Friday, February 8, 2008

When they stop telling it like it is

N THE past few weeks, we have witnessed the return of Geoff Nyarota's snippets of self-aggrandisement and re-education, in which he has been battling to clear the not-so-obscure links between his editorship of The Chronicle and the Gukurahundi orgy of genocide in Matabeleland.

While Nyarota has every right to defend and even pronounce himself victorious, supposedly journalists and 'tribalists' seeking to soil his most saintly image, I am sure his would be the very first case in which a human rights violations suspect puts himself in the dock by reckless pronouncement, rolls himself into one to perform the duties of prosecutor, judge and witness and then proceed
to exonerate himself.

Convinced that he has put up a strong case, he even goes ahead to declare victory using such strong propaganda terms as "quashing". With all due respect, the only thing Nyarota "effectively quashed" in the rabid article published in the Financial Gazette, in which we hear CIO own a huge stake, was the last lingering doubts in any right-thinking person's mind (to use his term) that he does indeed have a case to answer.

And he seems to know that this case rotates around his alleged encouragement of the redeployment of the murderous 5 Brigade, specifically in the Matabeleland and Midlands regions. Nyarota implies that the dissident collaborators referred to in the excerpts of one of his editorials could not mean civilians, but he later makes the huge mistake of inviting us to try and make (non)sense of the editorial in question in terms of the political climate of the time. He confirms he penned the editorial. The comments in the specific editorial raise more questions than answers, which makes the claimed victory too hollow to be so volubly declared by any right thinking person.

A snippet from the editorial runs: "The only (was it the ONLY?) way we (WHO was WE?) can think (you, THINKING!) of which would effectively check the dissident menace is to deploy the crack (why not just the army? and what had this unit done to be so named by a public medium?) Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland and the Midlands again. This seems to be the only language (was Gukurahundi a language?) the dissidents and their collaborators (who were the collaborators) understand."

Accepting the suspect's invitation to understand his editorial in the context of the political climate of the time, my interpretation is that at the time, government was peddling lies that the dissidents were ZAPU and they were fed, sheltered and informed by ZAPU supporters in community structures. In the spirit of this line of thought, Nyarota would clearly remember that not long before he ran his editorial, President Robert Mugabe, Enos Nkala and Emmerson Mnangagwa among others, had gone around Matabeleland addressing rallies in which they peddled that same propaganda and used it as an excuse for the 5 Brigade's mass murder of innocent civilians.

Assuming he does not have selective memory lapses, Nyarota will also remember that at one time in the same era, The Chronicle carried comments by Mugabe to the effect that the 5 Brigade could not differentiate between the dissidents and civilians. This line was used to ward off allegations of heavy-handedness.

Here was a human rights conscious Nyarota, a self-appointed Godfather of Zimbabwean journalism, publishing comments, which he clearly knew were designed to exonerate killers and justify civilian murders by cheaply pleading that this so-called crack unit could not tell the stark difference between old women who got raped and murdered and the dissidents that used guarded Zimbabwe Omnibus Company (ZOC) to travel between places and never got caught because they were government employees. Gayigusu, who is now a senior ZANU PF security official at Esigodini, used ZOC buses regularly to travel (sometimes through cordons) between Filabusi, Gwanda and Matopo.

It is not a secret that just as Zanu PF has used the same Chronicle to ram the nonsense of land reform down the throats of scared Zimbabweans since 2000, it also used Nyarota's editorship to reinforce the isolation of Matabeleland and peddle lies that inflamed the security situation and were used to justify gross human rights violations. Only perfect strangers to Zimbabwe can argue otherwise.

Geoff is understandably pained that the cocks are swarming home to roost so early because he likes to see the skeletons remain under lock and key.

But they are out for good. His frustration is that he was used (possible unknowingly) in the psychological warfare of the era, in which state-backed militias would burn a ZOC buses so that the papers would publish stories of anarchy, of a young government under siege from a defeated party of war-mongers and its hawkish supporters. The fact that it took a British publication -- The Observer -- to reveal the massacres in Matabeleland shows that The Chronicle has never been there to report anything beyond hyped-up propaganda that has only worked for Zanu PF since 1980.

Despite having such an "intelligent" editor, all The Chronicle journalists of the time remained so blind as not to see the Gukurahundi massacres begin, a disease which worsened in the 1984 to 1987 period. At the same time, the reporters at Nyarota's publication developed a surprisingly sharp nose for dissident actions, so much that even the murder of innocent civilians by hordes of Zanu PF militias that were roaming the region were reported as that of dissidents. It is also interesting to note that the so-called dissidents never numbered over 100 in the Matabeleland, Midlands and Matabeleland South regions. In fact very few dissidents were ever caught, even those that did were said to be decoys.

