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Tuesday, November 27, 2007


SW Radio Africa Transcript

Hot Seat Transcript: Foreign correspondent Peta Thornycroft on media in Zimbabwe
Violet Gonda speaks to foreign correspondent Peta Thornycroft. In this, the first of a two part program, she talks about her award and her concerns on the way the Zimbabwean media has been covering the crisis in the country.

Broadcast 6 November 2007

VIOLET GONDA: My guest on the programme Hot Seat this week is veteran journalist Peta Thornycroft, who has just won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation, the IWMF. Peta is a foreign correspondent for the UK Daily Telegraph and Voice of America. Congratulations on the Award Peta.

PETA THORNYCROFT: Thank you. I also work for Independent Newspapers in South Africa , in fact I probably do more for them now than for other papers because the stories, the story on Zimbabwe has really gone off the boil. Thank you very much.

VIOLET: And I know you have plenty to say about the crisis in Zimbabwe especially looking at the opposition and the media. But could you tell us first a bit about your award, how did it come about?

THORNYCROFT: I got an email from a South African colleague in March this year. Somebody I’ve worked with Maureen Isaacson I’ve worked with for many years and of course I’ve worked much longer in South Africa than I ever have in Zimbabwe . I have no idea, I still have no idea why, I think she might be a member of this organisation or she knows of it and she was determined and so were some of her colleagues, her colleagues in the South African press, determined to put my name forward for this Lifetime achievement award.
So they did and they emailed me and I was in Harare and it was at the time when Morgan Tsvangirai was being tortured.

I was just so busy, I could barely keep up with my work at that stage in fact I couldn’t keep up with it and I just was telling her all the time, I haven’t got time for this, I don’t keep any cuttings, I haven’t got anything I’ve ever done, this is a load of rubbish, I’m not going do this and she just persisted. I didn’t actually, I think I sent her an elderly CV because it was old, its one I’ve had lying around in my laptop for ages and I did send it to her. She then did it all and the next thing is I got an email saying I’d won. In fact when I was in Washington I discovered that it is quite a lengthy process, they get these nominations from all sorts of people around the world and it’s not for one.

So in other words this award was not for reporting on Zimbabwe per say it was reporting for 25years. Tremendously interesting periods of time both in South Africa at the height of apartheid and in the dying days of apartheid and also as we led up to democratic elections in 1994 which was tumultuous. Those were extremely tumultuous days for journalists. So it was broader than just Zimbabwe although I noticed in the promotional material that they put out, that the International Women’s Media Foundation mostly focused on Zimbabwe , but certainly in my CV and the material I sent to them I certainly sent them more of my earlier life as a journalist in South Africa .

VIOLET: Right and what did they actually want to know about Zimbabwe when you were in America , to receive the award.

THORNYCROFT: Well the IWMF produced promotional materials so I did write them some stuff and sent them some copy and struggled to get back copies of things, struggled terribly cause if you didn’t keep your work before the internet you really struggled. And so I told them quite a lot about Zimbabwe since I went up there in 2001. This period, of course I’ve worked in Zimbabwe in previous periods. I told them quite a lot and then I was a member of panels in Washington , New York and Los Angeles . I was on various panels where I was interviewed. Can’t even remember how many times I was interviewed by quite a number of news organisations.

Perhaps the most, the longest and most comprehensive interview was that for National Public Radio in Washington and it went out on a programme called Fresh Air. It was an hour long interview and it dealt with Zimbabwe , and I was able to dispel a lot of myths, particularly myths like trying to equate Zimbabwe with North Korea .

It seems to be in people’s minds that Zimbabwe is like North Korea and so I tried to tell the story of what it was like and a very, very different situation from some of the winners of the courage awards by the IWMF who are working for the McClatchy Bureau an American news bureau working in Baghdad (IRAQ). I mean their stories are how they cope everyday and the bombs, the bombs which not only kill people in the war but have killed their own families, including their children as they try and struggle to get the translations done, get their copies out and they do run a most effective blog out of McClatchy.

It was so extraordinary meeting them. And then Lydia Cacho whose a journalist from Mexico who’s been hunting down these pedophiles in Mexico and she gave us the statistics of journalists killed, arrested etc in Mexico . Mexico is worse than almost any country in Africa for the way it treats journalists. Lydia is constantly under the watch of state guards. I mean in New York , Washington and Los Angeles .

In New York it was the NYPD who looked after her, she had to be provided with two permanent bodyguards because she is under such threat in Mexico she can’t even walk down the streets there without protection and she has nailed a whole lot of politicians. She’s the first journalist to have taken the government to court, to the Supreme Court.

So I mean with these journalist who’ve lived these extraordinary lives I have to say in comparison Zimbabwe seemed very tame when one saw what they are going through. And therefore I had to describe how it’s a very different kind of war in Zimbabwe , it’s the lack of certainty, it’s sometimes just a lack of a story. If you actually think of what’s going on in Zimbabwe today you have to be extremely creative to find a new angle about what’s going on in Zimbabwe today and that’s what I try to tell people and it was against a background I’d used in my speech.

The background I’d used in my speech was that women’s life expectancy is 34 to 38 years and of course the highest inflation rate in the world at over 8000%. And so those were the bench marks I used to show that Zimbabwe , why Zimbabwe has become a world story because there is this feeling sometimes that Zimbabwe is kind of an obsession of the British press.
Certainly the American press knows very, very little about us. There’s the occasional story maybe once a month down a page in the features section in the New York Times. There’s the occasional story on National Public Radio actually normally when I’ve done it, there’s very, very little about Zimbabwe .

They barely know the name and I’m talking about well read people who read two or three newspapers a day and listen to radio stations they know very little about Zimbabwe . And unless the story gets a bit busier I suspect they’re not going to know, ever know very much. And so I was really one of the first journalists able to be, to address an enormously influential and powerful group of people in all three states, in Washington DC , New York and Los Angeles about the situation in Zimbabwe .

VIOLET: I actually understand you met some Hollywood celebrities like Angelina Jolie when you were in Los Angeles ?

THORNYCROFT: Oh I did, I had dinner with Angelina Jolie and we shared jokes and she’s terribly intelligent and my god she was well briefed on Zimbabwe . She really had done her homework before I met her and she had done her homework on me which is all a bit embarrassing. I thought it was a bit overblown and basically I’ve never been a journalist who kind of goes for the limelight or you know in that celebrity sphere that is very American and very different from the upbringing I’ve had in journalism.

Nevertheless, nevertheless it was good to meet her, she’s just done this extraordinary film about Daniel Pearl the Wall Street journalist who was killed in Pakistan . She plays Daniel Pearl’s wife. Her husband Brad Pitt, the night she came to give me my award, was babysitting the kids. He was one of the producers of that film. So a) she had become interested in journalism, b) she has a particular interest in Africa as she has two children with strong African connections. Hers and Brad’s baby was born in Namibia and they’ve adopted an Ethiopian Child. So they are very, very interested in Africa and she’s terribly nice.

I mean she’s just so ordinary. But my god you see the Hollywood press flashing away with their flashes and it’s a totally different world! I mean Christiana Amanpour the chief correspondent of CNN who is a working professional working Journalist turning stuff out day by day, she’s a superstar in Washington and she told me that she really is a superstar I mean in Los Angeles but whereas in London she can walk around and nobody notices her - that nobody has any idea who she is. It’s only really in America where American anchors are superstars and she’s not the anchor she’s the chief correspondent she’s a working daily journalist.

