PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba last week accused award-winning journalist Hopewell Chin’ono (HC), who is also a stern critic of the government of sour grapes after his bid to work with the government failed.
He also accused the journalist of selling out the director of Counselling Services Unit Dr Frances Lovemore as well as smuggling foreign journalists into the country.
The NewsHawks (NH) news editor Owen Gagare and reporter Chipa Gonditti had a chat with Chino’no about these allegations.
He also talked about why he became a critic of the regime when he appeared to support the regime in its early days, and, as well as concerns among some colleagues that he had over-stepped the ethical boundaries of journalism by become an activist. For more, read the excerpts below:
NH: President Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba alleges that you wanted to work with the government, doing some public relations work in the aftermath of the 1 August 2018 shootings. Is this true and can you tell us what was going on?
HC: That is not true. I was never interested in working for the Mnangagwa regime.
What actually happened is that there is a gentleman called Kalaa Mpinga who is a Congolese businessman who owned Freda Rebecca and Bindura Nickel.
He called me when he was in the United States after the August 1 shootings and said “there is a lot of bad news from Zimbabwe, what is going on?” I explained to him that people had been killed, beaten up and that there are reports of abductions and rapes in the townships.
He then said ok because this is bad, it is going to be very difficult for this new government to raise any capital if they are behaving like that or perceived to be behaving like that. He then said that he was going to call Vice-President Chiwenga and the President. He then called me after having talked to Chiwenga and said the Vice-President had said the reports of the abductions and beatings were not true.
I then said to him that there were reports which had been made and that people cannot make reports which are false.
He then said what do you mean by reports, I then told him that there are organisations that look after people who have been beaten and they are making reports which cannot be false.
He then said “Ok I am coming to Zimbabwe and the Vice-President has asked me to come and see him”.
He then asked me to accompany him to see Chiwenga, I then said if he thinks it will help stop the violence I am happy to accompany him.
He flew into Harare and then took me to see the Vice-President. When we got there, he raised the issue and said this gentleman is a journalist and he told me and. I then explained to Chiwenga what I had told Kalaa.
The Vice-President then said it is not true and that people are faking things, “we are even talking to people in the MDC and Zvidzai was even at my farm so it cannot be true”.
I then told him that these reports were true and available, he then said how do we get the reports? I then told him that the embassies had released the reports and you can talk to British embassy, the EU and the CSU which is an organisation which looks after people who have been victims of violence and gives them medical care. Chiwenga then said how do we do this? I then said why don’t you call them so that they come and discuss with you.
NH: I guess that is where he alleges that you sold out people like Dr Lovemore and that you gave out his number. Can you explain what happened there?
HC: There was no selling out. I called Dr Lovemore and I said I am going to this meeting and I will let you know how it goes.
The British embassy knew the meeting was taking place a day before, Yvonne Gonzalez from the American embassy came to talk to me the night before the meeting because I had explained to them that a businessman is taking me to see the Vice-President about issues of violence and what are the issues you want me to say other than the fact that this (the violence) is happening.
I had that meeting with Gonzalez here in my house, Peter McFallen, who was the deputy Australian ambassador, came to me the day before and explained to me their disquiet about the violence that was taking place. So what he is saying about people selling out is a lie. People actually knew the meeting was going to take place the day before including Dr Lovemore.
NH: Some people are saying before the elections you were supportive of the Mnangagwa regime and after the elections there was a sudden change, what happened?
HC: What happened after the coup is that I argued that there was no other way except to give these guys a chance because there is no other legal way of removing them because according to the constitution which they used, they removed the Zanu PF President and replaced him with another Zanu PF President.
So, there was no need to fight because even Morgan Tsvangirai and Nelson Chamisa said it was not a coup and Tsvangirai even called it a miraculous transition. So, a lot has not been written by the media about what actually happened during the coup.
Most people do not understand that the opposition actually supported the coup and the evidence is there online, so there is a specific unhealthy way of targeting me by certain people for other reasons to say Hopewell supported Mnangagwa.
There is a difference in saying let us give them a chance and supporting somebody. In fact, after Mnangagwa appointed his first cabinet in December, I criticised it.
As journalists, people assume we are supposed to take a particular side and ride with it, I can criticise Mnangagwa and Chamisa at the same time, which is exactly what I did.
The evidence is awash online but people choose to follow a particular narrative and some people just do not like you, it is part of human nature. I criticised Mnangagwa and at some point I actually wrote articles explaining that what Chamisa was saying makes sense when he was talking about spaghetti roads and things like that. There is no evidence of me saying vote for Mnangagwa so if I support Mnangagwa, how can I not say vote for him?
NH: At what point did you realise that perhaps giving Mnangagwa a chance was perhaps not the right thing to do?
HC: I think it was around November 2018. I then realised that we were going nowhere.
Around that time, going into December I wrote an op-ed explaining why I did not think that these guys were sincere.
