Mugabe hates tough questions

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe does not like tough questions about his three decades-plus disastrous rule. He has an inherent suspicion of reporters and attempts to keep the press at arm’s length. 

The 91-year-old strongman avoids local mainstream reporters, staging events for lick-spittle television, now common presidential practice, which he usually charms with relative ease given their fawning questions.

Mugabe’s administration thrives on obstruction of inquisitive journalists, and also prevents staff from talking with probing journalists.

The former school teacher’s spin-doctors have repeated many of his arguments — protecting national security and executive privilege — to keep information about his administration secret.
Following the fracas at President  Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration where Mugabe was accosted by Sahara TV journalists and came under a barrage of questions, the perpetually insecure Mugabe is sure reporters were out to get him.

His press secretary, George Charamba, last week accused the independent media of practicing a certain type of journalism he termed ‘ill-will journalism’, “which is really animated with unmitigated malice.”

“We have been observing a trend in the private media where there is a malicious targeting of the First Family,” Charamba told a pack of handpicked State media journalists travelling with the president during a two-day consultative visit to Malabo, Equatorial Guin ea. “It is not erratic, it is actually systemic and sustained.”

Charamba has argued that the private media were an unrepresentative, irresponsible interest group that patriotic Zimbabweans needed to defend themselves against.
“I think there is a key difference between holding politicians to account and holding them up for ridicule,” Charamba said.
“There is a vast difference...

“Holding politicians up for account is a key component of democracy and is permissible in a democracy, but simply attacking the politicians gratuitously to satisfy your hatred of a person cannot have any dignity, let alone protection in the law of the land.

“If anything, it invites a very strong response and there is no way we can ever imagine in the media that a strong press is founded on ill will, it can’t.”

Mugabe uses a deadly mix, he uses strong-arm tactics and legislation and also lures pliant reporters through soft power. Infact, media manipulation is a central focus of his administration.
His spin-doctor Charamba is a British-trained Chevening scholar, who has shaped  the president’s public image and runs the Munhumutapa Building communications office. It has made sure Mugabe avoided spontaneous encounters with reporters when he might look or sound awkward.

Instead, his media staff have arranged carefully-orchestrated appearances in front of friendly crowds. At such forums, Mugabe regularly chats with pliant reporters.

His communications team is especially adept at creating TV scenes of the president addressing crowds while shielding him from reporters’ questions.

But social media has used new media to take image control to new levels, given the events in Nigeria last week. The public has now access  to a stream of tweets, Facebook posts, and YouTube videos about Mugabe.

Several of Mugabe’s fierce run-ins with reporters, have been released through videos and photos of these events using social media.

For those who missed events in Nigeria last week, Mugabe was put in a corner by New York-based Naija  journalists who asked him when he would step down.

The persistence from the journalists from Sahara TV resulted in the president’s security being confused to the point of addressing the foreign journalists in Shona. Mugabe refused to answer the questions, which included some unguided polemics.

An apparently peeved Mugabe tries to respond, but his aides tell him to get into the car and the reporters continue grilling Mugabe. He had an almost similar confrontation in Zambia at the inauguration of Edgar Lungu.

In an earlier incident in 2008 in Egypt, Mugabe clashed with Julian Manyon, a British reporter, after he had asked by what basis Mugabe regarded himself as a president, after the widely condemned 2008 one-man run-off election boycotted by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe replied: “On the same basis Mr Brown (former British Prime Minister) regards himself as Prime Minister.”
“You don’t want your security to beat me up here in-front of you,” Manyon said to Mugabe

“Yeah, but don’t ask stupid questions,” a charged up Mugabe said. “We are not a British colony, you should know that. Who are you, you bloody idiots,” fumed an advancing Mugabe, who was being blocked by security from attacking the journalist.
Mugabe’s wife Grace also attacked Richard Jones, a British photographer.

The photographer claimed he had been punched repeatedly by Grace as he was trying to take pictures of her in Hong Kong.
The Zanu PF women’s league boss apparently flew into a rage when she saw the reporter waiting outside as she left the five-star Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel with a female friend and a bodyguard in the southern Chinese city.

According to Jones, “she was completely deranged, absolutely raging with anger.” Jones reported that he had sustained cuts and bruises from the First Lady’s diamond rings.

Grace also stopped photographers from taking pictures of her husband as they arrived at the Glen Eagles Hospital in Singapore last year.

“Why are you taking photo?” The first lady asked. “You can’t take photo. No, no, no you shouldn’t take photo.  Please don’t take photo, ah nhai imi,” Grace protested at the camera person, while confronting him. Then another female voice is heard shouting in Shona, “Aiwa, aiwaka. (no, no).”

The journalist retorts: “It’s a public place.” While Grace was engaged in the confrontation with the journalists, a bewildered Mugabe, with his hands behind his back, remained stone quiet.
He was also seen in the video appearing to take a few steps backwards while Grace was busy chasing away the journalists
Earlier this year, the South African media reported that Mugabe refused to take questions in Soweto because there was a white journalist among the press corp. Leaving the Hector Peterson memorial in Soweto, Mugabe spotted a white face amongst the journalists who had gathered to ask him questions and quipped: “I don’t want to see a white face”. — Bridget Mananavire

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