It’s a very different pace of life and different exposure and different resources. Of course the stories in the American press are so much longer. Very long stories, I was amazed by that and very little foreign news in the electronic media. It’s a very different CNN that we in Zimbabwe see if you are lucky enough to have DSTV and ZESA, very different CNN to the one Americans see.

VIOLET: I was also surprised at the lack of international coverage or coverage of international issues in the American media, I’m here in America at school, and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing about what’s happening in many countries especially in Africa and I find that quite disturbing.

THORNYCROFT: Yah in fact the major story is of course Iraq and now Iran and they do, I mean I did see in the New York Times and LA Times, everyday there are two, three or four stories on Iraq because of course they’ve got soldiers there who are dying, American soldiers there. But there’s very little on Africa and as for Zimbabwe there’s absolutely nothing. And there has been stuff on Darfur because it’s a UN issue but it’s a very low priority story in America which is quite nice because people didn’t know anything and they became quite curious about it.

VIOLET: And you know Peta over 30years of covering the situation in South Africa and in Zimbabwe , now what was the role of journalists during Apartheid in South Africa and how different is it now with the way the crisis in Zimbabwe has been covered by the Media.
VIOLET: Well, just to go back to the International Women’s Media Foundation they had of course honored Namibian journalist Gwen Lister and on their board is Ferriel Hafegee (sp) who is the editor of the Mail And Guardian on their board, so there is an African flavor to IWMF and they have done training programmes in Africa for women journalists especially the most recent one being how to report HIV/ AIDS which they did last year and I know they are anxious to do very more in Africa and you certainly are going to be seeing them around Southern Africa I’m sure next year.

I mean the difference in reporting South Africa and Zimbabwe from my point of view and the various times that I’ve been there is that leading up to the end of apartheid it was real hard news and it was shooting in the streets and it was everyday. I mean between 1991 and 1994 and the elections, more people were killed in civil society in that four year period than in the whole of all the previous years of apartheid put together. I mean it was between a 150 and 300 killed a month and then one looks at Zimbabwe ’s statistics in over seven years its about 350 to 400 deaths that have been attributed to political strife in that period so it’s an entirely different scale to what happened in South Africa , it’s an entirely different kind of war.

There were many press in South Africa , those were the freest years that South African press has ever had between 1991 and 1994. There was easy access to everyone because everyone wanted to be elected, everyone wanted to put their points over. But then as a background to that of course you had the constitutional negotiations which went on at CODESA forever and ever and ever. The most boring stories for those poor daily reporters that they had to do. That’s why these particular negotiations going on now between the MDC and ZANU PF - when I knew that that was coming, I knew I also had to find something else to do to cheer my daily diary up because I know about constitutional negotiations and reporting them. They are difficult, everyone is doing deals in secret.

Even if CODESA was done in public, it wasn’t really, they all went off in secret to go and knock out a deal on one of the weekend retreats and we are going through the same thing on a much smaller scale in Zimbabwe and its extremely boring stuff to report. But back in South Africa as they were negotiating the constitution there was of course this appalling violence, I mean it was appalling. This isn’t happening to any kind of the same extent in Zimbabwe . I mean of course it’s a different kind of story - violence in Zimbabwe seems to me to be the dismantling of an entire economy, which is violence isn’t it? It’s making it impossible for people to feed themselves. That is extreme violence.

VIOLET: You’ve been particularly concerned with the way the domestic media has been covering the crisis in Zimbabwe . Can you tell us more about this?

THORNYCROFT: Domestic media I think here let’s define this we mean Zimbabwean journalists basically writing for Zimbabwean audiences whether they be inside the country or outside the country is that correct?

VIOLET: That’s right.

THORNYCROFT: Ok, in other words I as a foreign journalist I have a very different audience. I have an audience in the UK which is a very different audience from the one in South Africa , which is a very different audience to the African Service of VOA. I’m doing three different audiences more or less whenever I do a story. But I think the domestic media first of all the state stopped the Daily News, I mean the state has stopped newspapers from telling that story, and so if one looks back at the Daily News with hindsight being the perfect science and I don’t think we realized it at the time, but I think the Daily News if I look back now, it was an MDC supporting newspaper. Just as the Daily telegraph which I work for in the UK is a Tory supporting newspaper. I think we didn’t say it at the time frankly, and maybe it wasn’t important but the Daily News supported the MDC.

And since its demise and naturally because of its demise a whole lot of other publications have arisen on the internet, you yourselves in London have emerged as a result of the repression, the failure of people to be able to get news from home so people like you and studio 7, ZimDaily, Zimonline, The Zimbabwean and Nyarota’s one - The Times of Times of Zimbabwe I think it is, Naturally those would emerge because it’s so hard to get information from Zimbabwe apart from the Herald and then once a week The Independent and The Standard level of news. And then of course The Financial Gazette which there is a question mark over whether it is in fact owned by people who are aligned to the government or not . So I’ve been very disappointed with lots of the external media. ZimDaily I suppose I now view ZimDaily as an essential part of my life in covering Zimbabwe because it makes me laugh and the way they…
VIOLET:(interjects) It makes you laugh?

THORNYCROFT: Yah makes me laugh, I have shrieked with laughter at some of its stories and the way they have been hounding the Chefs’ children - who are in universities and colleges overseas - and some of the comments that followed on their website made me scream with laughter. So I do not take it seriously as a news outlet, its kind of a sideline.

When this really became quite difficult was when the MDC broke into two factions in October 2005 and with the exception of and I would say SWRadio Africa mostly – although there were individual people at SWRadio Africa who seemed to choose one faction over the other - but what was distressing was that all of those publications chose to support the Tsvangirai faction, which there’s nothing wrong with that except in that they weren’t therefore giving the other faction’s point of view and for any comment that was going on whether it was on the economy, farming etcetera nearly all of that media (independent) would always quote from the Tsvangirai faction.

So they could not call themselves independent because if they had been monitored as independent publications, say they were funded by public funds, they wouldn’t have been allowed to do that. BBC could never have done that because it’s funded, it gets public funds. So it was a pity that people when their emotions were high they couldn’t get good coverage on a daily basis inside the country. Remembering that the Independent and the Standard newspapers actually got a very small population inside Harare basically and a small urban population.
The combination of the external media reached quite a high proportion of Zimbabweans that are either living in South Africa in exile or the UK, some inside the country but the message got around, so I think it was very sad that message that got around at that time. New Zimbabwe.Com as I saw them, tried very hard to source things with named sources or else one suspected that the sources that they didn’t name were real people.

I used to wonder sometimes with some of the other publications where on earth they got their stories from. And I think the foreign press just ignored it. We ignored the stories I think we hardly ever picked up a story from those outlets and quoted from them without doing work ourselves and checking if they were true. And often when I checked the stories out they weren’t true.

VIOLET: But have things changed now? Do you think the media coverage is better now, it’s more balanced?