Those with an interest in the past and present in Matabeleland will testify that the man called Richard Gwesela, supposedly "killed" by the army in the early 1980s, was never caught and he is very much alive in the township of Johannesburg. Many of the fools that got shot and paraded as dissidents to the doubting world were ordinary criminals trying to make capital out of the confusion of the time. The real dissidents, which I am sure were owned by Zanu PF and supported with state supplies, were in 1987 recalled in a costly campaign in which helicopters that had spent seven years strafing villagers in Matabeleland were used to hail the State's dissidents back home with the promise of an amnesty.

This they did and got back to their party, which has since rewarded them with farms and high party posts. These include Khiwa a butcher who operated in Nkayi, Gayigusu in Gwanda, Matopo and Filabusi and Tennyson "Thambolenyoka" Ndlovu who is now a Zanu PF security chief in Filabusi. The same Chronicle also carried comments in which Emmerson Mnangagwa told a Victoria Falls rally the anti-dissident war would not be won unless "the infrastructure that nurtures them was destroyed".

I spent all the Gukurahundi years in rural Gwanda, and I do not know of a shack, a military camp, a hospital or even underground bunker that could have fitted the description of "dissident infrastructure". We can only speculate that those who said it and those who published it had a better idea of who the "collaborators" that understood the "Gukurahundi language" were. Geoff would be inviting us to take a closer look at his crazy brainwash schemes on Matabeleand if he wants us to believe there could have been any other alleged dissident collaborators who were not ZAPU supporters, and not civilians in the region.

The argument that all dissidents were ZAPU is tired and meaningless. Some could have been in the first few years, but the majority of those who lasted up to 1987 were a surrogate force owned by the powerful who still run the country. Assuming we follow this barren line of reasoning, the only logical supporters of pro-ZAPU dissidents would be ZAPU supporters, which explains why so many ZAPU councillors and villagers were targeted.

Nyarota should also be reminded that his attempt to re-orient the journalists and the people of Matabeleland reeks when compared to The Chronicle's failure to report on the massacres.

"To try to divide the Zimbabwean media along tribal lines is too big a project for one very scared man to embark on just to save his skin"

By reading issues of The Chronicle covering the 1982 - 1987 era, one can believe that the 5 Brigade never existed and it never committed atrocities. The same paper covers the 100 or so people reportedly murdered by the dissidents, neglecting the Gukurahundi killings, which were horrendous in both scale and humanitarian impact. For a man who once boasted that he was certain the Mntungwas, who are actually Ngunis of South African decent, were indigenous Kalangas from Plumtree, Geoff does not sound one bit like the good teacher he wants to portray himself as on Matabeleland.

No-one denies that Nyarota was indeed a media icon at one time, if we discount suggestions that his hands could be tainted with Gukurahundi blood, but it is not fair of him to attempt to use this as a the poor cover from which to launch a self-cleansing campaign. The Gukurahundi trials have not begun. The fact that Nyarota is the first non-government person to try to clean off alleged links with this dirty past raises more suspicions than it allays. It is a historical fact that the guilty are always afraid. The control of state media during a time of upheveal is tight and whoever gets that appointment would be a trusted Zanu PF cadre.

As Nyarota himself rightly indicated in numerous editorials in The Daily News, Zanu PF has maintained tight control of state papers since independence. Until someone can prove that these controls were relaxed during Nyarota's tenure at The Chronicle, we will be forgiven to think that he was appointed on the same grounds, which is perhaps why he even proceeded to buy shares at Zimpapers, which he maintained long after the advent of opposing interests in the form of The Daily News.

Nyarota would also do a better than merely slandering others if he enlightens the uninformed journalists from Matabeleland and New readers why as editor of The Chronicle, he and those referred to as "WE" in the editorials, believed the ONLY WAY to deal with the perceived menace was to deploy the 5 Brigade if they ever considered what the published words and incitement would mean for non-dissident and non-collaborator populations in the specified areas.

Reflections are a good resource, so I will go back into the political climate at that time as previously counselled. My memory and personal experience tells me that at the time, people across Matabeleland and the Midlands were so afraid of the name 5 Brigade that they would have voluntarily handed over or betrayed the dissidents if they could find them. The story of the 5 Brigade always followed a trail of fear struck by the tales of its genocidal exploits elsewhere. Massacres had been committed in every village, young men who were suspected of ZAPU links were asked to dig their own graves, queue up on the edge and shot at point blank range. So such incitement meant a lot more than the arraignment of a few dissidents, which never happened.

Here was an editor inviting a repeat of the deployment of the crack brigade, which on account of its previous actions, was seen as the most appropriate by Nyarota and whoever WE was at The Chronicle during that time. The most basic assumption I can make is that the publishers of The Chronicle knew that genocide was the language 5 Brigade used, and they also knew that the process of seeking out the so-called collaborators would involve murder of civilians if past experience was anything they had taken note of.

