who was kicked out of Zanu PF in 2014 for allegedly plotting to topple Mugabe.
Political observer, Maxwell Saungweme said Mugabe’s administration would not want “its skeletons outed”, hence the onslaught on the media.
“Undemocratic regimes with too many skeletons in their cupboards do not want any serious public scrutiny of the security services,” he said.
“This happens with all dictatorial regimes in Africa and elsewhere. Zimbabwe is at a very crucial juncture where the government is facing its worst economic problems in history, yet at the same time the government itself is dysfunctional and the ruling party and government are torn apart due to succession disputes in the party.
“Given that the government and most of its institutions are militarised, the military definitely has a big role to play in the ongoing succession fighting and power matrix.
“So you cannot expect the regime to be comfortable with the media exposing the goings-on in the military at this juncture,” Saungweme added.
“But the media should be steadfast on their role and continue to report things as they are.
“Strong and good media is not cowed by arrests and human rights abuses targeted at media practitioners.
“Good media practitioners are judged by remaining principled and covering stories as they are in the face of all these adversities.”
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said Zanu PF abhors “genuine media freedom”.
“The world over, dictatorial regimes abhor genuine media freedom. The Zanu PF regime is a classic example of a dictatorship,” he said.
“As MDC-T, we can bet our bottom dollar that the Zanu PF regime will never ever agree to a situation whereby there is genuine media freedom in Zimbabwe.”
Gutu said Mushohwe’s comments showed that he was living in the past.
“Mushohwe should be advised, in no uncertain terms, that Zimbabwe is living in the 21st Century, which is essentially the digital age,” he said. “Gone are the days when the governments could rigidly control and manipulate the media in an endeavour to suppress reportage of corruption and other acts of misdeed and impropriety in high public offices; including the security services.
“In this modern age, there is a phenomenon that is known as citizen journalism.”
The Zimbabwean government has been isolated by the international community for some time because of alleged human rights violations, including its harsh treatment of the private media.