THORNYCROFT: Yes, as I said something like ZimDaily I take just as an essential part of the light heartedness one of the few light hearted things about Zimbabwe , I love ZimDaily. Its not news, it’s something else, it’s an aberration but it’s an amusing aberration. Zimonline has tried to be, to do better sourcing recently. And I think Zimonline has often tried to be good but I’ve never used them as basis for a story nor have I used actually any of the alternative publications – there is an old fashioned word we used to use in South Africa , as a basis for a story ever, because I’m always worried about the sourcing. Except I have used the New because they very often have named sources. There are far too many stories on Zimbabwe that go out without named sources.

And so one gets this extraordinary exaggeration. And The Zimbabwean newspaper which is mostly run by very experienced journalists who have had a lot of advantages in their lives, I’m quite shocked really at the standard of some of the reporting that goes out on The Zimbabwean - that it just doesn’t fill the basics on the hard news pages. Their stories often do not have the basic requirements needed for a news story and it’s the type of paper which really looks very nice and useful to people living in the UK – I haven’t often found that some of the sensational front page stories stood up to any kind of professional scrutiny.

And I think that’s a pity.

I think we need really good media, I think we need really good and accurate sources and we’ve all made mistakes and it’s so easy to make a mistake because we work in a hideous situation where we can’t get statistics, we can’t get comments from the government, we can’t trust any of the statistics. We have a hideously partisan state press in the Herald and the ZBC and you can’t use them as a resource. It’s very hard to balance our stories in the way we’ve all been taught to balance our stories - that there are always two sides to the story. How easy is it to get a quote from ZANU PF? It’s damn nigh impossible!

So there are great hazards in it but I do think it is recently been getting better. Maybe people have got more resources, maybe the story has changed maybe its because the MDC faction loyal to founding president Morgan Tsvangirai is going through such trauma itself that some of his most loyal journalists in these various organizations, like Studio 7, etcetera who’ve always been very loyal to him are beginning to question their loyalty. I don’t know, I don’t know if that’s the answer but it does seem to be getting a bit better maybe there are more resources as well.

VIOLET: Now Peta let me pause here because we’ve run out of time but we are going to continue with this discussion next week and I’d like to hear your thoughts on the turmoil you made reference to that’s in the MDC, and also to hear your thoughts about the third way and ZANU PF. Thank you very much for the time being.

THORNYCROFT: Oh not at all. Thank You.

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SW Radio Africa Transcript

Foreign Correspondent Peta Thornycroft on MDC

Violet Gonda brings the final episode of the Hot Seat interview with veteran Zimbabwean journalist Peta Thornycroft. In the first segment she talked about her concerns on the way the Zimbabwean media has been covering the crisis in the country. In this final part the award-winning journalist gives us her frank assessment of the state of the MDC.

Broadcast 13 November 2007

See part one broadcast 6 November 2007

VIOLET: We welcome journalist Peat Thornycroft on the programme Hot Seat again. Now Peta when we ended the discussion last week we were talking about the turmoil in the MDC. What are your thoughts exactly on what is happening in the MDC right now

THORNYCROFT: Well, I think one has to really go back to the beginning of the MDC as journalists and look at how we covered the MDC, certainly how I covered it from July 2001. I’m afraid to say I was very neglectful of looking at the MDC. My excuse is that it wasn’t such a big foreign story, it was more of a domestic story - the opposition - but I bitterly regret that I didn’t do more work in finding out about the various fault-lines in the MDC, which I have subsequently discovered were there right from the very beginning and I was totally unaware of it. I had no idea until I think it was July 2005. I had no idea.

And the domestic press, certainly The Daily News and what else was there apart from the Daily News? What ever else, what ever other domestic media there was, also didn’t investigate the MDC - almost at all. And because of the polarization any criticism that appeared in the Herald or on ZBC I think we all dismissed as propaganda, and that’s also a natural thing that would happen. I saw that happening in South Africa as well. Nevertheless if we’d been on our toes, a bit smarter and not so anxious and longing for the end of ZANU PF we would have and should have seen that the MDC was in trouble almost from the day it was launched. And so when it split in 2005 it was not a surprise.

I remember I was down in Bulawayo in early October 2005 when I realized that an actual split was coming and that was because I had interviewed the Mayor of Bulawayo and I asked him what he would do if the MDC called for a boycott of Senate elections? And he said to me, ‘We’ll have to field independent candidates because we cannot have ZANU PF taking our space. We down here we have a different experience of ZANU PF a longer experience of ZANU PF than people in the rest of the country.

We’ve earned our place, our MPs have earned the right to be MPs for a long time and we want them to stay. We don’t want ZANU PF to have any position in the whole of Matabeleland particularly Bulawayo .’
And I remember thinking to myself ‘oh oh, this is a tricky situation,’ because in Harare we knew that people were so against the senate elections, participating in the senate elections. So clearly there had been inadequate consultation within the MDC. I reported that only I think for V.O.A because quite frankly the other newspapers were not, you know it was again a very domestic story, very domestic story. Then we came across the violence in the MDC. I found that out in July 2005 and it wasn’t particularly nasty, dreadful life threatening violence but it was completely against the public perception that the MDC had put-over of itself as being almost Gambian in its passive resistance and its pursuit of democracy using only peaceful means.

Not only was this violence violence but it was also against its own members and I found that deeply shocking. I then discovered that this has been going on and that the first violence, I found out, was in 2001. So now we come to a situation of 2005 and then the party split, dreadful accusations went on – most of the accusations were made against the Mutambara faction although it wasn’t called that faction at the time it split - It seemed to have been loaded against the then Secretary General Welshman Ncube. I was told by senior members of the party he had a farm here, a farm here, he had a supermarket there he had a shopping mall there, he had this and that.

So I went and investigated it and wrote the story in the South African press about the farm which they seemed to just ignore, fair enough. But all of this venom that I was getting from the Tsvangirai faction was aimed at Welshman Ncube. To this day I keep on saying to myself, have I missed something? Have I missed something? What has he done? What has he done? But still I keep on wondering if I just missed something. It seems to me that now there’s terrible anguish against ehm em em em…

VIOLET: Lucia Mativenga?

THORNYCROFT: The new secretary general, what’s his name?

VIOLET: Tendai Biti.

THORNYCROFT: Tendai Biti is in deep problems now. And I can tell you this from Johannesburg that there’s huge turmoil in the MDC in Johannesburg . I think they are reacting to Tendai Biti because they are looking to him for money. The MDC is a source of some kind of employment and resources over the last seven years when there had been no jobs and no resources. So the MDC is one of the few ways that people can get some money in the bank. So it’s a job, it’s a resource. As it is for the MPs - they’ve got jobs and clearly what we’re seeing now is this jockeying for positions ahead of the elections next year. It’s about jobs. It’s not about ideology, it’s about jobs and I think that’s the shock to us. Perhaps we were just naive.

VIOLET: So Peta what exactly are you saying here? Are you saying the MDC got it wrong and that the opposition party is not the party that people thought it was?

THORNYCROFT: I wonder if we ever knew what it was. We just accepted it, didn’t we? I wasn’t there in 2000, I went to one of its rallies in 2000 and I came in July 2001 and I think I just accepted that the MDC had been cheated at the elections and that this was a party that had the majority support in the country and it was only long afterwards that I discovered that in fact of course ZANU PF had enormous support in certain rural parts of the country.

I first saw that demonstrated to me in the March elections of 2005, I was actually astonished by that and it is in my copy. I then saw it again demonstrated in the Budiriro by-election when 4 000 people continued to vote for ZANU PF and it was quite a peaceful by election. They were just as short of fuel, water and electricity as all the other people in Budiriro.

