Gift Phiri 31 July 2017
HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s spin-doctor – George Charamba – is a
British-trained Chevening scholar, who has admirably shaped the
president’s public image and runs the Munhumutapa Building communications
office with aplomb.
A jolly good fellow, he has achieved a meteoric rise as press secretary to
the president and is credited with rehabilitating his tattered image.
The 93-year-old strongman avoids local mainstream private press reporters,
staging events for lick-spittle television, now common presidential
practice, which the nonagenarian usually charms with relative ease given
their fawning questions.
Mugabe uses a deadly mix, he uses strong-arm tactics and legislation and
also lures pliant reporters through soft power. In fact, media
manipulation is a central focus of his administration, steered through
Mugabe’s administration thrives on obstruction of inquisitive private
press, accusing it of failing to protect national interests and executive
Charamba has accused the independent media of practicing a certain type of
journalism he terms “ill-will journalism”, “which is really animated with
“We have been observing a trend in the private media where there is a
malicious targeting of the First Family,” Charamba told a pack of
handpicked State media journalists travelling with the president during a
two-day consultative visit to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in 2015. “It is
not erratic, it is actually systemic and sustained.”
He has repeated this in meetings with editors at Munhumutapa Building –
the citadel of government power – which I have been privileged to attend,
complaining bitterly about the private press’ adverse coverage of the
To be fair to him, Charamba has protected the first lady to the hilt,
using all his might.
It was therefore gobsmacking to see Mugabe’s wife on Saturday parading the
presidential spokesperson before a Zanu PF rally that pulled in tens of
thousands and demolished him for allegedly capturing the State-controlled
Herald newspaper, fighting with ministers, ignoring her charity projects
in Mazowe and portraying her party rivals in positive light in the listed
It is clear the first lady is subtly demanding that Charamba be sacked,
but the president seems to retain the Information permanent secretary’s
Given that Mugabe did not even respond to his wife’s rant during his
two-hour long address that came just after Grace’s speech, it can be said
with absolute certainty, that he will still be in his job this morning.
This whole mess needs to be cleared up. Firstly, the first lady says she
has done a lot to bring Charamba closer to the first family “but you did
not reciprocate, iwe, George”.
“You cannot separate the president and his wife. That is impossible!” she
said while contemptuously wagging her finger. “I do a lot of great work
every day. George uyu, I am the wife to his father, ava.
“He has never set foot in Mazowe to see what I do other than writing
nonsense which has nothing to do with development. He knows I do great
work but does not care.
“George, iwe, you are below ministers, you have no right to quarrel with a
minister. If a minister is victimising you, you should tell the
It is clear she is bitter that she has failed to influence content in
State media. The Multimedia Investment Trust (MIT), the major shareholder
in Zimpapers, was created to protect the public’s shareholding in the
newspaper stable, with the Trust’s major mandate being that of protecting
the papers from political interference as witnessed in Chinhoyi.
Grace seems exasperated that she cannot get a grip of the senior civil
servant, who seems to be linked to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s
rival camp within Zanu PF.
By directing Charamba how to do his job, Grace – who is not a government
official – is attempting to run the country outside of the constitutional
structures. This would undermine the Constitution and would be profoundly
undemocratic as the checks and balances and other safeguards on the
exercise of power contained in the Constitution would become completely
If Grace were to be allowed to give direct orders to Charamba on how to
run his department, she would in effect take over the running of the
country and real power would reside in her and not in the constitutional
Of course, this does not mean that her views must be completely ignored,
she is after all a citizen.
But for Charamba to take direct instructions from Grace would completely
conflate the MIT un-elected leadership of the governing party with
government bureaucrats. Party and State would become one and the same
thing and the Constitution would be worth no more than the paper it is
It is against this background that attempts to tell Charamba what to do by
Grace should raise serious concern.
Mugabe must recognise that this scandal is a symptom of a larger crisis.