The media comedies of errors by the Mnangagwa’s from the events of the past weeks have been interesting in the so-called ‘new dispensation’. Since taking over the reins of the state in November last year in James Bond style, with the assistance of the military, Mnangagwa has been on a massive rebranding exercise aimed at sprucing up his dented historical image. The man has been working the clock up to rebrand his image. From his dressing and daily governance practices, Mnangagwa has been trying to show the world that he is different from Mugabe in all aspects and this seems to send confusing signals to his fores.
In contrast to Mugabe the technophobe, Mnangagwa has endeared himself quite well on social media with active Facebook and Twitter accounts in an effort to reach online audiences. The active presence of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) leader on the emerging digital public sphere is a realisation of two things: 1. The capability and potency of the social media and 2. That the state media is now unpopular and has dropped in audience and not likely to be effective in reaching the professionals and those in the diaspora. This is largely attributed to the fact that the state media had been reduced to a propaganda outlet a point observed by blogger Takura Zhangazha that it had failed to serve the public interest because of its inclination to the ruling party. The MISA Zimbabwe chapter called for media reforms before elections in their 2017 State of the Media report .
Hence Mnangagwa’s coming online should go beyond luring votes or rather a ‘moving with the times’ gesture but prod him to realise the necessity for transforming the public media from being state-controlled propaganda outlet to a truly public media that conforms to the dictates of democracy. I underline this fact because of how Mnangagwa and his supporters had to rely on social media during the height of factional politics in ZANU PF after being blocked from the various public media outlets.
A tale of two 'First Ladies'
While Mnangagwa has been busy on the online outlets and equally dominating front pages and headlines of all state media outlets, his wife Auxillia has had her lion’s share of the coverage. Auxillia Mnangagwa has exhibited an unquenchable appetite for the camera and media attention since ‘taking over’ from Grace Mugabe as the First Lady. In a short space of time, she had made headlines, particularly on the state broadcaster ZBC; hopping from one hospital to another with small handouts as if that will address the myriad of challenges affecting our health delivery system. To sum it all, her antics are nothing short of a seemingly calculated but rather a clumsy Public Relations exercise to build her image as to be different from the previous first lady. In that regard, both the husband and wife seem to find it difficult to find a life of their own outside the long shadow of the Mugabes. There is really no strategy at all on how she should manoeuvre her way and act as the first lady other than to move everywhere she deems with hordes of journalists from the state media to film her while she buys tomatoes from vegetable vendors. If anything this is an abuse of the media and journalists who should be covering public interest stories rather than to be a press team for the First Family.
As if this attention and coverage are not enough, the media-obsessed First Lady is not stopping, she has decided to have the media closer to home. A few days ago, the Emperor’s wife invited female journalists to state house ‘’to get an appreciation of the challenges they face in executing their duties,’’ as put by the Herald. We were told that ‘’the meeting was the first of its kind by the First Lady of Zimbabwe’’ true, even the attention-loving Grace Mugabe did not go to such levels, but was also notorious for trying to bribe journalists using food handouts. Presumably for favourable coverage. The Herald also reported that ‘’the First Lady promised to donate chickens to the female journalists as a way of empowering them’’ and this is quite clear that this was just another poorly crafted PR exercise with nothing aimed at improving the welfare of journalists in the country. The meeting exposed her limited knowledge as to how the media is structured and how it operates. When you invite the media to your doorstep, it wants to leave the pace with knife edge ideas rather than a promissory note on chickens. The media is a knowledge industry, whose survival rides on the strengthening of ideas from across the socio-economic and political divide.
In addition, Mrs Mnangagwa should know that the media is not part of her office and they should not seek any favours from her, the challenges affecting female media practitioners are broad and well documented and they did not even need an invitation to state house for a banquet. There are many ways in which she can champion the cause and working conditions for women in the media industry and not by donating chickens. It is clear that these antics are a poisoned chalice. She seems to be dangling a carrot to entice the female journalists to report favourably on her ‘philanthropic’ work in a bid to outdo the previous First Lady, Grace Mugabe. In the process, she has ended up exposing herself as an attention seeking and a self-entitled person just like Grace Mugabe.
In conclusion, I hope the First Lady should be told that in a democracy we need a free and independent media system that not only reports about the positives of the First Family and the First Lady’s projects. The media environment in a democratic state should have equal access for all and not a preserve for a political elite. We need a transformed media system which is free and independent non-partisan and a strong journalistic profession.