By Takura Zhangazha*
The deputy Minister of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services, Mr. Mandiwanzira was recently on the world famous BBC Hardtalk programme. Most politicians would balk at even the idea of being on such, as its name suggests, a hard-talking interview programme. And for agreeing to be on it, the deputy minister must be applauded. Until one watches the actual interview.
It is a general given that the Ministry of Information (whatever other phrases are added to its title) has been viewed as the official publicity arm of government/cabinet business. As such, the ministry, or at least what it says publicly tends to reflect the general character of government. And I am sure that is why the BBC was probably keen on hearing out the deputy minister.
However, watching and listening to Mr. Mandiwanzira’s interview, one can be forgiven for thinking that our government is impatient, too defensive (as opposed to explanatory), evasive and a tad dishonest. Or even that, contrary to its deliberate actions of seeking broad re-engagement with the international community, the government appears not to have shifted from its old combative international style. This regardless of the fact that there are many better ways for it to make its global case other than being vituperative in order to get partisan pats on the back for having put the BBC in ‘it’s place’.
But the most unfortunate aspect of the interview is that the deputy minister decides, in answering or evading questions, to delve into personal and not issue based responses. And in some instances with downright dishonesty too by dismissing opinions of organizations such as Crisis Coalition, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network solely because he says they are funded by ‘regime change’ agents. (He also makes brief mention of the media in the same vein.)
He also, with some emotion, responded to reference to an opinion I had written on the issue of land redistribution increasingly appearing to an elite transaction, by wrongly accusing me of being a member of a political party. And dismissing my opinion on the grounds that I therefore had a ‘vested interest’. The truth of the matter, every Zimbabwean has a vested interest in land.
From those that are given land today and evicted from the same tomorrow without either compensation or democratic relocation. All in an age where we are supposed to be in the final stages of what government has called the ‘3rd Chimurenga. Or where urban land is allocated to the urban homeless under the aegis of the ruling party prior to an election, only to have their houses demolished the morning after a two thirds majority electoral victory by the same party. All of which are being done without adequately addressing issues of land usage within the context of the redistribution programme.
He however chose to conveniently evade the actual issue he was being questioned on and ironically had to be reminded that even if he referred to my person, I was also a Zimbabwean with an opinion. As well as to not shoot the messenger!
Obviously Mr. Mandiwanzira as a seasoned journalist and former chief executive of a new private radio station, knows how to play to specific media audience galleries. Even on the BBC. Or at national events where he has now become a regular master of ceremonies. No one should begrudge him that.
But as a senior government official there are probably a number of things that he needs either to be reminded of. Or at least told, if he does not know.
At a time when the collective effort of the Zimbabwean government appears to be that of courting international support for Zimasset, it would be prudent to be less evasive, personal or abrasive on international television. While BBC Hardtalk suggests and is known for its combative style of questioning, the interviewee is normally the better for it if they are calm, professional and precise in their responses. Even if to questions they may deem to be uninformed because the BBC is ‘not on the ground’.
Furthermore, while a combative attitude to the global media may have helped in the past, it does not help Zimbabwe’s cause now. Given the fact that he was interviewed from Johannesburg, South Africa, he should have taken a cue from the fact that barely a week after that country’s general election, the ANC political leaders have had a conciliatory tone toward the media. Or if they have grudges, they still manage to focus on their specific issues, despite the arrogance that a resounding victory may permit.
Perhaps Mr. Mandiwanzira wanted to be seen as an able ‘handler’ of the BBC on behalf of his own party. Given the fact that he is a political leader in some sort of ascendancy in Zanu Pf, he would be better advised to ‘take it again from the top- and this time, calmly’.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)