ZIMBABWE – Harare – Tempted to refer to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace as “controversial”? You could lose your press card.
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba has accused journalists from the independent press of using “hate speech” when they write about the first lady, the official Herald newspaper reported on Friday.
The 50-year-old head of the ruling Zanu-PF women’s league has taken a front-stage role in politics this month, holding rallies where she distributed farming equipment, clothes and food.
The opposition has criticised her, not least because the tractors she is handing over were sourced through a government loan from Brazil.
Charamba, who earlier this month threatened that the “hammer” would fall on reporters writing on factions within Zanu-PF, reportedly told editors: “You have no reason to show emotions in respect of any party.”
According to the Herald, Charamba said that journalists from the private press were systematically prefixing Grace Mugabe’s name with words like controversial. He said such descriptions were “designed to build attitude against Amai [Mother/Mrs] Mugabe”.
“If you are in that zone I will deny you your status as a journalist because essentially you have joined the political game,” Charamba was quoted as saying.
Press cards are issued yearly by the Zimbabwe Media Commission under the tough Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
Zimbabwe’s press is sharply divided between the pro-Zanu-PF state media and the private press, which is more critical of the ruling party and often of the opposition.
Where the official press does criticise or reveal possible wrongdoing by a Zanu-PF official – as happened on Thursday with a Herald article on Health Minister David Parirenyatwa – it is generally believed that this is because the official has fallen out of favour with those currently closest to the 91-year-old president.
Also criticising coverage of Grace in the private press, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Chris Mushohwe suggested reporters should be looking at other issues such as climate change, power shortages and “several delegations coming [to Zimbabwe] to seek investment”, the Herald reported.