Deported Journalist Accused of Fueling Poll Violence

Zimbabwean reporter expelled from Botswana charged by EU of contributing to election terror campaign.

Deported Journalist Accused of Fueling Poll Violence

Zimbabwean reporter expelled from Botswana charged by EU of contributing to election terror campaign.

Tuesday, 12 August, 2008
The Zimbabwean journalist deported this week from Botswana, only weeks after he arrived to take up a teaching post at a private university, had repeatedly attacked the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, and other pro-democracy activists for daring to challenge President Robert Mugabe in the recent elections.

Caesar Zvayi, former political editor for state-owned newspaper the Herald, publisher Zimbabwe’s flagship national daily, was employed as a print journalism lecturer in Botswana. He and Munyaradzi Huni – who also worked as a journalist with the Herald – joined Mugabe and about 140 of his close associates on a sanctions list drawn by the European Union, which was published in mid-July.

Huni and Zvayi – who are both open supporters of the Mugabe regime – are accused by the EU of whipping up the terror campaign before and during the June 27 presidential run-off.

The MDC said attacks on civilians and opposition supporters by ZANU-PF supporters and so-called war veterans left more than 100 of its supporters dead.

Those on the EU blacklist are effectively barred from travel and transactions in the EU, while any bank accounts they hold in European institutions will be frozen.

During election time, Zvayi attacked the MDC, especially its leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and other pro-democracy activists, for daring to challenge Mugabe in the elections.

He regularly repeated the ZANU-PF line that MDC leaders and supporters were “puppets of the West”.

In one recent article in The Herald, Zvayi wrote, “Tsvangirai’s intimate relationships with his Western overlords explains why he can’t find it in himself to join Africa’s call for the lifting of the sanctions that are wrecking havoc even among MDC supporters.”

In the piece, he accused the opposition leader of having essentially British interests, and said he was a pawn of the West.

“..He cannot find it within himself to urge Britain to honour its obligation to fund land reforms in Zimbabwe. If Tsvangirai had the interests of Zimbabwe at heart, he would have realised that the West is using him,” he wrote.

When MDC officials and supporters were being killed, he wrote, “The allegations that MDC supporters are being brutalised and murdered [by ZANU-PF supporters] are just that – allegations – attempts to justify claims of government repression.”

Zvayi, who was deported on August 8, has also taken potshots at western diplomats accredited to Harare, especially the British and US ambassadors.

Reports suggest that Zvayi’s employment in Botswana was in jeopardy even before his appearance on the sanctions list. Many Zimbabweans have written to Botswana newspapers, asking why the authorities were allowing him to teach journalism. Even his students found his appointment puzzling.

“If Zimbabwe is a land of milk and honey, as [Zvayi] wrote in his shocking articles, why has he sought an economic and political sanctuary in Botswana?” one of his students in Botswana was quoted as having asked.

Both Zvayi and Huni responded defiantly to the EU decision to place them on the sanctions list.

Huni said he was not surprised by the move – which he attributed to “imperialism”.

“The EU is fighting Zimbabweans. I am one of them. If the idea was to instil fear in me, they should know that, instead, I am inspired to defend my country from imperialism through the pen,” he said.

Zvayi told the Botswana Gazette he was unapologetic for supporting the ruling party, and what he termed its “pan-African ideals”.

“I will never support the MDC as currently constituted because to me it is a counter-revolutionary Trojan horse that is working with outsiders to subvert the logical conclusion of the Zimbabwe revolution,” he said.

The chairman of the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum, ZINEF, Iden Wetherell, was against the sanctions imposed on the journalists.

He pointed out that reporters in Zimbabwe are under state pressure, and the government uses the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act, AIPPA, to control the media.

Since the AIPPA was introduced in 2001, to oversee the production of print and electronic media in Zimbabwe, foreign news organisations have been banned from reporting in the country and some newspapers have been closed down.

“Blacklisting of any sort is regrettable – and let’s not forget the journalists and newspapers blacklisted under the AIPPA,” said Wetherell.

However, he said he thought journalists should strive to report independently.

“Generally, journalists should demonstrate their independence of mind and avoid being beholden to political masters.”

Matthew Takaona, president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, ZUJ, said it was an “unfortunate precedent” for sanctions to be imposed on journalists. However, as the two men are not members of the union, he could not comment further on the issue.

But other journalists in the country believe the sanctions are justified.

A desk editor with a privately owned weekly said under conditions of anonymity that the two men deserved the sanctions because of their biased reporting.

“They were celebrating the killing of opposition supporters by state security agents and the militia,” he said.

Jabu Shoko is the pseudonym of a journalist in Zimbabwe.

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