Nyarota must tell the truth, he needs to drop this big-brother, do-as- I-say attitude in journalism. I am sure those who are worshipping Geoff as their hero have good reasons to do so, and the same should apply to those who are convinced that he is no a saint. Some of us choose to worship none other than God. To try to divide the Zimbabwean media along tribal lines is too big a project for one very scared man to embark on just to save his skin. You reap what you sow.

I would have believed Geoff as a real man of integrity if he had told the truth rather than cook up suspect arguments that raise bigger fires than the small one he is trying to douse. The truth is that as the editor of a monster-government controlled press, Geoff was literally a figurehead editor at The Chronicle, the resident, in-house statue of Zanu PF, attached by strings and highly vulnerable to any epidemic of hysteria that hit the Minister of Information.

He must reveal that he never thought out editorial content, he was told what to publish and how vicious his editorial should be against who. He should not be ashamed to say that the minister's whims always hung like a dagger over his head and that such whims edited the paper, peddling Zanu PF's idea of a one-party state. He must also mention that anyone who opposed this scheme was branded a dissident.

Hiding such facts may lead us to believe the unbelievable; that the long arm of Zanu PF manipulation was not lurking anywhere in The Chronicle corridors at the time. That would leave Geoff Nyarota as the sole originator of the editorials that instigated a fresh deployment of murderous troops, celebrated their past achievements and used such "achievements" as credentials to qualify the unit for their next job, which he declared should be replayed as a matter of urgency in a specific geographical setting.

We all know that newspaper headlines were used by government to prepare the public for a heavy crackdown and therefore justify the acts and reduce alarm. In this regard, a layman can safely conclude that The Chronicle instigated, through a public call, the murder of civilians, which the government did follow-up.

The emotional and hysterical manner in which Nyarota seeks to defend himself by soiling journalists from the Matabeleland region and their media projects also leaves us wondering if he is not asking us to accept the personality cult he is trying to build himself into. This fountain of knowledge now seeks to divine how journalists from Matabeleland should see his role in making their own people's history bloodier that it should have been. His declaration of victory against certain media houses and fellow scribes sounds like the actions of a frustrated divisionist, an unrepentant and thoroughly misinformed tribalist who suddenly finds himself without a paper to edit, and therefore the medium to peddle his gross ignorance of obvious facts as enlightenment. No one, including Geoff, has a monopoly over information.

It is high time so-called senior journalists are reminded that there
are many "juniors" who have been making their way up the same streets in all the decades they have spent receiving awards on behalf of other people. New and equally capable journalists are still coming up the same tracks today and those who think they will be seniors forever must have a re-think. Mugabe can be a Godfather in Zanu PF but the media has colleagues. Most of the "new" journalists are not even tainted by association with the dark past which makes the guilty feel afraid. The last time I heard, terms like boss, senior and junior were confined to the stinking corridors of Zanu PF.

In the same way, there are a number of journalists who do not orginate from the Nyarota era, who have worked the Zimbabwe scene and continue to do an even better job today. I make no apology for saying we should refuse to be held to ransom by people who owe a lot of what they are to accolades earned from the careers of licking Zanu PF boots and supporting crazy schemes against the people. The media is not a perfect venue for staging bids for personality cult status.

Just as Nyarota and other journalists have been telling the Handiendes in Zanu PF to retire to their villages, the media should be fair enough to ask those who overstay their welcome or demand more honour than they deserve from the fraternity to leave without embarking on egos wars with people they seriously underestimate because of warped mindsets. Some wars are simply impossible to win because one cannot fight fact with fiction.

I hate to do it but if I did not respect him, I would have likened Nyarota to a monkey that gets borrowed brains for 24 hours and spends the duration of that time swearing that he is the centre of the universe. Glories of the kind Nyarota has been given by this world (deserving or not) are hard to come by. No one wants to strip him of his awards as yet, a few of which we believe he genuinely sweated for. His is a great achievement by Third World standards, but one would expect that honourable gentlemen, especially as they grow older, should not stoop to fibs.

Neither should they use the pages of suspect newspapers to declare war on entire tribes because they refuse to accept hogwash peddled as the gospel truth. In the same way that Geoff used the pages of The Chronicle to request and be awarded the massacre of civilians in Matabeleland, he is now using the pages of a paper linked to the same State machinery he backed before, to brainwash the people of Matabeleland, starting with the journalists. Geoff must cut the crap and exercise a lot of patience. The Matabeleland War Crimes Tribunal is still a long way off. Before then, anything alleged suspects say now would be used as evidence in court in the not-so-distant future.

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