Information and Broadcasting Service Information minister Christopher Mushohwe (CM) last week spoke to our reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM) on a number of issues on the sidelines of the United Nations 71st anniversary celebrations in Harare.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
BM: The government claims it does not politicise food aid yet the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission recently released a report, saying Zanu PF supporters are being prioritised. What is your reaction to that?
CM: Who is the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission? What is their relationship with the current government? Human rights and lying are not compatible. they know they are lying, they know that people of Zimbabwe receive food.
There is food for the vulnerable, which the ministry headed by Minister [Prisca] Mupfumira champions, they all get it. If it is food that is going to the communities out there [and] everyone is getting it.
President [Robert] Mugabe reduced the price from $22 per bag of maize to $15 and nobody says you are from MDC so you can’t buy at that price. Those who are not able to buy who want to do some community work and receive food can do so and for anybody to say that it is only Zanu PF that is benefitting, there is nothing like that.
Where are the none Zanu PF people getting their food from, who is giving them? We have not heard of anyone who died because they have not been given food, where are they?
BM: Mugabe threatened to pull out of the UN, yet we have information that 1,5 million Zimbabweans are being fed by the UN and lots of infrastructural development and water reticulation is being funded through UN agencies. Can we survive without the UN?
CM: The president did not make that threat, he was talking about the position of the African Union; the AU is not happy with what the UN is doing, that the UN does not recognise that the entirety of Africa needs representation in the world body.
Without Africa, the UN cannot be called the UN. It is called the UN because there are 54 countries which are part of it and if those 54 countries move themselves from the UN, it is no longer united.
That’s what the president was saying; that the UN, especially the P5, must know that five countries cannot represent the globe, no. Five countries cannot veto the will of the entirety of the globe, it’s wrong, can’t you see it? It’s wrong.
Five people running the entire world, how can five people decide for almost three billion people? It’s wrong. They must have their conscience, they don’t have to be told.
Africa tells them because Africa has realised that we are dealing with people who have no conscience, people who are not honest. When they say we are equal before the UN, what equality are they talking about when other people are not allowed on the table?
BM: Some people would say you are being hypocritical by asking the UN to reform yet Mugabe has refused to reform here at home. security sector reforms and electoral reforms have been an issue here.
CM: What security sector reforms are you talking about? tell me one country that has had security sector reforms. Tell me, have you ever heard journalists in America condemning their government when they kill people, when they killed [Muammar] Gaddafi, when they killed Saddam Hussein? They kill people in Africa. Have you ever heard them condemning them? You think they don’t know that it is happening?
BM: The American journalists condemn their government when it kills American people and here your government is being condemned for making its own people suffer.
CM: No! I told the American ambassador here, I asked him why he is worried about law and order in Zimbabwe. we are trying to maintain law and order. You know that demonstrators who purport to be wanting to demonstrate freely go out on rampage, burn government property and loot shops of very poor people who are trying to eke a living. They come round and say we want to protect you from Zanu PF but let us steal from you so that you know this is how we protect you. What kind of justice is that and somebody tells me, especially the American ambassador — a man of colour who closes his eyes when people of colour are being slaughtered like pigs and he talks about people in Zimbabwe — when police try to space them by throwing some water into their faces aaah, come on.
What kind of democracy is that? What kind of people are these? People must learn to be truthful. If they don’t want President Mugabe because of his principles, let them say so, that we don’t want an African leader who is principled, we don’t want an African leader who stands up to the wishes of his people. we can’t stand up to the wishes of the American people at the expense of the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe, no. When we fought for this country there was not even one American or British who was on our side. Where were they? Where was justice? Where was human rights, why now?
BM: Maybe it’s because they are giving your government aid through the UN, food for the hungry and money for your infrastructure.
CM: What aid, we have never asked for their aid, what aid are you talking about?
BM: At least 1,5 million of Zimbabweans are surviving on food donations from the UN funded by the United States, among others.
CM: Did President Mugabe go and kneel before them to ask for that aid? if they want to give us that aid it’s a moral obligation that they have, if they don’t want to give us because they don’t want the leadership of this country then that’s their problem, we will not die, let them know.
We have survived the harshest economic sanctions ever experienced on this continent but we still have cars on the streets, we still have fuel at the garages, we are still building roads and dualising them, so they should not look at us as if we are a sorry state, no.
They do not want president Mugabe for two reasons, one of the reasons is that President Mugabe perhaps is the only African leader that stands up to them and tell them before their noses that what they are doing is wrong.
Secondly, they do not like him because he says whatever you do, I will die with my people. we want to empower our people, after all, look we left over 50 000 young people on the battle fields and we promised them that comrades you can remain and we will take your guns and continue with the struggle until victory, and now victory came, we can’t betray our comrades just to please an American or a Briton — the same people who are exploiting us here, the same people who caused us to be in a war situation, the same people who don’t want our people to be equal to their people. this is Zimbabwe, this is our land. we will never and President Mugabe will never claim an inch of Britain or any other Western country. Tell me one person who genuinely believes that the British and Americans are friends of Zimbabwe right now.
BM: You are saying you have never begged, but Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has been in Britain looking for money to fund the broke government.
CM: No, no, no. Chinamasa has not been looking for money you must distinguish the two; we are a member of the IMF and the World Bank, we subscribe to them, we pay money to them, so when we participate in the IMF and World Bank, its not that we want money from America or Britain we are member, like we are a member of the UN. Surely, we will complain that we want equality, we want justice, we want reforms.