And I think that I realized that I hadn’t taken into consideration that ZANU PF was an old established party, which despite its appalling lack of democracy and its top down style of doing business - because of the liberation struggle and the propaganda it’s been able to feed everyone - it does genuinely have support. And that the MDC as the farm workers disappeared and as the farmers disappeared a great chunk of its support went with it. I think that was important and I think that we didn’t see it and we didn’t sort of realize it at the time, I didn’t realize it at the time. So when the break came (the split), I mean it was deeply shocking, it was amazing, it was amazing when the Tsvangirai faction seemed to think that it was a triumph and not an absolute shattering disaster from which they would probably never recover . I’m sure the MDC will never recover that from that split.

VIOLET: From the October 12 2005 split?

THORNYCROFT: Yah yah, I mean wow it has been……

VIOLET: Do you think what is happening now is linked to the troubles in the MDC that erupted on October 12 2005 ?

THORNYCROFT: Of course it is, of course it is and it’s also connected with the poverty in Zimbabwe that people are desperate for jobs and desperate for resources. The MDC does get funding from all sort of quarters. Let’s face it, if you going to go to a rally you used to get money. I have seen it being handed out. People got money to just go to rallies, they get money. I’m not saying its paid participation, they might be organizing, putting flowers or whatever it is but an MDC political event provides resources.

And an MDC job as an MP - however poorly paid the MPs are - it’s cheap fuel, it’s a new car every five years, its very low forex rates. Yes there are great advantages in life being an opposition MP. And that’s why there’s this fight over why they can’t get the corporation agreement between the two factions of the MDC to work because it’s about jobs.

And I’m afraid to say that there was an agreement in April and I saw the agreement. Tragically it didn’t translate into an effective agreement in May when Sam Nkomo was sent in to renegotiate the terms of it. And so it fell aside. So we are going to have a situation as far as I can see that certainly in some key constituencies you are going to have MDC from both factions standing against each other in the elections, dividing the votes and handing victory in that constituency to ZANU PF.

In Johannesburg here I tell you what is going on – and there is a huge number of MDC people here. There’s a fight going on here that one lot of MDC supporters says Morgan Tsvangirai and Roy Bennet have to go, Roy Bennet being the National Treasurer and Tendai Biti has to go as well. In their place they want Tapiwa Mashakada and as President of the MDC this faction is saying they want (Lovemore) Madhuku in Morgan’s place.

It’s very serious here in Johannesburg and they are complaining about Biti saying, ‘he’s just as bad as Welshman Ncube was when he was Secretary General and he’s keeping all the money.’ You know if one suspected that Ncube was short of money when he was Secretary General and so is Biti short of money. But this is now translating itself into Johannesburg .

If the stories coming out of London in the MDC are true (infighting), although I have no experience of what’s going on in London and what is happening with the MDC Women’s assembly. I think you have to look at that party and say my God what is that party? What is it - just a few months before the elections?

VIOLET: It’s really sad that things have come to this because at the end of the day it’s the ordinary people that are suffering and they really do not deserve this confusion that is happening in the pro-democracy movement. But on the other hand some may say Mugabe has skillfully dragged this crisis on for the last seven years, for too long. To some extent when things go wrong in the opposition it seems people forget the problems created by the regime. Now do you think people have considered these other risks? That the regime is armed, it has torture chambers against an opposition which does not even have a military wing. What can you say about this?

THORNYCROFT: No I think that the MDC is being absolutely tormented; we’ve seen it with our eyes. We have seen it before the 2002 presidential elections in particular it has been tormented. Whatever rural structures or peri-urban structures it set up were destroyed. We saw its urban structures being destroyed in April 2007, we saw that. We were there and we witnessed it and we wrote about it and ZANU PF has all the power but there does seem to me, and I don’t know how you’d quantify this - a failure across the top echelons of the MDC of those people who are prepared to actually take risks and they have to take risks. So why aren’t they when there’s now some little spotlight on the country because of the on going negotiations? Where are they in Mashonaland West, Central - the three Mashonaland provinces?

And I go on and on about this and I was there just a few weeks ago, driving there with a very good cover and nobody knew I was a journalist and I was able to speak to people and they were very open and chatty with me. I mean the MDC just hasn’t tried to go into most of those places. And will they ever or are they going to just remain an urban party you know an urban party in Harare , some in Manicaland…

VIOLET: (interrupts) But isn’t it a fact that some of these rural constituencies are no go areas for the MDC so…

THORNYCROFT: (interrupts) I want to see them, I want to know that it’s still a no go area. You know I need to know that they have tried to go there and that they got chased away. And there are still enough reporters on the ground in Harare , and we’ve all got quite skilled at doing this so that we can be witness to that. And if it is really that they can’t go into Mash West or Mash Central and parts of Mash East - into those big rural areas and the communal areas - if they can’t go there then we need to be writing about that.

VIOLET: And you know Peta, politics aside, is the Lucia Mativenga issue central to the politics of gender in the country? I mean should this be viewed as part of the patriarchal system alluded to by some of the women in the MDC like Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh?

THORNYCROFT: I think it would, the MDC is still a very young party. I mean seven/eight years old. It was inevitable that there were going to be splits, strains etcetera. I actually think whatever is happening in the Women’s Assembly, in the fight between Lucia Mativenga and Teresa Makoni is probably duplicated in other political parties everywhere around the world especially in their infancies. The problem is that Zimbabwe is in a particular fix at the moment that it’s facing crucial elections next year. Perhaps under a new constitution, which may deliver what Mugabe is desperately hoping for, which is free and fair elections, genuinely free and fair elections because the MDC is so weak.

And so there are demands on the MDC to be at its very best - to fight the election not as two factions but as together to try and fix these internal problems that they are having or avoid them, suspend these problems until after the elections because there is this moment in time. I don’t think that these eruptions that are going on are particularly significant because they happen in all parties as they are starting up. They haven’t yet got the mechanisms in place to deal with them in an emergency.

I think one of the sad things we saw over the negotiations in South Africa that was clear to me - was that whereas the Mutambabra faction was able to understand what was going on with the 18 th Constitutional Amendment - somebody, or whoever was responsible for explaining it to Morgan and his people didn’t get around to it until the last minute and there was a lot of misunderstanding and of course a lot of misunderstanding by the civics.

And you know I had to say to the civics, why was there a misunderstanding, why didn’t they bother to go and find out, what did they want, do you need an invitation to find out what was happening? Why where they just hanging about and not making it their business to know every little bit that was going on in the negotiations so they could see the 18 th Constitutional Amendment for what it was which may be quite different to the way they reported it or had analyzed it…

VIOLET: (interrupts) But I think to be fair it has been quite difficult…

THORNYCROFT: I think the MDC’s had a hard time Violet, I really think it’s had a hard time.

VIOLET: Is there a trend , sorry to go back to this particular issue, is there a trend, is there an issue regarding women and politics in Zimbabwe because if you go by the reports that we are seeing some women have come out complaining about these problems . Is there a trend regarding women and politics in Zimbabwe .

THORNYCROFT: I don’t know. I absolutely have no idea. I think that’s a question that really needs to be given to Zimbabwe ’s journalists who are reporting it in a domestic way and who know the MDC much better than I do. As I say I only got into really reporting the intricacies in the MDC almost by default because it’s not really a foreign story. The MDC is only a foreign story if Morgan gets tortured or if they win all these elections.

