Grubby patina of ethnicity

Candid Comment with Joram Nyathi

WE have in recent months been subjected to attacks by people who allege biased reporting by the Zimbabwe Independent since divisions surfaced in the MDC. We have been accused of favouring Gibson Sibanda’s camp against Morgan Tsvangira

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All sorts of ethnic conspiracy theories have been trotted out regarding our staff and ownership. One crazy fellow even claimed Independent editor Vincent Kahiya was Ndebele!

The accusations take many forms, like saying we give more coverage to Sibanda’s (now Arthur Mutambara’s) camp or that we write as if we think the party’s constitution is everything.

These are the so-called democrats who want to exercise power arbitrarily despite their accusations against President Mugabe. Our cardinal sin is that the company’s executive chairman Trevor Ncube last March wrote an article critical of the MDC’s performance. It had lost momentum and become atrophied, he said. That was well before the split. But the vitriolic response suggests that newspaper publishers, like the Prince of Wales, should not express personal views on national issues.

Mutambara’s decision to join fractious party on Sibanda’s camp only added fuel to a simmering ethnic rage. Our lead story on Friday read “Mutambara unsettles Tsvangirai”. One fellow, calling himself Shumba, substituted Welshman’s name for Mutambara’s and said we should move our offices to Bulawayo because “you support Ncube”.
He said Mutambara was “nothing” to unsettle Tsvangirai who he claimed is supported by a majority of the people. “Nothing” was used as an epithet, enriched with the spiteful resentment of one who felt insulted that Mutambara had spurned their overtures and opted to join the “wrong” camp.

He has betrayed the “majority” tribe, he has lost the cause.The bitterness is palpable all round, from columnists to political commentators to politicians who still can’t believe what has got into the young professor’s head. We had writers last week trying to use moral bribery to say Mutambara was forgetting that Tsvangirai as ZCTU secretary-general had in 1987 supported SRC leaders when they were detained by police.

In fact, if Mutambara had made the “right” choice, I have no doubt there would be no questions asked about his NASA and MIT links. Given his patriotic address in Bulawayo on land reform, the liberation struggle, imperialists and sovereignty, he was a sure candidate for national leadership.

But for that stain, the fatal stigma of a wrong tribal leaning that catapulted him to the pinnacle of the MDC from nothingness, he may suffer for a long time to come. There are no two fronts in Zimbabwe’s fight for democracy and Mutambara dared the gods.


That’s how parochial and tribal the people aspiring to national office and their opinion-makers are. Mutambara will have to be more than an ordinary man to withstand the barrage of attacks and let his decision abide. If you ask these guys to put their views on paper they slink away and prefer the darkness of anonymity.

Instead of confronting the tribal cancer eating at their heart, they pretend that Mutambara is being scrutinised for his suspected links to the CIA and other imperialist agents. We have in Zimbabwe political amphibians who slip in and out of Zanu PF and the MDC with astonishing frequency using surnames and language as convenient tunnels. Some even carry the cards of both parties to suit the weather. There are no guiding principles about switching allegiance so long as there is political or financial capital to be made.

Amid the chaos, spare a thought for the downtrodden urban masses who have been abandoned to their own devices as the political leaders fight for the Holy Grail that is State House. Nobody talks about food shortages, council rates driving the poor into ever greater poverty, escalating water and electricity charges, skyrocketing urban commuters fares and prices of basic commodities that the majority can’t afford. It’s all about how we can seize power.

What I find most disconcerting in attacks directed at us is the insinuation that we support a particular camp in the MDC for ethnic reasons against principle. This is most unfortunate because it does not help advance the debate on why the MDC was formed and how it can help shape the future of this country.

We are instead being dragged into personality issues of why Welshman Ncube, and not Morgan Tsvangirai, was given a farm. Are all those who got farms since 2000 going to lose them then? If not, why or who is more Zimbabwean to deserve a farm while others can’t?


My view is that it is ill-advised of either camp to commend us for doing a good job when we attack government and Zanu PF and then attacks us the moment we point out the warts in the MDC. The implication of such comments is that our attacks are gratuitous, not a response to real issues of corruption, the brutalities of Operation Murambatsvina and lack of productivity on farms. But our mission is to report the affairs of this country with integrity using the information at our disposal, allowing for the normal human limitations and biases. We firmly believe in the principle that it is our Zimbabwe “right or wrong” but reject the opportunistic corollary that “my president can do no wrong”. Zimbabwe is permanent. Leaders come and go. And they must if they can’t deliver. There are popes in Zimbabwe.

Why should we mortgage the destiny of this country to leaders who are content to squander opportunities looking forward to the past instead of the future?

It is a paradox that we are facing more intolerance from the democrats than from the dictatorship that we are all sworn to fight. It is even more dismaying to have to contemplate the possibility that the draconian media laws that the Zanu PF government has enacted may find practical application in narrow-minded politicians who see themselves as instruments of divine intervention to save Zimbabwe. Hence the postulate that they can do no wrong, or in the event of such an aberration, it should not be pointed out lest we distract from the grand mission.

We are in other words being asked to perform for the opposition MDC the same obsequious role that the state media does for Zanu PF. It is my sincere hope that those who purport to be fighting for democracy in Zimbabwe will allow us to perform our duty without undue interference. We will not allow ourselves to operate like a suborned media institution merely to please a few individuals fighting for political office.
 
That tribe and not merit is the biggest asset to the presidency only shows how shameful and primitive our politics are. It’s a mockery of the human intellect.