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Is Nyathi Now Writing From Munhumutapa Building?

A DISTURBING doppelganger phenomenon is taking place within the media in Zimbabwe.

Formerly-independent publications are now writing in the style of the Herald, indeed, for some, The Herald appears to be what Reuters and the AFP are to more reputable newspapers.  Journalists who previously decried the unprofessionalism and squint-eyed slant of the Herald are scrambling over each other to muddy the issues. Joram Nyathi, a journalist I have admired even when I do not agree with him, appears to be particularly affected by this doppelganger effect; he is morphing, before our eyes, into George Charamba.  
Nyathi recently wrote an article in which he dismissed the arguments of the MDC on controlling “key” ministries.  The key ministries, he said, were what he termed the “social ministries” like health and education, it is these that the parties should be fighting over.  “Does alleviating people’s misery depend on a party’s ability to arrest, to declare war and peace, to set up diplomatic missions abroad and to spread propaganda?” asked Nyathi. With this dazzling display of the art of the non sequitur, Nyathi exceeds even the standards set by Nathaniel Manheru.
I understand that Nyathi is a busy man, and must come up with something startling and new every week.  Like many weekly columnists, he may sometimes miss more than he hits, such is the lot of your busy weekly columnist.  In the latest instalment to his oeuvre however, Nyathi embarrasses himself and he embarrasses the Zimbabwe Independent.  I am not even associated with the Zimbabwe Independent and yet I am deeply mortified that Nyathi has failed to appreciate that the reason that almost every election in Zimbabwe since 2000 has been disputed is that Zanu PF has managed to cling on to power through sham elections in which it has unleashed violence, propaganda and vote-buying.
The Ministries of Home Affairs, Information and Media and Finance are, therefore, key to releasing the stranglehold that Zanu PF has over the electoral process in Zimbabwe.
The Home Affairs ministry controls the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, it controls the department of immigration and citizenship, and it controls the police. It has become a party political institution that serves only the interests of Zanu PF. The voters’ roll is shambolic.  The police arrest MDC supporters, while leaving Zanu PF thugs unpunished.  
Zimbabweans have been disenfranchised for having parents who were not Zimbabwean. Trevor Ncube, the publisher of the Zimbabwe Independent and the reason Nyathi is one of the lucky Zimbabweans to be in formal employment, was one of these.  And there is the recent saga of Tsvangirai’s passport. Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu insisted as part of the Unity Accord in 1987, that as a confidence-building measure, either defence or home affairs had to be controlled by them.  Given the brutality suffered by MDC supporters at the hands of the security forces, why is it inappropriate for the MDC to demand a similar confidence-building measure?  I wonder if Nyathi would have advised Nkomo to go only for the “social ministries” because the Matabeleland region is underdeveloped?
Then there is the media. On 15 September 15 2008, the remarkable happened. For the first time in almost 10 years, Morgan Tsvangirai spoke into Zimbabwean living rooms with no voice-over saying he was a puppet, a stooge or a stand-in for white interests.  The MDC has simply had no access to public broadcasting since its launch.
Zanu PF has used its monopoly to frame the narrative on Zimbabwe.  The one daily newspaper that threatened the ruling party was banned and bombed.  Surely every person who wants the forces of democracy to prevail would want to ensure that this monopoly is dismantled?  And how about all those colleagues of Nyathi whose livelihoods were affected by this shrinking of press freedom? And what of those journalists who were tortured or killed?
Then there is the Finance ministry. The Reserve Bank is guilty of financial misappropriation at a magnitude that that may take years for forensic auditors to uncover. The government has established parallel exchange rates purely for the benefit of a few individuals.  It is no exaggeration to say that the economy is structured to benefit a handful of Zanu PF families
The Reserve Bank always finds money for new Mercs and for plasma TVs for judges while the hospitals have no drugs and schools have no books. And Nyathi may have missed the story in several newspapers of the astronomical bill for Mugabe’s recent overseas trip to the United States in which his minor son was apparently an indispensible part of the official delegation to Zimbabwe, and got an allowance from the Reserve Bank.
These, then, are the ministries that Nyathi dismisses as not being key ministries for which the MDC should fight.  
Nyathi has also lost sight of the fact that the people benefitting the most from this unity government agreement are in Zanu PF.  Their president claims legitimacy on the basis of an election that was universally condemned, even by the close allies of Zimbabwe in Africa.  The MDC accepted the unity agreement, not because this was the best deal possible, but because it has its eye on the next election.  
Of course the social ministries are important, that is so obvious it does not even need to be discussed in 1000 words.  But if the MDC is unable to take control of the areas of government that so heavily tilted the scales against them in previous elections and led to one contested result after another, then we will have Zanu PF governments in perpetuity, and Nyathi can lament about social ministries until the second coming.
Finally, as a regular reader of the Zimbabwe Independent, it has not escaped me that the newspaper has what can only be charitably called an arms’ length relationship to the MDC led by Tsvangirai. Nyathi and the Zimbabwe Independent may well have wanted another candidate to do better than he did in the recent elections.
 Every newspaper has its own editorial slant and the Zimbabwe Independent is by no means required to lead the cheers for the MDC, but if the dislike and contempt for Tsvangirai results in intellectual dishonesty at the level of Nyathi’s article, then clearly, there is a problem. I am not a journalist, and I do not know what they teach in journalism school, but I am sure that one of the things that should be taught is that insulting the intelligence of the reader is not the best basis for a long-term relationship. They know all about this at Herald House.

Petina Gappah,

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