A ZBC report that was quickly pulled off air last week stating that President Robert Mugabe had been handed a “mobile chair” as one of his birthday presents caused a frenzy on social media.
the big interview BY OBEY MANAYITI
Zimbabweans speculated the 93-year-old Mugabe, who also received a personalised watch from his ministers, had been given a wheelchair.
Some were quick to make reference to first lady Grace Mugabe’s promise that she would push her husband in a wheelbarrow so that he continues to rule if he became unable to walk.
Our reporter Obey Manayiti (OM) spoke to Information minister Christopher Mushohwe (CM) to get clarity on the gifts. The minister had no kind words for those insinuating that the president was now wheelchair-bound.
Mushohwe also spoke about Mugabe’s health, the president’s unhappiness over biased coverage of Zanu PF’s factional wars and the digitisation of the country’s broadcasting systems.
OM: Last week the president received a special chair from cabinet ministers as a birthday gift. However, social media is awash with insinuations that the chair was in fact a wheelchair for the president. Can you clarify this.
CM: No no no! To start with, what is social media? The people who are posting that information, were they at the State House?
How did they know about it? This is why I say people must distinguish between proper journalism and social media. Social media is just there to peddle mischief.
You tell me that the whole Cabinet of educated people couldn’t know the gift they were presenting to the president?
You tell me they couldn’t know a massage chair? It is these [social media] little men and women of no substance, these people of little minds who cannot distinguish between a massage chair and a wheelchair.
I say to people, if this was being spoken on your father or grandfather, how would you feel? Come on Zimbabweans.
Those who post such things should stop. Those on social media think they are clever than everybody.
This is only done out of malice, disrespect and a political flavour.
You [media] are members of my clan and we should get to the point to help each other and we must condemn these little things.
Social media should not be allowed to denigrate our industry.
People should also understand the difference between social media and [traditional] media. As a country, we should not lose our moral fibre like this.
We must introspect and see if what we are doing is moral. Who in Zimbabwe, even for those on social media, didn’t benefit from the policies of our president?
As a society, we must not lose our social values (hunhu) like this, no no.
OM: A picture of Mugabe apparently struggling to walk as he arrived for a politburo meeting last week also sparked speculation that the president was not well. Is he suffering from any ailment?
CM: The president is fit as a fiddle. All those speculators will be put to shame. For him, there is only one person who has power over his life, which is God.
Right now he is as fit as everybody. He is the fittest person among those of his age. Tell me a person of 93 years who can speak for two hours continuously.
To tell you also that even in the Cabinet and politburo he is very energetic when chairing those meetings.
In our last politburo meeting, we were there for about eight hours but some members were visiting the toilet one after the other but the president never left the room during the meeting.
His system is intact. The president wakes up at 5 o’clock in the morning every single day to exercise but how many of us do that?
Why don’t people thank God for the gift that we have.
OM: So you mean he is still fit?
CM: This is started by the opposition and people will follow useless things. Those who say they are youthful cannot even stand for one hour.
The president is principled and conscious about his health and he goes for medical check-ups. A person must have a regular check-up and the president does so.
Our problem sometimes as black people is that we only think of visiting a doctor when we are sick.
Some of the people who don’t go for check-ups might not know that they have certain ailments like BP and they die of this.
The president is conscious of his health and regularly goes for check-ups. That doesn’t mean he is not feeling well.
OM: Mugabe last week did not mince his words when he complained about partisan reporting of Zanu PF infighting by state media. Do you share similar concerns, especially about The Herald which was singled out by the president?
CM: No no. You know very well that two weeks ago I had a meeting with editors of all media houses, including even foreign correspondents.
I met all the editors from both the private and public media and I am happy that they all came and we talked about these issues.
We said let’s focus on ZimAsset and things that build the image of Zimbabwe. The focus now is on politics and not development.
I told them that you are not politicians yourselves and your duty is to inform people both in Zimbabwe and outside. It is not only about The Herald.
The president spoke about The Herald because it is publicly-owned and after all, why should we talk about the neighbours before ours?
It doesn’t mean that the private media is doing a good job, no, it is just that The Herald is publicly-owned.
OM: But the concern was on how they cover Zanu PF factions?
CM: They should know the procedures of how things are done. To start with, Zanu PF has a constitution which talks about conflict resolution.
The procedures are clearly spelt out and the president’s concern is why should we resolve conflict in the media and not follow procedure.
The Herald must not be used as an instrument to vent out conflict by members of the ruling party and that is correct.
I said it also to NewsDay and The Daily News that our focus should be on development. Let’s leave politicians to talk about politics and not behave like commissars of political parties.
The president has never condoned corruption and indiscipline but we have ways to deal with grievances.
This should also not be confused to say that the president was protecting individuals.
OM: Still on that, do you think the president is going to keep Eunice Sandi Moyo as a minister considering that she has left the women’s league and that she is no longer a politburo member.
CM: The politburo is a political office and being a minister of State is government. You don’t need to be a member of the central committee or politburo to be a minister.
There are people who are not in the politburo but they are ministers.
When the president appoints people into Cabinet, one doesn’t necessarily have to be in the central committee or politburo.
OM: How far has your ministry gone with the digitisation of broadcasting systems after missing several deadlines you set for yourselves?
CM: What has delayed completion is that payment to the contractor hasn’t been as prompt as what it should have been, not because there is no money but because we are having problems with our nostro accounts.
We hope this will improve with the sale of tobacco and we also hope to save money used to import maize because we hope command agriculture will improve our situation.
We have some equipment that is still in a warehouse in China and we hope when it arrives we will expeditiously work on the programme.
There are 12 new sites and 12 old ones which we are rehabilitating so that they become compatible with the new technology.
We have also started a campaign around the country to mobilise for content production.
By the time we come up with 12 new channels, we should have content for that because 75% should be local content and I am so happy that people in Zimbabwe are so rich in terms of content producing.
We are also assisting content producers logistically that is with cameras and sometimes with transport.
You see, we don’t have to look at Hollywood or Nollywood anymore because we can produce our own content which is competitive.
We are very happy with the content we are producing. we have talent and creative people but in terms of when we are going to complete, that will depend on the availability of resources.
We have also upgraded our studios in Mbare, Montros and Pockets Hill and what we are doing now is to equip the studios.
We have done that without making too much noise. What we have also done is to say instead of getting foreign engineers, let’s employ 36 young engineers from all over the country and these are the guys who are doing wonders.
OM: Do you think the process will have been finished before the 2018 elections so as to free up the airwaves?
CM: Well, like I said before, if we get enough resources we can complete the exercise before elections.
However, this is not an election gimmick. This is a ZimAsset programme which is not related to elections.
I am happy that government is supporting this programme. It is a huge programme that will create employment for our people.
In Africa there are only two other countries ahead of us but you should also know that this is a very expensive programme.
We are implementing it fully so that we will not have half-baked things.
All the parts of the country will have access to the signal, just like in Harare.
In Binga people watch foreign channels and listen to foreign radio, the same with Chipinge, Plumtree and this is what we are working on so that they have access to our radio and TV.