LAST week Zimbabwe was rocked by the scandalous details of an alleged affair between First Lady Grace Mugabe and the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono.
While the details of the sensational Sunday Times story reverberated on the Internet around the world, none of the Zimbabwean newspapers touched it.
The Sunday Times recently launched a special Zimbabwean edition of the newspaper. While the details of the Gono/Mugabe affair would make more relevant reading in Harare than in Johannesburg and London, the majority of the population of Zimbabwe, those without access to the Internet, remained largely ignorant of the alleged scandal.
That was until copies of the article were printed on office computers and circulated in Harare.
Reporter Jon Swain’s scandalous scoop has raised many an eyebrow, particularly within the Zimbabwe media many asking, “Is the story true?”
I will attempt to provide a logical response to that question.
I seek to address fundamental issues of professional and ethical journalism in the context of the strategies employed in the construction of Swain’s article.
A source close to both Gono and Grace told an online publication the story was “littered with falsehoods”.
“The story claims Cain Chademana was a senior police officer and a decorated veteran of Zimbabwe’s independence struggle,” she said. “That’s a decorated lie because Chademana died aged 36, and (was) therefore too young to have fought in any war. Again, he was never a police officer.”
The source said around the time Sabina Mugabe is supposed to have spoken to President Mugabe about his wife’s alleged infidelity, she was in a coma and was, therefore, unable to speak.
Both Sabina Mugabe and Chademana, the only two witnesses who could testify in court to the veracity of the alleged facts, are dead and, therefore, not available to help their defence. The Sunday Times was cognisant of this.
Another give-away indication that there might be more to Swain’s story than meets the eye is the manner in which he handles his sources.
On one occasion, Swain apparently conducted a group interview with several (CIO) officials.
Not only did Swain accomplish the rare feat of persuading CIO officials to be interviewed as a group, which is very unlikely; he also got them to articulate whole sentences, while speaking in unison, which, of course is impossible.
A Zimbabwean journalist who also cannot be named, said he had known Chademana personally from 1997 when he was security aide to the late Edison Zvobgo.
“Chademana was probably 36-38 years at the time of his death,” he said. “He was almost my age, and would never have gone to war. In fact, he went to school with my journalist colleagues, and finished his A-Levels here in 1992.”
The journalist said Chademana had been unwell for a long time.
Suspect investigative journalism
Many journalists in Harare have openly marvelled at Swain’s apparent long-distance penchant for cultivating hordes of sources, even in the most unlikely places. Apparently, he remarkably has several sources within the ranks of Zimbabwe’s much feared Central Intelligence Organisation and also within the fortress that is the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and at Mugabe’s Gushungo Dairy Farm.
Normally, only a journalist with suicidal tendencies would pester “the boys in dark glasses” with pointed questions about the alleged secret love life of the First Lady of Zimbabwe, before proceeding to her farm to do the same among the farm workers.
The security arrangements around the farm would be above average. It is unlikely a white journalist straight off a flight from London would be pampered with details of which bedroom the lady of the house uses when allegedly visiting with the governor of the Reserve Bank.
The late Sabina Mugabe, the President’s sister, who allegedly warned him of the existence of an illicit affair between his wife and his trusted banker, died on July 29, 2010. Swain reports that she had spoken to her brother three days earlier on July 26.
Mugabe was photographed in Kampala, Uganda on July 24. He attended the opening ceremony of the African Union summit on July 25 and the closing function on July 27. He, therefore, could not have been in Harare on July 26.
Swain’s article claims that the conversation between the President and his sister was witnessed by his bodyguard Cain Chademana who died on Thursday August 26, exactly one month after the alleged hospital bedside revelation by the late Sabina.
The Sunday Times story said Chademana “mysteriously died … a matter of days later”, that is after listening to the conversation between the Mugabes. Citing intelligence sources, the Sunday Times stated categorically that Chademana had been “poisoned under Mugabe’s instructions by Mugabe’s intelligence men, allegedly employing an undetectable poison.”
Swain quotes state security officials as telling him that when Mugabe summoned Chademana in August the bodyguard had admitted that he knew something was going on, which he had not mentioned before.
“It was a fatal admission,” Swain concludes. “A few days later, at the end of August, Chademana mysteriously died.”
To suggest that Chademana died mysteriously is a major contradiction in terms, given that Swain has already built a case of murder by administering “an undetectable poison”.
The last word went to Leo Mugabe, the first-born son of the late Sabina Mugabe.
“For the last three years of her life my mother suffered from memory loss caused by the last stroke that she had in 2006,” he said on Saturday. “If anyone claims that he engaged in any conversation with her during that time, it would be a lie.”
Unfortunately, should it turn out that Swain’s sensational article is nothing more than mere pub talk elevated by him to the status of a major international scoop, the most dire consequences would probably be felt far away from London; back here in Harare.
Geoffrey Nyarota is a veteran Zimbabwean journalist and author. This article was ioriginally published in The Standard newspaper