The actual fighting and infighting within the MDC is largely not a foreign story but unfortunately it wasn’t covered well by the domestic press in the early days. It’s much better now. We get much more information now than we used to. I think you need to ask them I mean I’ve read what you’ve read about the lack of women representation in the MDC. I don’t know if it’s true or not. I just simply don’t know.

VIOLET: Peta let’s move on to ZANU PF. We hear there’s infighting in ZANU PF but there’s no evidence of this, and there’s still no indication of where ZANU PF is going. What are your thoughts on this?

THORNYCROFT: I think there are indicators that they are fighting. I mean I think they’ve been good reports I think in The Independent newspaper and elsewhere about the extremely tumultuous politburo meetings. We have a situation where a former prominent banker James Mushore who fled the country and would not have come back into Zimbabwe without believing that he can face up to the allegations against him without ending up in the slammer. He’s still waiting to be freed and he happens to be a relative of retired army general Solomon Mujuru in the Mujuru camp.

This is part of the successive struggle and I think we now got a situation where we we must all pretty much expect that Mugabe is going to be the ZANU PF candidate to stand next year and that he’s going to serve a full term in office for five years. And so he’s managed to crush, it would seem to me, those in the Mujuru faction and perhaps those who might have supported say Gideon Gono as the Prime Minister. We’ve heard a lot about that or even Simba Makoni as the Prime Minister, which would have gone down well in the world. Those seem to have gone.

It seems to me that Mugabe has managed to finally bring a fractured ZANU PF under his wing with, once again, excluding the voice from the floors. This fracture within ZANU PF is a fracture at the top not a fracture at the bottom. ZANU PF has long been a party of the chefs not the people. Whereas I would think that MDC some of its problems is actually the people who are looking for jobs are a lot more involved in their party than the people in ZANU PF are involved at the lower level in their party. ZANU PF is just a joke of a party.

One of the tragedies I think in the negotiations facilitated by the South Africans is that they have not ever understood the nature of ZANU PF. It’s thought of, I imagine, the South Africans think that ZANU PF is sort of like the ANC perhaps not quite like the ANC but after all it fought the liberation war. But it’s completely a different type of party. And ZANU PF has always been run on fear right from the beginning, certainly since in 1980 and people tell me even before then when you think of what happened to people being looked up in Mozambique during the struggle. That it’s been dominated by one man for over thirty years and he’s going to carry on for another five years.

Regardless, that some of the better informed and the more literate, economically literate members of ZANU PF sit in the Mujuru faction. I think we have overwhelming evidence that ZANU PF has been incredibly divided. That even though Mugabe is going to be endorsed as the candidate that he is going to be endorsed with a lot of the senior members of ZANU PF being extremely unhappy, that they could not find a solution to Mugabe, an alternative to Mugabe being the ZANU PF candidate.

VIOLET: A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Professor Jonathan Moyo on this issue and he also spoke about the Third Way. Now newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube also talked about this so called alternative movement that will bring together you know elements from ZANU PF, the MDC and civil society. Does it sound like a viable option to you?

THORNYCROFT: I read it too and I wondered who the moderate members are of ZANU PF. I understand that Trevor Ncube was asked that question in London when he made that speech. I think to the Oppenheimer Society and he mentioned Emmerson Mnangagwa being a moderate member.

I can’t see any Third Way happening because I think that people like Munangagwa know that they just have to hang on, it will only be just five years and then he will take over from Mugabe and unless the Mujuru faction joined up with Trevor Ncube - I think Ncube himself sees a role for himself, perhaps with some from the MDC. He made that remark about 6 weeks ago and I haven’t heard of anything happening since then. Not any discussions other than discussions of what he said. I think it’s too late ahead of these elections for any Third Way.
VIOLET: On the issue of elections, it seems there’s a crisis in the MDC; no one really knows what is happening in ZANU PF - as you say Mugabe will probably stand again; there’s this talk of the Third Way -although at present it’s not even known who’s behind this and who the actual leaders are. Now elections are around the corner do Zimbabweans have a bleak choice at the polls?

THORNYCROFT: Say that again do Zimbabweans ….?

VIOLET: Have a bleak choice at the elections, at the polls?

THORNYCROFT: An enormously bleak choice and I think it’s terribly bleak. We don’t yet know what kind of elections we going to have. We know they are going to be Westminster-style elections and I think anyone who has seen what proportional representation has done for diversity in South Africa’s parliament will be very sad that the winner takes all solution could not win the day. That Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube could not win that round.
We still don’t know what the electoral laws are going to look like. They’re about a month behind in their negotiations not because of any crook-ery, I think because Biti had to go overseas for something, ZANU PF had to do something, and then Welshman Ncube had to go somewhere and then there was some holidays and there’s some visits and now of course we’ve got the tragedy of Patrick Chinamasa - one of the ZANU PF negotiators’ son having died in America.

And so I think they’re about a month behind. That would take us then; we’re talking about now nearly the middle of December before we can expect points one to four. Points one to four being the legal requirements for new laws for elections and in that time we have then got the ZANU PF extraordinary congress.
So unless ZANU PF agreed to delay the elections so that if there are reforms people can get confident that these reforms will work. Its going to be very shoddy isn’t it, it’s very shoddy. They may even have it all down on paper but not any time to get used to it.

And they’ve got a terribly bleak choice haven’t they? I mean they’ve got the same old guy whose led them into poverty, who allowed the country to be dismantled. We’ve seen the best and the brightest of all flee Zimbabwe for better pastures and I doubt whether any of those will come back. And they’ve got a country that is a wreck, literally a wreck! That is what there is to show for 28 years of ZANU PF rule.

But on the other hand you’ve got these two MDC parties which, one of the factions is fighting with itself, and the other faction seems to only operate in Bulawayo or in Matabeleland. I keep on getting notes saying that they are down to Insiza etc etc. I’m sure they would do very well in Matabeleland but I haven’t seen Arthur Mutambara hanging about in Rafingora either and I’m wondering when he’s going to make it and it would be nice to see Welshman Ncube in Mashonaland West too. I just think they all going to concentrate on their familiar stamping ground so that they can keep the positions they already have.

So that they don’t lose more seats because these seats are jobs they see themselves as an opposition party now and not a party that’s there to win any national elections that’s what it has got to. I feel, I wonder if Zimbabweans would be bothered to vote. Would you really be bothered to vote when the choice is so bleak? I can’t imagine it.

VIOLET: It’s a difficult one. Finally Peta do you think the West has made a huge mistake where Zimbabwe is concerned? If so how?

THORNYCROFT: Well (pause) I think there are two ways: I think when the MDC started in 2000, what a pity that they where addressing people in Sandton mostly white people in Sandton north of Johannesburg instead of being in Dar es Salaam or Ghana or Abuja. They failed to make contact with Africa for so long, they were in London, we’ve just seen it again, Morgan Tsvangirai’s just been in America. Why isn’t he in Cairo? Maybe he needs financial support and he can’t get it outside of America or the UK and the same would go for Mutambara.

They have not done enough in Africa and that was also one of the reasons for the split, I must say, as those reasons emerged. Please remind me of your question again.

