TODAY is World Press Freedom Day — a day we remember and honour journalists who have been arrested or killed for just doing their job of reporting fearlessly on events as and when they happen.
Editor’s Memo with Dingilizwe Ntuli
But it seems in Zimbabwe this special day is annually marked by official threats to journalists who speak truth to power.
Last year, Information and Media minister Webster Shamu threatened journalists at privately-owned media houses with a return to an era of vicious repression if they persisted with an “anti-African and anti-Zimbabwe frenzy”, whose meaning he did not clarify.
Nonetheless, Shamu has already been beaten at his own game by our bombastic Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri who this week threatened to arrest journalists for writing stories about security forces.
He was reacting to the Zimbabwe Independent’s lead story last week in which we exclusively reported that MDC-T defence and security secretary Giles Mutsekwa was in talks with security service chiefs to initiate discussions on power transfer after elections.
The story was not based on sources who declined to be named, but on an exclusive confirmation on record by Mutsekwa.
While Chihuri reserves the right to express his opinion, it is the threatening posture in which he responded that is disturbing.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba also denied the story, but his response was quite temperate despite its own pressures.
Chihuri must be reminded he has more serious issues to deal with rather than threatening journalists.
Why threaten a journalist for quoting someone, and on record? If the claims are false, he must prove Mutsekwa is lying, not threaten reporters.
Touts harass innocent passengers at kombi ranks on a daily basis, but Chihuri seems to believe that this is too trivial for a cop of his rank to comment on. We also constantly witness corruption and criminality by rogue police officers.
For most of his 20-year tenure as Zimbabwe’s top cop, the police has had little interest in fighting corruption. Instead, graft in the force is now a major irritant for most law-abiding citizens.
While most professional police forces around the world investigate crimes like corruption, kidnapping, theft, robbery, drug peddling and murder, these are the very same crimes our police officers are not effectively dealing with. Corruption is rampant in the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
In case his officers haven’t told him, kombi drivers and touts now refer to the ZRP as Zimbavha Rinoba Pachena, which literally means a thief who steals in broad daylight.
It is public knowledge that some police officers have set up elaborate corrupt networks that extort bribes from motorists, street vendors and drivers of commuter omnibus and pirate taxis. Some even allegedly demand sexual favours from prostitutes and innocent women they round up every night outside several night spots in the Avenues.
Some of the police officers also demand bribes from shopkeepers and people who sell pirated products and stolen items. They have also been accused of running vending stalls and hiring people to sell pirated products seized from those who would have refused to pay bribes.
We have never heard the Commissioner-General declaring he will cleanse the force of rogue cops or potentially corrupt elements.
Should we interpret his silence to mean he doesn’t care about this but arresting journalists? We would want to challenge Chihuri to publicly declare as the police chief that those police officers caught in corrupt activities would suffer the consequences of the law.
Of course, we don’t expect him to accept our challenge because he has presided over his officers’ dereliction of duty.
Chihuri’s men and women hardly investigate reports of political violence where the perpetrators are Zanu PF supporters.
Against this background, Chihuri should be more concerned his force contains corrupt elements instead of unnecessarily threatening journalists just for doing their job.