BM: You complain and you are not leaving?
CM: Yes, we are the we complain, but we are a member, we have the right to say what we don’t want of it, because we are a member.
BM: Coming back to Zimbabwe, there are some who have accused your ministry of using the media which you control for fighting factional wars, like the recent target on Minister of Higher Education Jonathan Moyo.
CM: How is the ministry doing that, give me examples of how we are doing that.
BM: By influencing content within State-controlled media.
CM: Why state-controlled media, when the privately-owned media are full of the same stories, why don’t you talk about the private media.
BM: Because the state media is silent on cases of corruption that involve other ministers allegedly aligned to Lacoste.
CM: No, no, no. To be honest with you, I personally think that if a member of government has a case to answer and that is the function of the media is to inform the public, the media has done so, what I don’t personally subscribe to whether it is public or private media, is a situation where people recycle the same story, you know we begin to question the motive. Sensational journalism is what I don’t subscribe to.
My ministry does not seat in the editorial room right from the minister to the lowest person in the ministry; that’s not our function. Media houses have their own boards, have their own management, so when you read the newspapers that’s when I also read.
BM: But some have pointed fingers at your permanent secretary.
CM: Go and ask the permanent secretary, I can’t answer for him. He is not dead yet he is a living man, go and talk to him.
BM: But you are his boss.
CM: So you can’t ask me to speak for a person who is there.
BM: You lost a by-election after going all out donating stands and food, you gave out 9 000 stands and got just a little over 6 000 votes, what went wrong?
CM: What do you mean what went wrong? The people in Norton made a choice and they chose who they wanted, what is so funny about that, why didn’t you ask when Zanu PF was winning all the by elections? That’s were you go wrong, it that the first place were stands were given?
BM: Stands being given at a rally ahead of a by-election that is the first place, I know.
CM: NO, no, no, is that the first place whether at a rally or not, whether at night or in the morning stands were given, this is a programme that the youth have, but how do you give stands at a rally because were people are gathered there is not enough stands. Don’t sensationalise things, don’t politicise things which are not supposed to be politicised. Norton is not the first place stands have been given to the youth, the youth have been given stands all over the country.
BM: You talk of politicising things, as minister of information what role do you think politicians have played in influencing editorial content.
CM: You want me to think for all politicians, I am the minister yes but some politicians are in opposition,. I can’t think for them because what they believe in is not what I believe in.
BM: What role you have played as a politician and as minster in politicising and sensationalising stories for advancement of Zanu PF?
CM: No, no, no. I am telling you, you know when I became minister I invited all editors and all chief executives and publishers, I met them and I said how do you want us to work and we agreed on how we want to work. Because to me whether it is private or public media, it is important for it to grow, I want to see growth in that sector. I want to see a media that reports honestly, truthfully and without political tentacles. We don’t want garbage journalism, when you see our own journalists telling the world that Zimbabwe is ungovernable, that there is no law and order in Zimbabwe, and that if you come to Zimbabwe your investment is not guaranteed.
BM: Is it guaranteed minister?
CM: Very much so.
CM: Because our Constitution says so, tell me one investor who came here and his investment was taken, tell me one.
BM: We have seen ministers threatening investors, saying they will close them down, an example is Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo, who made such threats.
CM: I am speaking as government spokesperson, the ministers might speak in their own capacities as ministers or MPs. When one comes to Zimbabwe and says we want to produce, you know why we take companies here is because we want production, because we want them to create employment for our people, because we want our economy to grow but when a company comes here and in sympathy, with political thugs they say we are closing down, how do you want us to treat them? They are now political and if they want to play politics when we think they are business people that’s their problem, but we will treat business people with all the dignity and with all the respect. But let not people make a mistake that when they come here under the guise of businesspeople, they then want to be political enemies of the government, it’s wrong can’t you see it? If you don’t see it, then there is something wrong with you.
BM: You say journalism is a threat to investment, yet some believe the biggest threat is corruption especially in government and even by ministers and nothing happens to those caught with their hands in the till.
CM: No, no, no. I think don’t talk like you don’t understand that Zimbabwe has laws, if somebody goes to the police and reports corruption or untoward activity the police given the evidence can then Act.
BM: But President Mugabe is on record saying the police are his and they act when he unleashes them, can we trust them to act on evidence and not on President Mugabe?
CM: I have never heard that, where did he say that.
BM: He said it when he addressed a faction of war veterans at Zanu PF headquarters, when he warned Victor Matemandanda and Douglas Mahiya of stern action.
CM: I have never heard of that, you know your problem is you are not acting as honest journalists, you are acting as appendages of opposition in this country and as long as you do that you will never be a professional journalist, don’t put words in other people’s mouths.
BM: Minister, we have seen people being arrested before police even investigate, they summoned a journalist just to establish how he got a communique on war veterans, yet they have not acted on Jonathan Moyo even after Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission said they have a docket on him which is ready for court.
CM: Go and ask Jonathan.
BM: You are government spokesperson, you can answer this one.
CM: I am government spokesperson yes, I don’t have arresting powers, there are police give them time to investigate and if there is something to answer he will answer, he has not run away, has he?
BM: But do you admit that there is serious corruption in government that needs to be dealt with?
CM: Why in government and not in private sector?
BM: Mainly because government is funded by taxpayers and the people are worried about how you use their money.
CM: That’s were you go wrong, the private sector also puts money into government, tell me your salary does not attract tax, that’s corruption… show me your pay slip.