VIOLET: The International community, you know what about……

THORNYCROFT: The international community, you then had Tony Blair in about 2004 making a dreadful statement about how he’s working with the MDC, when he must have known that would feed into, that would be absolutely marvelous for ZANU PF. And you saw the State Department in America say it was working with the MDC.

Yeah it wasn’t particularly helpful but actually I think the West at least fed Zimbabwe. Thank God they provided the food for Zimbabweans. There is not going to be an Ethiopia-type situation. Zimbabwe is not particularly hot story apart from inflation and I think it’s a symbolic thing for the British. Zimbabwe was a colony - there was the Rhodesian war.
There is a kith and kin element in it, whether we like it or not there is a kith and kin element in it. I think Claire Short made a terrible mistake in 1997 when the Labour party came to power and that letter she wrote to Zimbabwe saying; ‘Land in Zimbabwe has never been part of our problem.’ Of course it has been.

And so they have withdrawn, the West have withdrawn haven’t they? Gordon Brown is going to be exiled from his own continent in December, he has to stay in London. He can’t even go for the two hour flight from London to Lisbon because he’s got himself into a corner saying he won’t go there when Mugabe is there. Somehow those are battles that were okay, but I think it’s become a domestic issue for Gordon Brown, it affects his votes and it’s got nothing to do with the reality of Zimbabwe.

And the West is obviously simply hypocritical. It depends on if you have got oil and you haven’t got oil, how your foreign policy is handled. I think the West is an ex-player in the Zimbabwe situation. And if there ever is a solution it has to come out of Africa and one doesn’t have great hopes over that. One doesn’t have great hopes over the South African foreign policy successes, so far they’ve had very few. One would hope that this time they’ll do better.

There are five points on the agenda for the negotiations. The first four are legal points, the fifth point is the political climate. Will Mbeki deliver on that? Because that’s going to be up to him to deliver. If they really get a new constitution or new electoral laws through parliament in the first week of January, will Mbeki have the guts to stand up and say to Mugabe; ‘we can’t possibly have elections in March, we have to delay these elections until June and if you don’t then I’m afraid SADC is not going to support you.’

Are we going to see that? Those are great unknowns. I mean how we can possibly have an election like we had in 2002 and the voters roll in 2005? For a start for example I’ve been cut off the voter’s roll. There are a lot of people like me. For no reason my name’s just been taken off.

VIOLET: Even though you’re a Zimbabwean citizen?

THORNYCROFT: Yah, I’m a Zimbabwean citizen absolutely.

VIOLET: Well I guess the struggle continues and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens now in Zimbabwe.

Thank you very much Peta Thornycroft.

THORNYCROFT: Okay Violet thank you.

Comments and feedback can be emailed to


SW Radio Africa Transcript

HOT SEAT TRANSCRIPT: Foreign Correspondent Peta Thornycroft responds to critics
Journalist Peta Thornycroft returns to the Hot Seat with presenter Violet Gonda, to respond to what she calls misconstrued criticisms in the state media over her comments about the MDC on the last programme.

Broadcast on 11 December 2007

See part one broadcast 6 November 2007

See Part two broadcast 13 November 2007

Violet Gonda: We welcome journalist Peta Thornycroft on the programme Hot Seat. The state controlled media is guilty of publishing gross inaccuracies relating to an interview I did with Peta recently. The Sunday Mail and Herald newspapers have been using selectively, parts of the interview I did with Peta for its normal propaganda war against the MDC. Peta you made some very strong statements about the MDC and the private media in Zimbabwe, and it seems you have fallen into this trap where it appears the state media is using the interview I did with you to annihilate the opposition. What can you say about this?

Peta: It's not a trap Violet. I knew they would do this when I agreed to the interview in the first place. That is how the state media works in Zimbabwe and in any other police state. That doesn't mean to say then that I should then be terrorised into silence. You asked me for an interview and I gave you an interview. In fact I don't mind in the slightest what the Zimbabwe state media says about me, even if it misquotes me as it does or leaves stuff out.

It is biased, unprofessional, and worst of all in some ways incredibly boring. However unbalanced their reporting of what I said was, it was I think a whole lot less boring than the usual claptrap that fills the columns of the world's most boring newspaper, the Sunday Mail. It surely would win that award.

What a relief then to read what I say, even if vital information I said was left out, compared to old man (Dr Tafataona) Mahoso says. I say old man maybe he is as old as me. He could win international awards for the world's most boring columns. Every week he trundles out this crap that no one in Harare anyway believes. Because if they believed what Mahoso wrote then, a majority would have voted for Robert Mugabe and not Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC in 2000, 2002, and even 2005.

Whatever Mahoso and the ladies and gents churn out from the Herald is ignored by the people in Harare . Even now, even in its divided state, the MDC will still win most of the seats in Harare . That is if there are any people left in Harare by then and they are not all sitting in Johannesburg and Hillbrow ( South Africa ). And that is even if Mugabe cheats as he did in 2002. Let's open a booking on that, let’s take stakes, let’s open the booking Violet. I will go for at least 100 to 1 that the MDC will win most of the seats in Harare next election, whenever that may be.

So because a journalist who works for the foreign press criticises the opposition the following happens in any police state and Zimbabwe is no exception. The state uses that criticism to justify its brutality against a bona fide opposition group. The Sunday Mail only used part of what I said. I criticised the MDC, as any normal journalist would do, does do, all over the world every day, in every kind of analysis, comments, editorials, programs etcetera.

But I also put it in a context, and I said that the MDC had been tormented by ZANU PF. I used the word tormented more than once. That was left out. I also never said that the foreign or local press had "lied" about the MDC, and the word “lied” was used to indicate it was a quotation.

Violet: I will come back to that issue of the quotation that was used in the Sunday Mail headline – which said: “We lied about the MDC”.

I will come back to that but I want to go back to the issue of the MDC. You and many others have criticized the MDC for lack of organization, showing lack of strategies, that the MDC failed to stop the violence etc etc. But it appears there is this assumption that the opposition has been operating under normal conditions. Do you agree that the MDC has been operating under extraordinary odds in Zimbabwe ?

Peta: The opposition in Zimbabwe right from independence has operated under abnormal circumstances, starting with ZAPU. Let’s not forget that. Then ZAPU was annihilated. The Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) had a hard time too, but not as hard as the MDC because the MDC got so close. The MDC operated under appalling circumstances. Its candidates for elections, its candidates for heavens sake, were arrested, beaten up, humiliated, etc. We journalists saw that, we have pictures, we have proof of that.

What ZANU PF, using state resources, did to the MDC in 2002 as the main focus was unique in Southern Africa . That was why all the journalists burst out laughing when the South African observer group made its ridiculous claims about the elections in Meikles Hotel just after the results were announced. The South Africans had approved violent elections in Zimbabwe the kind of elections they would never have approved of at home.

Violet: And back to that issue of the headline in the state controlled media where the Sunday Mail story implied that journalists including yourself “lied about the MDC” when covering the opposition. What more can you say about this.

Peta: I never used the world lie but the Sunday Mail used the word in the headline in quotes, implying I said it. That is how any court of law would interpret that sub editing and it was wrong. In fact I said I didn't know, and when I discovered the MDC had been beating people up, I wrote it immediately. In fact I wrote it the same week I first heard about it.

