Government imposes media embargo on Gukurahundi hearings

By Tapiwa Svondo

Zimbabwe’s mainstream media is prohibited from covering Gukurahundi hearings set to be rolled out soon under a carefully choreographed government programme spearheaded by traditional chiefs in Matabeleland provinces.

This was revealed Thursday by Chiefs Council deputy president Fortune Charumbira while addressing editors and senior media staff at a Gukurahundi media sensitisation workshop currently ongoing in Bulawayo.

An estimated 20 000 civilians died in the hands of the Zimbabwe military in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in the early years of the country’s independence under an operation code-named Gukurahundi.

Government, under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, has opened the hearings to survivors in communities affected by the disturbances.

Activists have disputed the method used by authorities to resolve the issue, arguing the state could be covering up for potential crimes involving genocide.

During the workshop, journalists asked if the media could be allowed to accompany chiefs during the hearings for purposes of transparency.

A journalist asked if the blackout did not border on possible violation of the constitution which guarantees media access to matters of public concern.

Charumbira said the law can be varied depending on situations at hand.

“This one on media, I don’t have the mandate to change, to value, to amend what has been agreed to date.

“You may disagree with the reasoning, but I want to say it is also based on law.

“It is not just something that we as chiefs want to impose; it’s also based on law. It’s also based on media, journalist training ethics,” said the Zanu PF politician.

Charumbira added, “On this one of media, the consensus is that media should not come in when families or individuals are narrating.

“There is an issue of detail, it makes us uncomfortable.

“There are some details that should not find space in the public domain. You are professionals, you know what I mean.

“Even your own ethics as journalists, there are certain things that may not just go out, you know it in your training.

“The narration, some of them you know already the nature and character of submissions surely some may not be for public consumption or for the media.”

Government is keen not to inflame more tensions during hearings on the emotive subject.

Addressing the same media conference, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services secretary Nick Mangwana also appealed for conflict sensitive coverage of the subject.

“The Gukurahundi programme will take a year and the Council of Chiefs will spearhead the programme going into relevant communities.

“We call for responsible media coverage of this sensitive subject and appeal to the media practitioners to put national interests ahead of newsroom priorities,” he said.

Mangwana added, “We are at a stage of reconciliation and engagement.”

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