When media practitioners fan hate speech

‘July 31: Who then has the last laugh’ reads Sunday Mail Assistant Editor, Munyaradzi Huni’s most recent offering in that paper. If you did not read it yourself, the article is nothing but a hate speech littered piece of writing full of cringe worthy labels and insulting epithets attached to different individuals, both real and imagined enemies of Zanu PF. Well, it’s hardly surprising, because many times Huni opens his mouth, or rather, puts pen to paper, his guts spill out. As an editor, we can be forgiven for expecting him to strive to uphold the ethics of objective criticism without resorting to insults. From the summary below, it’s hard to believe that at least two thirds of Huni’s article was dedicated to name-calling and denigration.

Image

Whatever you make of this, some of my colleagues feel that a lot of the descriptions above though hard-hitting, are very apt. I just think that dedicating all that real estate to insults is something that ought to boggle minds. Less than a month ago, Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) Director Andy Moyse had a serious talk with journos about this and the slow effects of losing readers in the process. Huni is not alone. I have read some really shocking things from many newspaper columnists like him, and the things politicians have said about each other. The First Lady herself recently took to the podium at a Zanu PF rally in Chiweshe, and dedicated half of her rant to describing the Prime Minister’s ugliness.

 We can only but expect more of such vitriol this silly season, when professionalism goes straight out the window. But if we can leave hate speech to the politicians, as media practitioners we may be able to show a little respect to our loyal readers who expect some level of objectivity from the people they also expect to play the critical role of fourth estate. And there we are ironically clamoring for media reforms while in the meantime allowing the profession to go to the dogs. Some uncalled for insults only make some people sound like blithering idiots.

Focus on the important things

I have been wondering about the ‘sorrow’ and ‘disappointment’ being felt in certain quarters over the recent Constitutional Court’s ruling to uphold the July 31st election date. Leaders of the different MDC formations had filed an application seeking an extension of the poll date only last month, following the Maputo SADC summit. Among other things, the MDCs argued that Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa had presented a ‘weak’ argument at the Concourt. But what did the MDCs expect, and whose side exactly do they reckon Chinamasa is on? Of course, he was instructed by SADC to undertake a process he personally did not subscribe to, so enough with the whining already. It is time to face the facts and re-strategize.

 At the same time, it has been interesting to try and make sense of what the ‘urgent’ court application to extend the poll date would have accomplished. Picture this; had the Concourt allowed for polls to take place on either August 12 or August 25: what exactly were the MDC formations hoping to achieve in those two or so weeks? Certainly not to facilitate implementation of all outstanding reforms set out in the Global Political Agreement! All the parties had what, how many years, and more than sufficient time to ensure the implementation of necessary reforms. Why scurry now? In any case, the recent official dissolve of Parliament would have made it next to impossible to implement any reforms no? Or perhaps it was a case of them just not being ready and trying to buy time, like being caught unawares kunge varoyi vaedzerwa, my grandfather would say. Even the Concourt rightly questioned why the parties failed to approach the court immediately after its May 29 ruling. Some people have perfected and normalized the culture of doing things last minute in this country.

More than anything, the argument against the early election date should probably have been less selfish and considered issues like the limited and frustrating voter registration process, which unfortunately terminated quite prematurely yesterday. The long queues that could still be seen snaking out of different registration centers yesterday were indicative of how the early poll date only grossly disenfranchises the electorate.

The women’s movement recently took to the RG’s office with a raft of sensible demands that included among other things, a more gender sensitive voter registration exercise that would take into account the need for more time and shorter walking distances, separate queues for men and women, special attention to the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and women with children. Add to this, requisite nationwide voter education – which has been made clear to be the preserve of ZEC – has hardly started. A lot of people will go to the polls, without actually understanding what they have to do. Perhaps the Concourt would have been more sympathetic had the parties put the interests of people first rather than demonstrate a desperate desire to hold on a little longer onto their political careers.

