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'Zimbabwe was better under Mugabe,' says Hopewell Chin'ono

12 Jul 2020 at 11:02hrs | Views
PROMINENT journalist Hopewell Chin'ono says Zimbabwe needs political reforms to end the multifaceted crisis facing the country.

Chin'ono (HP), who has become a target of Zanu-PF attacks for exposing corruption allegedly linked to the first family, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN), in the latest episode of In Conversation with Trevor, that nepotism and corruption in top echelons of power was behind the problems bedevilling the country.

He said Zimbabwe was now in a worse off situation than it was under the late Robert Mugabe. Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: You went to the Zimbabwe Institute of Mass Communication (ZIMC) to study journalism.
I see the books behind you, probably a books person. When you look at the years you spent at the ZIMC and what you have gone through now, is this what you imagined you would be?
HC: I didn't think so. I just thought I would go into journalism school and start writing as a newspaperman.

At that point in time, it was 1991, when I went into journalism school, things were normal.

I never assumed that we would end up in a situation where journalists would become targeted like today.

I used to look up to people like yourself when you were the editor of the Financial Gazette and imagine I would want to be like him one day.

TN: You have done a lot in terms of going to school and you won quite a number of awards. What has been the highlight for you up to now as far as your journey is concerned? I know you worked for the BBC. You are a Neiman Fellow. Can you explain those landmarks for Zimbabweans and people in the diaspora. What has been the highlights of that journey?
HC: I think the highlight for my career was winning the CNN African Journalist of the Year award in 2008 in Ghana.

I received the award from the then Ghanaian president, John Kufuor, and I remember the next day, having a discussion about Zimbabwe.

He said to me: "What has gone wrong with your country?

"I used to look up to Zimbabwe; it used to be the second biggest economy in terms of productivity and intellectual capital in Africa after South Africa."

He said to me: "You need to go home and continue doing what you are doing, highlighting those issues."

It was a highlight of my career winning the award, but what was more important was having this discussion with an African leader... that gave me a lot of confidence.

TN: What piece of work actually got you that award?
HC: It was a documentary film called Pain In My Heart looking at HIV/Aids in Zimbabwe.

It was looking at the lives of two people: one who was on medication, on ARVs and a single mother of two, who was not on ARVs.

I filmed the two for four months until the woman died.

Unfortunately this film was made in 2007 and now we are back to the same situation again where people on ARVs can go for months without medication.

TN: Hopewell, let's move now to your assessment of the profession of journalism now, particularly investigative journalism.
HC: I have had so much trouble explaining to our compatriots that journalism does not live in isolation of everything else.

It's difficult for media owners like you to pay big salaries when you are not able to sell the product.

Because of that, journalists end up being susceptible to bribes and a lot of stories are killed by journalists themselves, not publishers.

TN: Tell me, do you think brown envelope journalism is a big thing in Zimbabwe?
HC: It is a big problem. It cuts across the stables. It's not necessarily found in state media, it's also found in the private media.

You would find that the only papers that published the corruption exposure the past four weeks are only your newspapers.

I cannot imagine anything else rather than brown envelope journalism taking place.

TN: Do you think that there might be fear in certain quarters to publish corruption stories rather than brown envelope journalism?
HC: I think the fear is driven in certain instances by the editors and it filters down to journalists.

But the motivating factor for the editor to generate that fear is not necessarily fear itself, but it's some kind of capture that would have taken place between the political elites and the editors.

The journalists can only submit stories to the editors and the editor decides what they want to publish.

TN: In this case, the editors get paid to be captured by the politician or businessman, is that the sense you are getting?
HC: I spoke to one of your editors and he gave me an interesting analogy where they would discuss a story in the newsroom and an hour later he gets a call from the person who is supposed to be investigated, which means it's not just the editors but journalists as well.

It comes down to issues of bribery.

It's very prevalent and unfortunate, but that's what happens when you are working in an economy that's dead.

TN: Lets zero-in now on the political reforms you have been talking about. Can you be specific in terms of which are the reforms that you think will change the nation?
HC: To start with, we were pushed into a land reform, which was not properly thought through.

