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05/02/2014 00:00:00
by Mathew Nyaungwa
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A FRENCH anthropologist, Levi Strauss, who lived in the early 1900's believed that the way we understand certain words depends not so much on any meaning they themselves directly contain but much more by our understanding of the difference between the word and its opposite or “binary opposites”, as he called it.

Within the media field, many movies have binary oppositions in their plots, for example good and evil, sane and insane, and rational and irrational. The recent and indeed ongoing media coverage of what some are now calling the “salarygate” scandal has provided us with interesting binaries. This, to some extent, puts paid to criticism of the official media’s extensive coverage of the “salarygate” as nothing but an artifice.

If it was a way of diverting attention from the economic ills we are going through then the binaries that are emerging from this discourse of greed should surely convince those in our midst who do not see anything good coming from the State-media and those in authority, Zanu PF to be precise. I am not a Zanu PF apologist; however, I refuse to let bias cloud my judgment of the coverage of the salary saga and other corrupt activities by public officials.

Looking at the way that two government ministers handled officials (under their purview) accused of enjoying obscene salaries much to the chagrin of the employees, shows that this is not a choreographed move meant to hoodwink Zimbabweans. The characters are Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Jonathan Moyo and Local Government, Public Works and National Housing minister Ignatius Chombo. When it emerged that the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation chief executive Happison Muchechetere was taking home about $40,000 per month in salary and allowances, while employees went for months without pay, Moyo, who returned to government last September, did not hesitate to suspend him. He also dissolved the entire ZBC board led by the beleaguered Cuthbert Dube.

The firing of the board came after they had failed to submit a turnaround strategy document within the 14 days it (not the minister) had requested. Moyo said at the time that ZBC had, for some time, been facing critical leadership and managerial challenges that had not only compromised its capacity to effectively and meaningfully discharge its mandate. “Against this background the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services has over the last few weeks been engaging the ZBC board and management to find an urgent and lasting solution to the very public challenges facing the national broadcaster,” he said in a statement. “…in the circumstances and upon appropriate consultation, the ZBC board is hereby dissolved with immediate effect. In the same vein, and with immediate effect, the ZBC chief executive officer, Cde Happison Muchechetere, is hereby sent on leave with full pay until further notice.”


Moyo and his team at the information ministry also managed to fulfill their promise to pay ZBC employees their salaries. They received their backdated salaries last month, although they will now have to revert back to a salary structure approved in 2010. Moyo also heaped praise on the media, both state-owned and privately-owned for their extensive coverage of the abuse of public funds at Premier Service Medical Aid Society, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, Air Zimbabwe and Harare City Council.

“So far, the media has done justice to its expected national role as the public’s eye,” he was quoted as saying by The Herald. “It is indeed refreshing that the media is speaking with one voice in both the public and national interest against the scourge of corruption highlighted by some obscenely corrupt salaries paid by some parastatals and local authorities.”

Here is a minister, who is aware of the public anger towards the satanic abuse of public funds by shameless officials whose consciences, I am tempted to say, were long traded to Lucifer himself. These activities had been going on at the expense of development as officials blame ‘sanctions’ for our woes.

Enter our dear Cde Chombo. When Harare mayor Mahachi Bernard Manyenyeni suspended town clerk Tendai Mahachi for three months for failure to implement a council resolution to avail a salary schedule of managers at town house, Chombo decided to reverse the decision to suspend Mahachi.

“Mayor varikuda kushinga nekudzinga but tati mozomudzinga next time iyezvino imbomupai maconditions ekuti ita ichi kana wazochitadza mozodzinga and the Mayor has accepted the apology given to him by the Town Clerk,” Chombo was quoted as saying by New Zimbabwe.com. "I expect they will work together for the good of the city."  

The minister also said Mahachi would now get a gross salary of $14,874 and a housing allowance of $2500. Unlike, Moyo, the local government minister, in his wisdom (or lack of it) saw it fit to reinstate someone who allegedly grossed $37,000, which is $3000 short of what Muchechetere was getting at the ruined ZBC. The Herald, not the privately-owned media was not pleased at all by this move, as it published an article that gave Chombo a shellacking.

The state-owned newspaper quoted Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba lashing at Chombo for seeking to interfere with ongoing investigations. “Minister Chombo must not play spoiler by interfering with lawful investigations being carried out by Harare residents through their elected representatives,” he said.  “HRT strongly suspects the minister has a lot to hide by trying to stop the residents from getting a full account of how their money is being spent.”

Shumba was given more and more space to chastise the minister and at the end he gave a threat. “The minister should be held accountable when the residents riot against the Harare City Council by resolving to stop or boycott payment of bills,” he said.

Dear reader, I am sure from the above narratives, you have seen the avowed binary. A “good” minister willing to bring sanity at an institution he oversees and one, a bad one for that matter, who is protecting an official that had been milking the capital city, which he is failing to improve. If this is a ruse, surely, we were not supposed to see these visible binaries coming into play. Yes, some people will be happy if stern measures are taken against the greedy officials but let’s give due credit to the media, especially the State-owned for turning over a new leaf, hopefully a long lasting one.

They are slowly moving away from being the lapdog media - now that the opposition has been weakened - to a watchdog media, which keep tabs on those in power. The media (both private and state-owned) are doing their part and it is up to the police to investigate issues they are covering to see if there are crimes committed.

I sincerely hope that they will continue with their exposé, and ignore criticism that what they are doing is just a ruse, for the same people will be quick to accuse them of ignoring corruption and greediness, if they stop doing so.

Mathew Nyaungwa is an M.A Journalism and Media studies student at Rhodes University, in South Africa. He can be contacted at mathew@rough-polished.com

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