You remember the promises that were given during the election. I will give you an example, reformation of the media, which is something I was interested in seeing because I am a journalist, the use of hate speech continued in the media, the opposition was being lampooned in the media.
You would see that when you read The Herald, some of the stories were propaganda then I said to myself, but this guy came in on the ticket that he was going to be different than Mugabe.
It is one thing talking about the economy and it is a different thing all together seeing on TV or reading newspapers, it does not require many hours if someone wants to really change.
We were now heading to 12 months after the coup, we were still seeing hate speech in the media and I then realised that these guys were not sincere, because if you are sincere, the first things that you must deal with are visual things so that people see that there is change.
If people can see an opposition leader being given a fair amount of time on TV and a fair amount of copy in newspapers run by the state then you can tell that there is change taking place. So I realised that it was pointless to continue saying give him a chance when the regime was failing to do things which are basic and did not require any money.
NH: You have been critical of the government and in turn critics have been going after you. Why do you think they have been going after you?
HC: I think the main reason they are going after me is not necessarily that I am being critical. I think it is more of my work exposing corruption, looting of public funds, the plunder of the nation’s natural resources and on the critical side there is the issue of hospitals that do not work.
Go to hospitals, there is no medication, salaries are very poor, doctors are getting paid US$160, the use of violence, the use of abductions, arrests, the captured judiciary where you are charged under laws that do not exist like what happened to me in January.
So, it’s those sorts of things that when I challenge, they do not want to be challenged. When I expose corruption, they do not want me to expose corruption.
When I was arrested on the 20th of July it was a week or two before the ruling party had a conference in which I was named by name and they said I am abusing my journalistic privilege and they said I am tainting the name of the First Family, bringing the kids of the President into the Draxgate scandal and yet I was merely doing my work as a journalist.
All I was saying was this is what I had found out and all one had to do was come out and say what you found out was not true this is the correct position, but what actually happened is that I was intimidated and spent time in jail.
NH: You have been arrested three times and at one time you actually spent around 45 days in prison. Can you tell us where those cases are? Of course, you were acquitted on the charge of publishing falsehoods, but what’s happening with the other cases?
HC: The first one I was arrested on the 28th of July where the police came with guns and hit my glass door with an AK-47 and dragged me out and charged me with incitement to public violence because I reported as a journalist on what had been said by Jacob Ngarivhume that he is going to mobilise citizens into a protest.
A protest which is underpinned in our constitution which allows us to protest and petition the government and that is the reason why they arrested me and the case is up in the air, it’s now on review in the High Court because we went to trial and my lawyers Beatrice Mtetwa and Douglas Coultart argued that there was no case to answer. So we are waiting for the court.
The second case was when I exposed that the President’s niece, Henrietta Rushwaya, had been caught with six kilogrammes of gold. I exposed that she was about to get a corrupt arrangement that she would get bail without contest from the state.
Indeed, the court itself when she finally got to court and tried to do that with the state, the magistrate said no this is unacceptable.
So, I was arrested for that but what actually happened, they came to my home to arrest me under the guise I had violated my bail order, I had said something about the Chief Justice, I was then taken to Harare Police Station.
I am told after my lawyers had said the Chief Justice had to come in and testify how he was injured by what was said, they then decided to come up with another trumped charge to say I had obstructed justice because they said I had a case with them and I cannot report about them and what they doing and using sources within the Nationa Prosecuting Authority. Which is ridiculous because there is no such law, so again we are yet to go to trial.
The third case was squashed by the High Court, but the state is still trying to get it back, they have gone back to the High Court to contest, saying it should be heard because they had not filed the opposing papers before it was dismissed.
NH: Some critics such as Thandekile Moyo and Jealousy Mawarire have labelled you an opportunist. What do you think of such critics?
HC: Thandekile Moyo was supporting Zanu PF and G40 before Mugabe was removed and Jealousy Mawarire was supporting Mugabe and still supports Mugabe to this day.
Their struggles and mine are completely different. I have never been in a political party, to call me an opportunist when I was offered a job by the ministry of Information to go to ZBC and I said no, “I am not interested in a job, I am interested in seeing a fair society where teachers, doctors and journalists earn decent wages”.
I have managed to live a comfortable life because I worked in England and that is how I made my money and most of my peers are struggling and it is an irresponsible act for me to ignore that.
The funny thing about Thandekile and Jealousy is they have got a regime which is failing to give hospitals medication, failing to provide jobs, but they spend their time attacking an individual who is not even in government. I do not even have any political power or ambitions.
I do not want to say a lot, but Thandekile was actually a friend who used to come into my home, I do not want to say a lot but some of these things are driven by personal issues.
NH: You said you were offered a job at ZBC, when was this and why did you turn it down?
HC: It was in October 2018. My history of being offered jobs goes back to 2003 at ZBC and I turned it down.