To this day, opposition MP from Bulawayo South David Coltart does not know how I got the statement about the violence he left for the NEC meeting because he was in Australia at that time. I wish I had known about it earlier. If I had I hope I would have written it, because it would have been news and in the public interest.

I also wish I had known about Gukurahundi much earlier than I did. I wish I had known much, much earlier that many senior members of ZANU PF are cruel, and that they are not revolutionaries. They are incompetent, unable to earn a living, and therefore dependent on Mugabe’s patronage. I wish I had known that sooner. But in all cases when I found out these things I have written them.

I have been writing about ZANU PF's atrocities since 1983, and when Andy Moyse then began editing Parade a year later, we were the first non ZANU PF publication in the country. Does anyone remember that? Does anyone remember the stories that we were doing at that time? That was a long, long time ago that was right there at the beginning. We were there, I was there right at the beginning and I didn’t change. I did just what journalists do.

Violet: Did you write about Gukurahundi at that time?

Peta: Andy Moyse only came in as editor at the end of 1984. It had already been going on for two years by then. But we certainly did. We wrote about Gukurahundi at the end of 1984 and 1985. You will have to go back and look at those editions to look at what we did at that time, at what Andy did at that time and of course we were being helped by journalists on the ground in Matabeleland . We were very careful about how we put the stories together. Although there was MOTO which was a monthly publication, Parade was the only place you could get much information on what was going on in Matabeleland at the time.

I left the Herald in the middle of 1983. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I said to Farai Munyuki; ‘Come on send me down to Matabeleland if there is anything going on, it’s a racist old world, the world will believe me they won’t believe you when they say there is nothing happening.’ And he came back to me and said the management said it was too dangerous for me to go to Matabeleland .

And it was shortly after that I broke my contract with the Zimbabwe Newspapers, although it wasn’t the only reason, and I think I was the only one who ever did that. I broke my contract with the Zimbabwe Newspapers and I had to pay them back all their money. They had paid for me to bring my furniture from South Africa and they took that out of my pension money. So I certainly left Zimpapers bankrupt. So that’s how it was.

But, yes, I wish I had known about the MDC earlier and I would still have found it more difficult because I didn’t work for the domestic press. In essence the Daily Telegraph did cover the story in July 2005 but it didn’t carry on with it because we did that. For example, when the first guys were beaten up and it was reported in the Telegraph in 2005, we never then reported when (MP) Trudy Stevenson was beaten up because we had already done one of those stories. And just because we were white the Telegraph wasn’t going to run the story again. We did that. So that’s why I am saying it was a domestic story more than a foreign story because any domestic newspaper would have wanted the first story, and the second story and whatever stories there were.

Violet: Can you also expand on what you meant about the turmoil in the MDC in Johannesburg and the issue of money regarding Secretary Generals Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube?
Peta: When the MDC split I tried to find out the truth of some of the accusations I was hearing about the reasons for the split. One of the reasons that I was hearing and which was published all over the world and which attracted my attention was about Welshman Ncube, where he was accused of being incredibly rich. Some of his accusers said he owned as many farms as some of them had owned before the land invasions.

Obviously those accusations were coming from white people. That he owned shopping malls etc. So I started to investigate. And then the grassroots people were telling me that he must have been abusing the party's funds because he was not giving them any. So I asked more. And clearly the MDC had become a source of income of survival for so many people at a time when Mugabe's economy was failing even more than usual and there were less and less jobs. So people were frantic. People depended on the MDC for something to keep them alive. Ncube as Secretary General had a budget; there was less money for the party's activities at the time. If you could remember he had to retrench people from Harvest House.

There is no question in my mind that some of the controversy around Welshman Ncube does originate from that grassroots fear when he cut off the money because he had no money.
Then I heard, in Johannesburg , the same accusations being made against Tendai Biti, that he was taking the money, when of course, he had to match income and expenditure as Secretary General just like Ncube.

That was what I intended to say as I gabbled away in the first interview. It's a tough job being Secretary General of a party in a country in economic collapse, when people are so desperate, and when the MDC used to be flush with money and is no longer flush with money. Although, I have to say, it does seem that one faction, that is the Morgan Tsvangirai faction, obviously does have more money and more new vehicles than the other faction. And I am not sure why that is. Whether or not the other faction is more successful at raising more money or where it’s all coming from at a time when seriously, in the last 10 days in Zimbabwe , the wheels are coming off like never before.

Violet: So let me see if I understand you here Peta, do you regret making the comments you made about the MDC?

Peta: No, because I was telling the truth. We published with verification, we had named sources, which is unusual for Zimbabwe copy these days and photographs of people using their real names and that was two and a half years ago.

As I said before I wish I had known earlier, that's all. I also said that the MDC were tormented, that MP's were savagely beaten, so were supporters, that Tsvangirai, Ncube and Renson Gasela were charged with state arranged treason weeks ahead of the presidential poll in 2002. We all knew it was a state plot using taxpayer's money. They endured this with grace and conviction and they were eventually acquitted, not because the Zimbabwe judiciary is all good. No, it’s just that it’s not all bad all the time either. I have great sympathy for the MDC and particularly for Morgan Tsvangirai. It’s a young party and it has faced extraordinary odds, extraordinary difficulties.

Nevertheless if one is honest, one just has to say it has wasted so many, many opportunities. And many, many people suffered intensely to help the MDC. MDC leaders themselves have suffered intensely. And it is a very, very broad church, as Oliver Tambo once said of the ANC which let us not forget began in 1912. So the MDC had to cope with the working class, leftists, intellectuals, peasants, white farmers, black businessmen, bankers, you name it. All wanting one thing only - CHANGE. They weren’t after ideology.

They were after change and all wanting it perhaps for different reasons. So it was an incredibly difficult constituency that Morgan Tsvangirai had to lead but let us be honest after the first flush of 2000 and after they were charged with treason – and I believe that was a very important moment, there seemed to be a dearth of leaders.

And there seemed to be that other problem in Zimbabwe that if you are Ndebele, you can’t be a leader in a Shona area and for me as a whitey I just can’t understand it. I just don’t understand why there is this fixation over it. It’s Ndebeles who told me that they knew they could never be leaders of the MDC because they were Ndebele. They told me that. That’s why the criticisms or accusations that Welshman Ncube was trying to take over Morgan Tsvangirai’s job were so absurd to me. And it’s written in that memorandum that David Coltart wrote in 2005 that was read out at the NEC meeting in June 2005 where he says two things:- There are only two names in Zimbabwe which have political resonance and recognition around the country – Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai. And it’s absurd to think that Welshman Ncube would be after his job.

Violet: How would you answer those people who say you seem to sympathise more with the Mutambara led MDC or that you are biased towards them. How would you answer that?
Peta: I don’t know how to answer it. I don’t know how to answer it because I am a journalist and I write what I see. Whenever I am accused of that, and I have been accused of it a lot, I say; ‘Why would I do it?’ I had a long conversation recently with one of my friends who is in the wires in Harare, about the various accusations that have come our way and both of us say the same things – ‘Why would we do it?’ ‘In whose interest would it be if I was to serve the Mutambara faction?’

I have known for example William Bango (former journalist now Tsvangirai’s spokesperson) longer than probably anyone in contemporary politics in Zimbabwe. I would consider him a personal friend actually – one of the few political figures who is actually a personal friend. I wrote what I wrote because I was there. I knew what happened in the vote (for participating) in the senate elections. I knew what the results were; we were getting sms out of the (MDC) NEC building. I heard what Morgan Tsvangirai said – about the constitution, the vote and that it didn’t matter if the MDC split.

