PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s top security chiefs, including Central Intelligence Organisation boss Happyton Bonyongwe and Close Security Unit head Albert Ngulube, were this week and for the second time this year exposed as they failed to manage and contain aggressive Nigerian journalists who accosted and embarrassed the veteran leader during his visit to Abuja last week.
Senior state security and protocol bosses, who included Bonyongwe, Ngulube and Chief of Protocol Munyaradzi Kajese, had a tough time controlling Nigerian journalists from the online Sahara TV Reporters who refused to be pushed away from Mugabe as they demanded answers as to when he would step down and allow change to take place in Zimbabwe.
In particular, feisty journalist Adeola Fayehun took Mugabe by surprise, pushing her way past his aides right up to his vehicle, as she bombarded him with questions demanding, among other things, to know when he would quit. In video footage which has since gone viral on the internet Mugabe’s aides appear at loss over what to do and even seem to plead with the aggressive journalists — especially Fayehun — to leave him alone and stop embarrassing him.
“Mr President, don’t you think it’s time to step down? Is there like a term limit? “How is your health, how are you feeling now? Don’t you think it’s time to step down? Can you say something, sir? When will there be change in Zimbabwe, sir? Will there ever be change in Zimbabwe, sir, just like we have in Nigeria?,” Fayehum asked.
“Is there democracy in Zimbabwe? There is no democracy in Zimbabwe, it’s very very sad. It’s about time to step down. Thirty-something years, and you come here to witness democracy? We want to come to Zimbabwe for (an) inauguration as well. Invite us next time. We want to see democracy in Zimbabwe,” said the feisty presenter while her fellow reporter told one of Mugabe’s aides, “don’t push me. I’m just doing my job”. The confused aides even spoke in Shona as if not aware Nigerian journalists would not understand them. One of the aides kept saying: “Aiwa, mirai, mirai, mirai! (No, stop, stop, stop!)” to which Fayehun responded, “I don’t understand that language.”
Last week’s incident comes against the backdrop of February’s equally embarrassing episode when the 91-year-old Mugabe tumbled as he alighted from a podium shortly after addressing party supporters upon his return from an African Union meeting in Ethiopia.
His aides, seemingly powerless to rescue him, instead turned their fury on photojournalists whom they menacingly forced to delete images they had captured of the awkward incident, something they failed to do in Nigeria.
It was left to Information minister Jonathan Moyo who then tried unsuccessfully to put a positive spin to the incident arguing, despite clear evidence of the tumble, that Mugabe had not fallen but actually broken the fall. Mugabe later confirmed that he had indeed fallen.
As he did with the falling incident, Moyo rushed to defend Mugabe on the Nigerian fiasco, tearing into both the Nigerian government for their apparent failure to provide adequate security for his boss and the journalists whom he angrily described as “Boko Haram” for their aggressive behaviour.
“That would not happen in Zimbabwe against any visiting head of state or government not even (American President) Barack Obama or (British Prime Minister) David Cameron,” Moyo wrote on his Twitter account. “Free countries have rules including diplomatic courtesy not the display of Boko Haram journalism … The ‘journalists’ or whoever they are were not asking questions, but making fools of themselves and their country.”
The experience in Nigeria has shown the dilemma Mugabe’s aides face when dealing with security issues abroad. Their Zimbabwean experience is that they would deal with any intrusion by physically manhandling even journalists in the manner they dealt with British Outrage! gay rights activist Peter Tatchell when he accosted Mugabe in 2001. Tatchell was later punched and fell to the ground when he tried to effect a citizen’s arrest on Mugabe in Brussels, Belgium, on accusations of torture and other human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
The treatment of Tatchell was however different as in his case there was extreme provocation, but Mugabe’s aides are not likely to physically beat up people who are no more than just a nuisance as was the case with Fayehun and her colleagues.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba appeared to confirm the security lapse exonerating local security bosses when he suggested in the state media that the issue of dealing with the Sahara TV journalists was out of their hands and was in fact a responsibility for the host government.
“They took advantage of protocol restrictions that were imposed on delegations … Heads of State had to be accompanied by only two officials outside of security structures and in our case it was the (Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe) Mumbengegwi as well as ambassador Lovemore Mazemo,” said Charamba.
“There was a protocol requirement that heads (of state and government) travel on a bus; so essentially it meant that, that protocol expectation by the host country stripped heads of state of their normal structures of protection and interaction including with players like so-called Sahara TV.”'