CDE Reuuben Barwe was on ZTV news the other day accusing this writer and a few other non-resident journalists of peddling what he described – without explaining – as “anti-Zimbabwe” propaganda.
For those not quite in the know, Cde Barwe’s singular claim to fame largely relates to the bland chronicling of President Robert Mugabe’s countless foreign trips.
Others may, however, recall his theatrics during that infamous Cain Nkala murder case.
Still, I am advised the fellow told his ever-declining number of viewers that journalists who sought asylum in the UK by alleging political persecution back home were now repaying their British hosts by spreading “anti-Zimbabwe” propaganda on the internet.
Now, and even by Barwe’s rather modest standards, that was a new low.
Quite why a fellow who was a senior colleague at the ZBC between 2002 and September 2006, when I resigned and relocated to the UK, finds it necessary to make such ridiculous claims is befuddling.
Indeed, one would have to be an inveterate moron to see a strand of logic in the idea that British authorities would grant political asylum to an individual who supposedly spent much of their professional life “defending the (Zanu PF) system”.
Ordinarily, however, Barwe is a harmless buffoon whose use to journalism in Zimbabwe is to serve as a lecture-theatre example of how not to do the job.
But he can also be a mindless sycophant and a dangerous fool — dangerous to both the party he thinks he is serving, and to the country as a whole.
Barwe must realise that when he accuses people of engaging in ‘anti-Zimbabwe’ activities, he is effectively alleging treason – a crime that, in general terms, covers acts of betrayal against one’s nation.
But of course the gentleman does not quite mean that. By ‘anti-Zimbabwe’ the ZTV news chief correspondent actually means ‘anti-Zanu PF’ but is just too stupid to realise that there is a world of difference between the two.
People like Barwe want to assume (and impose on us all) a political homogeneity that is actually anathema to our very essence as a nation.
The fact that the ideas of liberation and empowerment are shared values does not detract from our cultural and political diversity which explains the failure – in the mid to late 1980s — of the one party state project.
More importantly, however, this deliberate conflation of party and country or, more precisely, the subordination of country to party, is a cancerous bug we have sadly failed to scythe out of our system with disastrous consequences.
It is the reason institutions that are supposed to be ‘public’ such as the ZBC have been forcibly assimilated into party activists’ caucuses and are now run as the broadcast version of The Voice.
Consequently, people like Barwe no longer believe – as most of us do — that one of the key roles of the media in a democratic society is to act as a watchdog on those vested with public responsibilities and the authority to discharge of the same.
The reason such independent scrutiny is necessary is because authority and the immense power which attends it is inertly vulnerable to often catastrophic abuse.
Barwe and his like, however, take the view that the party is the country and therefore the media’s role is necessarily that of a gratuitous lap-dog to power.
Government ministers and officials have only to shout ‘catch’ and media practitioners will scoot or — as in the case of our ebullient Barwe – shamble in the direction indicated.
The President and the party will be loudly lauded when they do right but the media must feign ignorance, blindness and or plead muteness when they do wrong.
To criticise such wrongs and to highlight any mistakes by our leaders would be a treasonable offence because the party is the country. It does not matter that such criticism may, in fact, subsist on a desire to encourage the party and its leaders to do a better job of governing us.
Indeed it is precisely because we have a fawning media that President Mugabe can claim that he will not leave office because his departure would presage the collapse of the party.
He can say that because he knows that his servile media interlocutors will not ask the obvious question – ‘but, and with respect sir, you will die as all of us must at some point. What will happen to the party then, or do you not care?’
Again you have the weird situation whereby central bank governor Gideon Gono calls a press conference to claim that he is a diligent supervisor and regulator of the country’s financial services sector.
The claim is made even as he announces the possible collapse of one bank due to undercapitalisation and poor management. Again, the governor can say that because he knows full well that no-one will dare challenge his evidently ridiculous claim.
Contrast that with a recent interview the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire had with Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke regarding rape. Clarke’s ill-considered remarks in that interview have caused such a hoopla the government has been forced to reconsider his proposals for jail sentence reform.
Closer to home, Professor Jonathan Moyo recently had a spirited exchange with Redi “Direko” Tlhadi of South Africa’s 702 radio station, during which he was forced to concede that the Zanu PF leadership is not comprised of angels.
Moyo will admit, I am sure, that it would be helpful to leaders back home if the local media could challenge them on their programmes and policies as Tlhadi did.
The reason, as Moyo said, is simple: leaders cannot – as the Roman Pope does – claim infallibility. Leaders have and will continue to make mistakes, which is normal and expected of all human beings and it is the role of the media to point these out.
To be fair, however, the large majority of colleagues at the ZBC rightly dismiss as ‘a nonsense’ Barwe’s approach to their duties and responsibilities. Most are well-meaning professionals who only do what is demanded of them because they must; they have families to feed.
Still, there are a couple of zealots and Barwe is one of them. Even so, it is open to question whether Barwe’s zealotry is dogmatic; there have been rich rewards for the silliness he regularly engages in – the farm, for one, and the considerable allowances that come with accompanying the President abroad.
That said, no-one begrudges him the fruits of his journalistic prostitution. What we only ask is that he has the sense to enjoy them quietly.