I heard that and I reported it and I was shocked as anyone else.

I have followed what has happened with the code of conduct that was negotiated in South Africa and with the coalition agreement and I was staggered by why it wasn’t carried out. And for me of course it was also the violence. I refer back to the violence because the MDC – and there was a misprint in the transcript of the first interview I did – where I said the MDC was almost a Ghandian party. In other words after Ghandi.

It was a Pacifist party. It was going to effect regime change via the ballot box. It was never going to use violence or armed struggle or anything unconstitutional in its efforts to win elections and I just reported it as it happened. I happened to be, I think, one of the few foreign journalists who persuaded my employers in South Africa, Washington and London that the fight in the MDC was worth covering because they weren’t particularly interested in it.

So I reported on it. I also wrote some editorials – two or three I think in which I reminded readers …

Violet: How do you see the MDC’s chances in a free and fair election?

Peta: If it was really free and fair elections, if there where six months for Morgan, Mutambara, Welshman and Biti to go into the deepest heartland of the communal areas in Mashonaland East, Mash West and Mash Central and say to people, especially the younger people;-‘Are you pleased with what you’ve got? You’ve got no fertiliser, there is no fuel, you can’t get into town to see your families, they can’t get from town to see you. Are you happy with life? We are the party that can offer you change.’ Do you think they will still vote for ZANU PF? I doubt it. I think the MDC would actually walk the elections.
But ZANU PF has a generation of supporters that will support that party until they die because of the liberation struggle and because of its role in their lives. It’s changed their lives completely even if they are having bad times at the moment. But if you look at the average age of Zimbabweans where many are under the age of 19, I think Mugabe would find it extremely difficult – with a free media and people able to listen to other points of views and able to read other points of views. Able to meet opposition politicians, without worrying about meeting the police at open rallies, who can point out to you exactly why your life has deteriorated, why you can’t get school books, why there is no muti (medicine) in the clinics, why you can’t get vaccinations, why there is no anti retroviral drugs. How on earth would ZANU PF in a free and fair election ever be able to provide an argument good enough against the MDC? The problem is that I wonder if we will ever see that in our lifetime.Violet: You also criticized the private media heavily on how it has been covering the MDC. How do you define the position of journalists in an oppressive environment, especially those in the private media?

Peta: It’s terribly difficult to get fairness and balance in a report when one can't even get comment from ZANU PF, when sources are frightened to be identified. So as a journalist, within the family of journalists, I would indeed again criticise the Daily News for not telling us about the MDC's warts, and at the same time cheer them on, cheer on the memory of Geoff Nyarota for his magnificent efforts, his magnificent editing. Cheer on Strive Masiyiwa for being determined to use some of his wealth to help Zimbabweans get information.

And the Daily News operated in appalling circumstances, watched all the time, under scrutiny and then bombed. Its journalists arrested, beaten and terrified. It doesn't matter that it supported the MDC, it was privately owned, and it can support whoever it likes. I regret it wasn't more critical of the party, because that is the press's function.Violet: Why is it Peta that people have so much difficulties dealing with the press?

Peta: There is no tradition of a free press in Zimbabwe from the time Ian Smith came into power. It was completely controlled first by Ian Smith and then there were these brief little moments at independence, and in the transition there were these brief little moments but there is no long term tradition of a free press in Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans have had to fight for every spare centimeter of free press they’ve got and it is difficult, isn’t it, the circumstances under which journalists operate in Zimbabwe.

So because there is no tradition and people have no tradition of reading criticism, the people who make the criticism are then accused. So if you don’t agree with ZANU PF, you are an agent of the West. That’s what I am usually called by ZANU PF. Or if you don't agree with the MDC then you are accused of being ZANU PF. That’s what we do. We accuse each other. We don’t sometimes go and look at what is actually being written and of course if it’s not well written or well sourced it’s right for us to be suspicious.

So it’s a question of history, it’s a question that takes a long time. For example you can see what is happening at the moment in South Africa in the succession struggle in South Africa with newspapers trying very hard to put both candidates points of view – both Mbeki and Jacob Zuma’s point of view, even though one knows that one particular newspaper supports one candidate slightly more than it supports the other candidate.

I am not sure if any of the press are particularly keen on either of the candidates but that is what they have in front of them. And I am watching very interesting stuff, if you go into the internet have a look at how they are dealing with it. We don’t have that tradition in Zimbabwe. It is very, very difficult and it has to begin.

One was hoping that if the negotiations lead to the implementation of the new electoral laws, the amendment to the Electoral Act where you read those clauses about the media then maybe we could start. Maybe we could start because Zimbabweans have no experience of tolerating a diversity of opinion in a free media, in a free society.

Let’s for example take your situation Violet and what the Herald wrote about you and I have known you personally for many years. I know you didn't get funded by x, y and z as you were accused in the Herald this week. I know you paid for your studies yourself in the UK, I remembered that. And I also know you chose to go to the BBC for your attachment during your studies for your work experience just as learners used to be seconded in Zimbabwe when there was some training going on.

So when I read that in the Herald this week I had to smile because I had been accused of working for the CIO, Frederik de Klerk's NIS, Ronnie Kasril's NIA, the Nigerian Intelligence Community, the ANC, the CIA and MI6. I don't think I have been accused of working for the KGB. The one I regret is MI6. Had I worked for them I would have a pension now and I wouldn’t be yakking away on SW Radio Africa.

Violet: (laughing) you would have had a pension?

Peta: (laughs) Unfortunately they never even tried to recruit me. Nor did any of the others. The other thing I am ashamed of is that I have never been offered a bribe as a journalist.

Violet: (laughing) Well Peta I am running out of time but there was one other question I wanted to ask you about. You have been following the negotiations in South Africa very closely. What’s the latest on the talks?

Peta: The talks have been held in Johannesburg since December the 4th and they ended yesterday. From what I understand from African diplomats was that because of the ZANU PF extra-ordinary Congress Nicholas Goche and Patrick Chinamasa were called back to Harare. So they didn’t quite finish what they were doing but they got 99% of the work done and most of the legal work is done.

I think the situation now is the unspoken question of what will happen now and I fear that Mugabe will insist on elections being in March and that the elections go ahead before the new constitution – that has been agreed – is put in place. Now President Thabo Mbeki, who has facilitated these negotiations on behalf of SADC, that is what he used to lure the MDC into supporting Constitution Amendment no.18 - was certainly that there was going to be a new constitution before the elections and that there would be time for these new electoral laws, which many political commentators have said are significantly improved, not perfect as they can be ruined in the implementation but they are significantly improved and that there would be time for a normalization of the country and for people to get used to and trust those elections.

What I am predicting is that – and this is after talking to a couple of African diplomats who have been watching these negotiations closely – is that if Mugabe insists on election in March, if the constitution is not in place before the elections, the MDC or the most important members of both factions of the MDC will boycott the elections.

Violet: Well Peta we have to end here unfortunately. Thank you very much.

Peta: Ok thank you Violet let’s wait for Chapter 5 of the Herald.

Violet: (Laughing) Bye for now.

Peta: (Laughing) Bye.

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