GEOFFREY Nyarota, one of Zimbabwe’s award-winning journalists and now CEO of Buffalo Communication (Pvt) Ltd, has ventured into politics and is fighting for a ticket to represent the MDC-T in Makoni South in Manicaland in the next general elections.
Nyarota is best known for the Willowgate scandal in which he in 1987 exposed cabinet ministers’ corruption over discounted buying and inflated selling of cars from a state enterprise, Willowvale Motor Industries.
His career took him from teaching to government, state newspapers, including the Chronicle, and private media, the Financial Gazette and Daily News.
After his long career, he wrote Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Zimbabwean Newsman published in South Africa in 2006.This week Zimbabwe Independent chief reporter, Owen Gagare (OG) spoke to “Geoff” Nyarota (GN) about his new political career and history in journalism. Below are excerpts:
OG: You had a successful career in journalism. Why did you choose to venture into politics rather than remain in the media, if not as an editor, perhaps in a different capacity, for instance, as a consultant?
GN: The changeover from journalism to politics is a very common phenomenon the world over. Like politicians, journalists believe, sometimes genuinely, that they can transform the world into a better place.
In the United States in recent decades a long list of prominent journalists tried to repackage themselves as politicians when they became candidates for political office. The list includes such notable journalists as Patrick Buchanan, Ralph Nader, Al Gore, Al Franken and Norman Mailer.
In Zimbabwe the most outstanding journalist to undergo the transformation to a politician was Dr Nathan Shamuyarira.
My own decision to venture into politics was partly inspired by my teacher, Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian professor and director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, before he became leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in 2008.
Before this entry into politics he was a professor, author, as well as a journalist.
I have been a journalist, a published author and was a guest professor at Oslo University in Norway and visiting professor at Bard College in upstate New York.
OG: When you came back from the United States, you were supposed to be the editor of the Daily News. What happened?
GN: To be quite honest, I am not sure I know what happened and I do not wish to go public on my speculation on why I was dismissed by a company that relocated me from the United States at considerable expense. But I took Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) to court for unlawful dismissal. They lost the case and I was awarded damages in February 2012. They still have not paid me the more than US$100 000 involved, including legal fees. Meanwhile, I have endured severe suffering and deprivation for three years.
OG: Did the failure of this plan influence your going into politics?
GN: Not really. I went into business in my own right, instead, launching Buffalo Communication (Pvt) Ltd in 2011. We are publishers of magazines, including On the Road, a motoring publication, The Harare Agricultural Show Magazine and, recently, The Chamber of Mines Journal.
OG: Many people these days, unfortunately, go into politics to make money. What is your mission?
GN: I believe it is immoral for anyone to go into politics just to make money. The quest for money or riches in politics is what leads to corruption such as currently prevailing in Zimbabwe. Aspiring politicians should make their own lives comfortable before they seek to make the lives of those who vote them into office comfortable.
OG: How did you come up with the decision to contest in Makoni South? Were you approached or was it your independent decision?
GN: The decision to contest the Makoni South constituency was thrust upon me by the MDC-T structures in that constituency. When I returned to Zimbabwe in 2010 they approached me and appealed to me to consider standing. After a period of consideration and consultation I finally agreed to their proposal in December 2012. The choice of this particular constituency was natural, as it is my home constituency. While I was born in Mutare, I grew up in Mudzimukunze Village, just outside Nyazura.
OG: What is the problem between you and MP for Makoni South, Pishai Muchauraya?
GN: In my view the problem emanates from a failure by the sitting MP, Honourable Muchauraya, to come to terms with the reality of democratic elections every five years when aspiring politicians can challenge him in peaceful elections.
On the morning of February 28 he phoned me and threatened to kill me. Rivalry between candidates is normal, but when that degenerates to death-threats that is going overboard. So I reported the matter to the MDC-T leadership through the organising secretary, Honourable Nelson Chamisa but he did not respond. So I then went to the police. The matter is now in their hands.
OG: There have also been claims of tribal hostilities between you and Muchauraya amid reports you believe he should stand in Chipinge, not Makoni South because he is a Ndau. What is the story?
GN: Stories of tribal hostilities between me and Honourable Muchauraya started circulating when someone distributed flyers demanding that he should go back to his own area of origin, Chipinge. The MP jumped to the conclusion that I was responsible.
OG: What are your prospects of winning primaries and then general elections?
GN: I believe winning the primary election against the sitting MDC-T candidate will be more challenging than winning the parliamentary election against whoever is finally chosen as the Zanu PF candidate.
Generally speaking, I am very confident of victory but there is a lot of hard work to be done.
OG: Do you have a thick skin to withstand the pressures and rigours of politics?
GN: A journalist would need to be gifted with a particularly thick skin to be able to survive for three years as editor-in-chief of the original Daily News. Being arrested on a total of six occasions, to be threatened with death and to actually escape an assassination attempt, while seeing your printing press completely destroyed in a bomb explosion and your office targeted for a grenade attack, as all happened in my case, is certainly not stuff for the weak-kneed.
OG: Who do you think will win the presidential poll and also the general elections, and why?
GN: The presidential election will be a tough race. President Robert Mugabe will have the advantage of incumbency and populist political strategies such as the agrarian revolution, whatever its initial shortcomings and, more recently, Zanu PF’s indigenous empowerment campaign. Advanced age is the president’s veritable Achilles’ heel; that and the widespread perception that his party is steeped in corruption of epidemic proportions.
However, his chances have recently been buoyed by opinion polls by traditionally pro-MDC-T pollsters.Mugabe’s main rival, MDC-T president and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has over the years emerged as a very serious contender for the presidency.
He is a very popular politician among voters disillusioned by years of rampant corruption and economic decline because of mismanagement on the part of Zanu PF.
Tsvangirai has scored own goals of late, however, through widely reported tales of unsavoury sexual behaviour and utterances on critical issues that have been made without adequate consideration of the implications.
Overall though, Tsvangirai appears headed for victory although it will not be a stroll in the park. Prospects of victory in the parliamentary elections appear to be also tipped in favour of MDC-T candidates in an electorate which is simply tired of 33 years of debilitating Zanu PF rule.
To be continued. Next week Nyarota talks about Willowgate and his failure as Chronicle editor to cover the Gukurahundi massacres.