A lot of people that got land through land reform are leasing it out to white farmers, the same farmers that were pushed out by Robert Mugabe.

If you move away from land and come to parastatals, our parastatals are the worst performing in the region.

The reason is they are controlled on a partisan basis.

You have to be a clansman of the president. If you look at it, all his appointments are based on clansmanship reforms will remove that.

If you look at the central bank, it has been used as a piggybank.

It has people that came to power through the Mnangagwa presidency, and those are the people that get access to foreign currency.

People like Kuda Tagwirei, they get access to foreign currency before everyone else.

Business should compete for foreign currency on the foreign currency market. We need to reform the central bank.

TN: You know my views on the sanctions. I agree with you to a large extent, but don't you concede that the sanctions do contribute to where we are right now?
If sanctions were removed
and we dealt with corruption and so forth, our country would be in a better place, don't you concede that, Hopewell?
HC: Sanctions, as President Mnangagwa said when he became president in 2017, are a creation of bad behaviour. It is up to us to change the behaviour. He said what is being demanded by America is good for us. We don't even need America to have told us this; whatever contribution that sanctions bring to the bigger question of Zimbabwe can be reversed tomorrow by simply behaving well.

TN: What do you think has changed, Hopewell? Has the president changed or there are vested interests that stand in the way of what the president's office wants to do?
HC: I think the president is being who he was always. He said the right things at the right time for him to get where he wanted to go. When he got where he wanted to go, I don't think it's vested interests that tell the president to appoint his clansmen everywhere.

I don't think the president changed, he just sold us a dummy which we believed. I don't regret seeing the back of Robert Mugabe. I don't regret saying give this guy a chance. If the president was sincere, we would be in a different space today.

TN: There has been talk of late, Hopewell, that maybe because of the political bankruptcy in Zanu-PF and the cluelessness in MDC, we need a national transitional authority to run the government for some time and allow a cooling of season. Do you have a view on that?
HC: I have to be realistic. There is no national transitional authority that came by through just saying we want one. It has to be fought for, and they are a culmination of a battle.

If people went to the streets today and did not leave the streets for three months, you would end up with a transitional authority because the powers-that-be would have realised that things have become untenable. But at the moment, going to Mnangagwa to say we want you to relinquish power, both sides would not agree.

The most important thing to do now is to bring people together.

Right now, the person with executive powers is Emmerson Mnangagwa. What stops him from doing what a government of national authority can deliver?

I would rather we have reforms and I would rather these reforms are done by those with executive powers because nothing can stop them.

TN: Do you feel safe? We have had Patrick Chinamasa calling a press conference and saying unkind words about you, we have had Zanu-PF youths doing the same. Do you feel safe?
HC: If someone wants to get to me whether I'm bold or whether I'm scared, they would still get to me. I have decided to say I will still soldier on. Nobody is safe at the moment. If you criticise the government, you will still be attacked. That's not what we thought the November 2017 coup would be about. We thought it was about putting an end to instilling fear in citizens.

Unfortunately, we are back again. Under Robert Mugabe, I never had a press conference against me. I have reported worse things under Robert Mugabe, but it never happened to me in that way, but today we have people being abducted, being beaten up, sexually abused and people being killed. There was a deception at the beginning and they have come out in the open that nothing has changed.

TN: I would have thought, Hopewell, that the way Robert Mugabe left would have made a lot of people reflect and do exactly what you are talking about.
That power you have it today and tomorrow it's gone and you try and do the best you can to be impactful whilst you have that power for the good of everybody, not just yourself and your clansmen.
HC: I totally agree with you, Trevor, that's the premise for common sense. One striking thing was Patrick Chinamasa saying this is a Zanu-PF affair.

That was a huge opportunity to turn the fortunes of this country around, but it was lost because of greediness.

We are where we are today and the country is in a worse situation and worse than what Robert Mugabe left and this didn't have to be this way.

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"In Conversation With Trevor" is a weekly show broadcast on YouTube.com//InConversationWithTrevor. Please get your free YouTube subscription to this channel. The conversations are sponsored by Titan Law.

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