Zimbabwean journalists say they were shocked by weekend remarks by Acting President Joice Mujuru attacking the media’s role in exposing corrupt activities in parastatals and related state entities.
Suggesting graft allegations unearthed in particular at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and the Premier Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) should be dealt with behind closed doors, Mrs. Mujuru said the exposure could be the work of detractors bent on destroying Zanu PF from within and to stall government programs.
In the story, broken by the state-controlled Herald newspaper, the Acting President, speaking in Shona, said Harare should be careful that whistleblowers rushing to the media with the corruption stories, in what is now known as ‘salary-gate’, wanted to destroy the government from within.
But in the same speech given at the weekend in Chinhoyi, she castigated corruption in the corporate and public sectors saying graft has no place in the country’s economic development trajectory.
“What we read in the newspapers about what is happening at PSMAS and other public enterprises is disturbing and should not be allowed,” she is quoted as having told the Zanu PF Mashonaland West provincial women’s conference.
“ZimAsset is against that. Selfishness should go away.”
Mrs. Mujuru added measures should be put in place to deal with greed in the country, adding this has now developed into a culture.
But media practitioners say her statement targeting those in her party leaking the salary scandals is a threat to the media.
Her speech follows revelations in the state-controlled and private media of senior managers at PSMAS, the ZBC and the Harare City council paying themselves huge salaries at the expense of service delivery and lowly-paid workers.
Zimbabwean scribes took to social networking sites like Facebook to discuss Mrs. Mujuru’s statement. The debates were heated with many agreeing she had misfired while others thought the story by the Herald had hidden agendas as the Zanu PF succession battle between the Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa faction continues.
“Mai Mujuru fails totally to read the national mood on corruption,” wrote scribe Innocent Chofamba Sithole on his Facebook page. “Against the background of a so-called succession race that is long on personalities and short on policy debate, utterances such as these provide telling clues about the suitability of some of these alleged frontrunners in their bid to succeed President Mugabe.”
“As a journalist, I am also deeply troubled by the VP's apparent attack of the media's role as the Fourth Estate. We've been waiting a long time to see a public media with real teeth, and just when they're beginning to do so, we are told the media has no business exposing corruption,” wrote Sithole.
“Such statements are not expected from high ranking government officials such as the deputy president,” said Editor Tawanda Majoni with The Zimbabwean newspaper. Majoni also sits on the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe board.
He was supported by Itai Dzamara, editor of the News Leader newspaper who says journalists should be allowed to do their work without fear.
“The remarks by the Acting President are an attack on press freedom in our country,” he said. “She’s telling us to look the other way when acts of corruption take place. We cannot accept that.”
The MDC formation of former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai added its voice to those piling scorn on Mrs. Mujuru’s statements calling on her to resign for trying to “protect the looters in government”.
In a statement, MDC-T spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora blamed corruption for the problems currently bedeviling the country.
The MDC-T called on the police and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate Mrs. Mujuru over her remarks.
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said he could not comment on Mrs. Mujuru’s statement saying he was yet to receive a briefing on the weekend meeting.