BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
VETERAN journalist and former ZBC correspondent Tapfuma Machakaire has shed light on challenges faced by state media journalists when covering Gukurahundi, saying they were only shown dead bodies accompanied by government press statements.
There have been questions on the role played by state media journalists at the time when late former president Robert Mugabe unleashed the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade to Matabeleland and Midlands to crackdown on dissent to his rule.
Government, through the state media, was in denial while the West downplayed the killings when news of the atrocities leaked. According to records, an estimated 20 000 people died in the atrocities, and many more suffered physical and psychological harm.
Machakaire bemoaned the challenges in covering Gukurahundi during a panel discussion on “journalism ethics in conflict situations” on the microblogging site, Twitter, hosted by the United States embassy last Wednesday.
“But how ethical could one be? We did not have access to information.
“The only information that one could get was the information from the government about operations that they were conducting, not necessarily operations about the atrocities that they were alleging,” noted Machakaire.
“None of the perpetrators have been held accountable for the atrocities of the 1980s.
“Those implicated include many who are now the ruling elites, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“The little that Mugabe has said since the 1980s has been a mixture of obfuscation and denial, saying the massacres were a ‘moment of madness’.”
Machakaire said journalists were taken to sites to be shown dead bodies with no questions asked.
“And you can’t balance your story. You are just sitting there. You are shown bodies and they give you a statement and that’s it,” he added.
United States embassy charge d’ affaires Thomas Hastings said press freedom and respect for human rights are critical in preventing conflicts and ensuring peace.
“The United States seeks to prevent conflicts in part by promoting the democratic values that underpin a stable international system because we believe that system is critical to freedom and prosperity and peace,” Hastings said.
“A free media, especially plays an important role in conflict situations, in getting the word out to the rest of the world about what’s on the ground, in shaping public opinion and ultimately in helping to hold those responsible for violence to account.”
Former Washington Post Africa bureau chief and now journalism professor at Duke University Stephen Buckley said: “The fact of the matter is that covering conflict these days is more complicated than ever, in part because, first of all, wars are now fought both on the battlefield and via social media.
“And so that means that every conflict potentially is a conflict that we all get to participate in.”
Mnangagwa has opened public discussion on Gukurahundi, but there has been little movement on the ground on truth telling, exhumations and reburials and restorative justice as demanded by victims.