Today’s papers claim that the political parties are questioning ZEC over the ‘sudden, suspicious ballooning’ of police officers in the election period. If there is any truth in this, it must be said now that these people must stop being preoccupied with the little things and concentrate on their game plan. We have three weeks for crying out loud. Heavy police and army presence are never a shock in Zimbabwe, particularly during silly season.

While many people are desperate for change, the behaviors of these parties do nothing to elicit confidence. We need serious people, who have their eyes on the ball and are willing to sacrifice, even for a little bit, their political interests and put the people first.

 

A test for the supreme principle of morality

What motivated Philip Machemedze – a Zimbabwean former CIO operative – to confess to gory crimes against humanity? Machemedze was heavily involved in the torture and murder of MDC activists on behalf of the Zimbabwean then ruling party. He admitted to smashing an MDC supporter’s jaw with pliers and then pulling out the victim’s teeth with the same. He admitted to abducting dozens of MDC activists and, in his own words, did things to them that: “are too gruesome to recount.” Machemedze also admitted in a UK court to rubbing salt into the flesh of a female MDC member after she had been taken to an underground cell, stripped and whipped. He admitted electrocuting and punching a white farmer who was suspected of sponsoring the MDC. Today, the former spy continues to live in the peace and safety of Wales in the UK.

Ordinarily, Machemedze was not entitled to receive asylum for his role in committing crimes against humanity. But his life was in danger.

If it were up to you, would you grant him asylum for his confession, which was clearly driven by anything other than remorse but by most likely a selfish goal in what Immanuel Kant refers to as the utilitarian motive?

Justice

Machemedze must have used the hypothetical imperative that if he wanted permanent residence in the UK, he should make a confession. This would most likely help his case as a means to attaining an asylum status not only through positioning himself as a potential key informant for the ICC and their alleged probe into Mugabe, but by also indicating the danger his life was in should he actually come back to Zimbabwe.

The action of confessing in this case cannot be viewed as a good in itself. It was not concerned with human dignity but rather with a careful calculation of what would produce the greatest happiness for himself.

But why would people care anything about a heartless former assassin’s black hide? What makes us even believe he is a changed man too?

Then again, when you consider the question of necessity vs poverty, being a CIO man is a job, albeit one where there is no forced conscription. Somebody had to do it, if not Machemedze then someone else had to obey the instruction to silence them dissenters. When he pulled out that victim’s teeth with pliers, does whether he wanted to do it or not matter in deciding his asylum status? Would it make a difference if he said he was forced to do it?

Consider this analogy in Michael Sandel’s Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do …which tells the story of a young boy who after passing a spelling test, moves on to a higher level but later realizes that he had after all, gotten one spelling wrong and none of the judges had noticed it. Not wanting to “feel like slime”, he went and told the judges and immediately got disqualified. Although he was applauded for his integrity, his confession did not stem from being honest because it was the right thing to do. He simply wanted to make himself feel better and hence in Kant’s view, his confession lacked moral worth.

Can the same be said about Machemedze? What then becomes the moral worth of Machemedze’s confession? Did he confess simply because it was the right thing to do or because he could no longer stand the weight on his conscience or because of the perceived benefits of going that route (both of which in each latter case in Kant’s view becomes an inclination)? In any event, if we spare a thought for the fact that he is going to live the rest of his life with people around him knowing this gory side of him, is that grounds enough to feel pity for him?

Perhaps we can conclude that all people are selfish, and The UK rulings protecting the ex-CIO operative are apparently because he supplied information about his colleagues and not because of a genuine concern for the fact that if he returned to Zimbabwe, he would face – as said by the judge in Newport – “death or inhuman or degrading treatment.”

No thanks to the Human Rights Act, Machemedze will continue to live and be treated for HIV in Britain at the expense of the British taxpayer, and by some macabre turn of events, a man who caused the death and inhuman treatment of many is himself being harbored by law from deservedly such.