OF late there has been a growing momentum and lobbying of the media by influential politicians and high-profile businessmen to freeze or abandon criticism of President Robert Mugabe for a wide range of reasons.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya
We have had a number of approaches, some well-meaning but some rather disingenuous, by those seeking rapprochement on Mugabe’s behalf to ensure his continued patronage.
It is quite clear there are some people gravely concerned about how the media has been interpreting Mugabe’s rule and legacy, as well as treating him in its coverage of the Zimbabwean story.
Some of the reasons given to obviate criticism of Mugabe include that he is not the one responsible for the devastation of the country’s economy but his ministers and bureaucrats are; he fought for the country and must thus be spared harsh criticism; he is now too old and that politically he is in the departure lounge.
“We must look beyond Mugabe and deal with other issues. He played his part and besides he is now old,” one ex-combatant-turned-tycoon said to us. “Look, he is also going to be 89 soon, so you must respect him and spare him all these attacks.”
Our response was simple: “We agree with you that he is old and must certainly be respected. However, we don’t think he should be spared criticism because he is now old and because he fought in the struggle. In fact, he needs to be put under close scrutiny for precisely those reasons and also because he is a head of state and government and commander-in-chief of the defence forces seeking re-election at 89!”
Information minister Webster Shamu has in recent months also called in editors to protest their unwelcome coverage of Mugabe.
A new approach on this is also discernible.
Vice-President Joice Mujuru recently said Mugabe was anointed by God to lead Zimbabwe at the age of 10 years and those fighting to replace him are wasting their time.
This week leader of apostolic churches in Zimbabwe, Bishop Johannes Ndanga, said: “Mugabe was “our God-given leader” implying, like Mujuru, that he had a divine right to rule or a mandate from heaven (there is a nuanced difference between the two).
The invocation of divine rule and by insinuation claims of infallibility are meant to place Mugabe above criticism. If his mandate is from God he is therefore not accountable to the electorate but to God only.
Medieval political theorists came up with the doctrine that kings’ right to rule came from God, and that monarchs were answerable to him alone, not earthly institutions or people. This is the sort of thing we are now being subjected to.
Evidently this is absurd or preposterous and Mugabe himself might find it as such.
However, given Mugabe’s appreciation for personality cult, hagiography and intolerance to criticism –– these attempts to protect him by all means necessary could be most welcome within his circles.
Despite Zimbabwe supposedly being a constitutional democracy in which citizens enjoy freedom of expression and speech, among other entrenched civil and political liberties, a number of people, mostly ordinary citizens, have been arrested for allegedly ridiculing or insulting Mugabe.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights alone has been representing over 50 individuals who have been dragged to court for calling Mugabe names or joking about him, things civilised democracies would have either ignored, frowned upon or just dismissed offhand as in bad taste.
Although Mugabe must be respected as an elder and leader he should not be placed above criticism through ridiculous assertions, including false feudal claims in this day and age of his divine right to rule, but held accountable to the people.