By Bill Saidi
SO soon after the people of Rwanda remembered Africa’s worst example of ethnic cleansing in 1994 a few weeks ago, it was chilling to hear a junior minister in the government of President Robert
Mugabe speak once again of journalists as “terrorists”.
What do you do with terrorists?
He did not use the word “cleansing”, but it can be taken for granted that to accomplish this mission the Department of Information may have to engage in a clean-up as gruesome as the Hutu massacres of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
This may not be in the literal sense – lining up the journalists in a football stadium and having them shot at dawn. But shutting down their newspapers and throwing them out of jobs could have the same effect.
So far, the department, through its licensed-to-kill “Rambo” – the Media and Information Commission – has displayed its keenness to do just that.
But it was even more frightening, on World Press Freedom Day, to hear the government media practically wetting itself with glee and optimism at the state of freedom of the press in this country.
To listen to them, but particularly Tafataona Mahoso, you would think the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists had just awarded Zimbabwe a first prize as the Most-Journalist-Friendly country in the world.
Not a word about their rating of Zimbabwe as the third worst country in the world for journalists to work in.
Iraq, under the US-led occupation, topped the list. But there is a bloody war in that country, whatever label the Bush administration may wish to stick on it.
Cuba was second, whatever spin Fidel Castro’s apologists, among them President Mugabe and Zanu PF, would want to put on it.
But Cuba is a communist country, run by one man’s iron fist since 1959. The island state may supply doctors to replace highly-qualified but lowly-paid Zimbabwean doctors who flee their own country to seek more dignity and more pay in other lands, far and near.
Apart from the official Gramma newspaper, Cuba has few other newspapers which could qualify, in the strictest sense of the words, as free and independent. This would be like mentioning any other newspaper in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, apart from The Pyongyang Times, the official organ of the Workers’ Party.
The world got to know so little about the recent tragic collision of two trains near the DPRK’s border with the People’s Republic of China for that precise reason – real valuable information is rationed, much like most of the food is rationed in that country and in Cuba.
For Zimbabwe to be included among the Top Three on the Worst-Journalist-Haters’ list is something that ought to make Jonathan Moyo, Mahoso and all those “analysts” they trundle to the TV studios, sick with shame.
But, of course, it would be out of character for them to feel any shame whatsoever. Their mission is to “cleanse” the media fraternity of any alien substances, such as the 100% pure, clean liquid that guarantees freedom and the independence of thought of anyone who takes even a smidgen of it.
Moyo did not exactly amaze many of his critics with his recent statement that Zanu PF (or Zimbabwe as represented by that stone-age party) did not believe that the existence of an independent media was a requisite component of the democratic dispensation.
He has gone too far along the road to perdition to be expected to pronounce any doctrine or ideology other than that which repudiates everything the United Nations Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 stand for.
Speaking of which, you had to applaud the fervour with which speakers at the World Press Freedom Day function – nobody in their right senses dared to call it a celebration – sponsored by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists defended the right of the citizen to consume any and all information.
Even Andrew Chigovera, the former Attorney-General, after detailing the functions of the African Human Rights Commission, could not help but comment that journalists needed to unite to fight for their rights.
But the most sharp-edged comment came from Elisha Mushayakarara, the long-time banker and civil servant. He said he found out about Zimbabwe’s atrocious record as the third worst country for journalists to work in on the Reuter terminal – and not in the local media.
More and more people, previously hooked on the government propaganda that the world media was being unfair in its treatment of the country’s politics, are slowly beginning to realise this must be the biggest fib the government has foisted on the people.
If there is any cleansing to be done, the journalists are the last people to deserve it.
The real targets are so loud and foul-mouthed their identity and location must be public knowledge by now.
* Bill Saidi is editor of the Daily News on Sunday currently closed.