Zimbabwe's opposition National Constitutional Assembly party led by Professor Lovemore Madhuku has taken a swipe at the national broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) for allegedly giving the “divisive” First Lady Grace Mugabe unfettered access to the media while denying the opposition the same coverage.
Mrs. Mugabe considered a rising star in the ruling Zanu-PF party is also the powerful Women’s League boss. She is said to be harboring presidential ambitions, a claim she repeatedly denies.
The first lady has been addressing party supporters in all the country’s 10 provinces in campaign stops she has dubbed “Meet the People Tours”.
The rallies are broadcast live by the cash-strapped public broadcaster, much to the chagrin of the opposition.
In a letter to the ZBC, the NCA said: “We write to you to register our unreserved concern over your continued effort in investing towards biased broadcasting. As NCA party, we have observed for some time your unprofessional coverage and abuse of the national broadcaster ZTV (Zimbabwe Television) to further the interests of Zanu-PF.
“We are most concerned about the uncensored coverage of the first lady Grace Mugabe’s rallies. Despite that these rallies are dominated by hate speech, we continuously wonder the relevance of ZBC coverage of such insignificant and devise political gatherings.”
The NCA is also demanding “in the public interest” for the national broadcaster to disclose the cost incurred by the ZBC when covering Zanu-PF gatherings. The party accused ZBC of short changing the taxpayers by subjecting them to only the ruling party’s political views.
The NCA also vowed to embark on a massive national campaign to denounce ZBC and to “urge citizens to stop paying ZBC licenses.”
But a senior ZBC official speaking on condition of anonymity told Voice of America that as the first lady of the country, Mrs. Mugabe is entitled to the coverage she is getting.
He also added that the first lady is also on national duty distributing government tractors at her rallies.
Speaking on a VOA LiveTalk program, Zanu-PF legislator Kindness Paradza said the first lady is a newsmaker and she drives ratings and sales.
ABUSE OF GOVERNMENT FACILITIES
But opposition parties have threatened to go to court accusing her and other senior party officials of allegedly abusing for political gain a publicly underwritten US$98 million agricultural equipment loan facility, extended to Harare by Brasilia under the Zimbabwe-Brazil More Food for Africa Programme, by making partisan donations at Zanu-PF rallies organized using state resources.
Brazil supplied Zimbabwe with 320 tractors, 450 disc harrows, 310 planters, 100 fertilizer spreaders and 6,650 knapsack sprayers valued at US$38,6 million under the first phase of the US$98 million facility commissioned by President Robert Mugabe in May.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa admitted in the National Assembly last month that the agriculture equipment which First Lady Grace Mugabe has been donating on her countrywide tour is part of the Brazil-Zimbabwe deal.
Cornered by lawmakers in parliament as to why Mrs. Mugabe was getting involved in government business, Mnangagwa failed to explain this but could only say the first lady is just distributing the equipment after her rallies together with the minister of agriculture.
“The first lady has not donated anything but she is just handing over equipment as identified by the Ministry of Agriculture. Government has identified a minimum of eight irrigation schemes in each province and equipment from the first phase of the Brazil project from which we are receiving equipment has been duly allocated,” Mnangagwa said.
‘NOTHING WRONG WITH VOTE BUYING’
But opposition MPs led by Kuwadzana East Member of Parliament Nelson Chamisa shot down the explanation and demanded more answers.
“I would like to know when she (Grace Mugabe) is going to give the equipment to MDC supporters,” asked Chamisa.
A visibly miffed Mnangagwa retorted: “The equipment will work whether it has been handed over by you or anyone. The first lady will do her political work and then help the minister (Joseph Made) to hand over the equipment,” he said.
Addressing people in Rushinga, Mrs. Mugabe, however, said there was nothing wrong with her approach even if it was vote-buying, an illegal practice.
“They said I am giving people the goods as a way of buying votes,” she said.
“Hazvina basa kana ndikakutenga ukandivhotera (It does not matter if I pay you to vote for me), it’s okay. It’s better to vote for someone who gives you something than someone who does not.”
The first lady is also donating tonnes of maize which officials say belong to the state, foodstuffs and clothes seized from vendors who have also threatened to sue her.
The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) and opposition political parties have described programming by the ZBC as “propagandist and against the Southern African Development Community (SADC) principles.”
The SADC guidelines on the conduct of free and fair elections demand that all political parties should receive equal coverage in the public media.
President Robert Mugabe at a historic SADC meeting in Mauritius in August 2004, which unveiled the principles, committed himself to these guidelines.