Inside media’s reportage on succession

As the Zanu PF succession debate gathers momentum ahead of the 2018 elections, there has been mixed feelings on how the local media has captured its dynamics.

By Maxwell Sibanda

The Daily News caught up with analysts and media practitioners to find out how they rate the media’s performance when it came to reporting on the issue as it relates to how it has helped shape the Zanu PF succession debate.

Misa-Zimbabwe national director, Nhlanhla Ngwenya, alleged that the media has been captured by factionalists, claiming its reportage is steeped through the lens of their preferred factional handlers; and this cuts across the media divide.

“You don’t need rocket science to determine, which faction the media and their journalists are bidding for,” said Ngwenya.

“In all this, Zimbabweans remain the poorer with regards information on issues that affect their daily life struggles.

Ngwenya said it was time the media retrace its roots to basics to rebuild the public trust in news outlets as credible sources of information that are independent from political interests in the ruling party.

Social commentator, Rashweat Mukundu, said the media in Zimbabwe has been captured by the political elite in its reporting on the succession issue.

Mukundu said the succession agenda has been more of an elite political struggle focused on who gets power not what the citizens expect from those with or aspiring to assume power.

“I have not read a single story that talks of the vision of those contending for power, even indirectly, should they be afraid of being labelled ambitious. The media is, therefore, the voice of those with power whose sources are the political elites, hence the media is being controlled by that group and that is both the State-owned and private media,” said Mukundu.

“While it is an exciting story, succession must be on accountable and transparent, people-centred leadership and people’s interest not those already privileged,” added Mukundu.

Human rights researcher, Dewa Mavhinga, reasons that the media had every right to open up to the public and scrutinise the Zanu PF succession issue as it did.

He said the only challenge could have been that in some cases sections of the media tended to take factional positions around succession without offering a broad and balanced overview.

“Another shortcoming was when the media tended to exaggerate the importance of various factions and personalities, while overlooking the centrality of Mugabe in the entire succession issue and in playing factions against each other,” said Mavhinga.

Veteran journalist, Nevanji Madanhire, said no one truly understands the dynamics playing out in Zanu PF.

“Perhaps the only thing known for sure is that Mugabe is running his last lap and therefore jostling to succeed him cannot be denied entirely. Based firstly only on mere speculation, the media somehow identified two supposed rivals and labelled them: one as Generation 40 (G40), the other as Lacoste,” said Madanhire.

“The media went on to promote this matrix and concretise into some reality, which isn’t based on any research. There are definitely other forces in Zanu PF outside these two alleged factions. Members of the so-called G40 group can be counted on the fingers of one hand meaning they can’t, strictly speaking, be defined as a faction.

“Lacoste — allegedly made up of the military and the war vets — is itself also much of a fiction. There are millions of people outside the war veterans and the military who don’t give a damn about G40 or Lacoste; media have not attempted, or have failed, to identify what these millions of people think.

“Mugabe says his successor will be identified at congress according to the party constitution; this is very likely the way the succession issue will be resolved. But if he expires before congress the scenario will change dramatically with the military perhaps having the final say either openly or behind the scenes. Media have failed pathetically,” said Madanhire.

Political analyst, Vivid Gwede, believes the media started reporting about the succession issue in the early 1990s, but decades later there has been a lot of heat and no light.

“The media cannot be blamed for anything, except that the rich speculation probably lulled people into missing the unfolding life presidency project. Year-in-year-out, people have expected a change of guard, which never took place. It worked to (President Robert) Mugabe’s favour,” said Gwede.

“If we believed he was grooming any successor, we were all fooled. The media neither shaped nor spoiled implementation of succession; it was part of the watchers of the spectacle of the divide and rule that has occurred in Zanu PF over the years,” said Gwede.

Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono said: “I think the media has been used to inflame the already volatile succession race. The Mnangagwa camp captured the State media and has ruthlessly used it to propagate their claim to the presidential throne but what we miss is nuanced analysis.

“It’s all reportage without proper analysis of who is doing what and why and the implications of their success or failure to succeed.

“The private media has also ridden on the sound bites from people like Jonathan Moyo and George Charamba without breaking down the complex scenarios.”

Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said: “The media can play positive roles in conflict and national issues such as succession. It can do this by being a facilitator that helps bring all parties to the conflict or issues together and help them understand each other’s differences and find common ground and develop mutually beneficial collaborative solutions.

“To this end the private media by and large helped Zimbabweans understand the complexity of the succession issue, different players involved including the military, different interests and positions.

“It also kept the issue on limelight making the citizens to focus on it and opposition parties making the issue a campaign statement. To this end the media played a positive role as a facilitator.”

However, Saungweme added that State media played a role as a spoiler and confused the debate. “It endeavoured to cloud issues by projecting factionalism at the expense of facilitating people to focus on the real of issue of succession. It scattered attention on the issue. So to answer your question the media helped shape and scatter the succession issue at the same time.”

Media practitioner Nigel Nyamutumbu said the media; particularly the State-controlled press has clearly been caught up in the Zanu PF factional battles to the extent of being patently aligned.

“Journalists have in some cases been cited as conduits of one particular faction over the other and this has resulted in the media framing the succession debate along narrow partisan lines.

“This bluntly unethical journalism has crippled the real succession debate, which should be premised on ideology and policy.

“The media has failed to interrogate what the warring factions have to offer the people of Zimbabwe outside petty personality battles that are unhelpful to anyone,” said Nyamutumbu.

Political activist Tabani Moyo said: “That the President does not in any way intent to relinquish power to anyone is no longer speculative but a reality. In any organisation, every person who joins it wishes to scale up the leadership ladder.

“With an aging and defiant leader at the top, chances are high that the intensity of jockeying will be high. This is a reality with or without the media. At one stage of the other, this boiling point was going to be reached. The interest in this succession battle than in any other organisation is that it is the ruling party!

“When you get to a point that the generals publicly pronounce their positions, then we have a challenge of the constitutional order being strained. The whole circus around succession possesses a real danger of Zimbabwe disintegrating. It should be treated with seriousness.” – Daily News