I was offered a job by Mrs Mutsvangwa in the presence of Nick Mangwana and I turned it down again because I was not interested in a job.
I need to tell you a story so that you can contextualise how the job came about.
Sometime in September after the cabinet had been announced, Chris Mutsvangwa got in touch with me and said his wife wanted to meet me.
I think it was on a Saturday, I then agreed and he said let us meet at Queen of Hearts (Harare restaurant), I then went there and he introduced me to his wife.
She then said as you know I have been appointed Information minister and your brother was talking about you being an experienced journalist, so I wanted to discuss with you about what needs to be done.
So at the end of the discussion we had agreed that there is need for reforms in the media. I explained to her one of the key issues that is a stumbling block in removing the sanctions is the issue of the media reforms.
So, she asked me to write a paper and send it to her, which I did. After reading the paper she said “I am really excited about this and how do we do it on the issue of funds and things like that?”
And I said you can discuss this with donor partners. She then said why don’t you do it for me and I said “if you give me the power to talk to them, I will talk to them” and she said fine.
I then went and spoke to the American ambassador Brian Nichols and he said ok that is not a problem and we will get UST to deal with you. I then went to see the then British ambassador Catriona Laing and she said it was exciting and she had told the embassy and everybody was excited and she gave me her deputy to deal with the issue.
I spoke to the World Bank and spoke to a lady called Nkanu who has just left and again she said she was willing to be a part of this because it is exciting. I then spoke to the current Australian ambassador Bronte Moules and she said she is really excited about it.
We had a meeting and we agreed that we would bring the former World Bank manager, Dr Mungai Lenneiye. We had our first meeting at 46 Cork Road where the paper I had written was presented and when that paper had been presented, the minister came with Nick Mangwana.
There was the Australian ambassador, there was the deputy British ambassador, head of UST and someone from the World Bank. The agreement was that Dr Lenneiye would go to ZBC and do an assessment.
He went there, did an assessment report and came back. I had scheduled a trip to London and when I was there I just said since I am here let me talk to other broadcasters and see how they can help.
So, I first went to my former employer ITV and they agreed to give us their Johannesburg bureau to come and train our journalists for two weeks. I went to Channel 2 News and talked to John Snow who said he was excited about the idea. I then went to CNN who then said they would give us Christiane Amanpour to come and train these journalists for two weeks.
More importantly, they said we will give ZBC an affiliate arrangement, where ZBC becomes a CNN affiliate and have access to over 900 TV stations to get content from and also offer training and they get what is called CNN Breaking News. The British embassy here in Zimbabwe then said we will put £3 million and it will be used via the BBC trust for ongoing training at ZBC.
When I was in London I got a call from the minister who said I have someone whom I want you to add to the team and I then said “no, minister, I am not part of this team, this is your team and project, I am just using my network to get things done”.
And I made it absolutely clear to them that I am just somebody who wants to see things work out in Zimbabwe. So they were like ok that is fine what about Helliate Rushwaya, then I said no that is your own business with your own donors.
I have put these people together and you have to make a case to them but it is going to be very embarrassing to make a case to bring someone who does not have that kind of experience in broadcasting and motivate the donors to pay her as a trainer when you have got these world-class journalists who are being offered for free.
When I came back from that trip, that is when I was offered the job as a director at ZBC and I said I am not interested, in the presence of Nick Mangwana. I was actually shocked when I was in prison she tried to say something else but these things have records and emails.
You know sometimes you do not want to embarrass your government but sometimes with the kind of things that people like George are now doing, you end up having to embarrass your government by producing this evidence so that people can see that this is actually what happened.
So at that point I realised that these people are not serious about reform, we’re still working with the old mindset of wanting to bring the hammer and that is not what change looks like.
Sometime in November I then wrote to all the partners and I said this thing I do not see it going anywhere but I am quite happy for you guys to continue with it but I am pulling out because I don’t see it going anywhere.
The promises that have been made, if these people were serious, you have been offered free money, you have been offered free training.
So they (government side) now started saying the other faction is blocking it and I just said I am not interested in this and if you cannot get your act together, that is your business and that is how the whole thing collapsed.
I wrote about this somewhere online, after that they (government) said you are just being critical because the project did not go through and if you go online there is an article by George Charamba where he labels me a Western pawn, saying the project did not go through and that I wanted to bring in Americans to come and capture ZBC and use it to support MDC.
NH: Some of your critics now say you are no longer a journalist, but more of a political activist. What is your take on this?
HC: Yes, I am an activist and there is nothing wrong with that, let us say you are a journalist and you have a child who is disabled and you campaign for disability rights, what is wrong with that? I am campaigning for a better Zimbabwe.
NH: Do you think you have overshot the boundaries of ethical journalism?
HC: How do I overshoot any boundaries when I am expressing my personal views? I am not expressing my personal views using a newspaper or TV that I am working for.
The assumption that I have overshot any boundaries means that I do not have any rights as a citizen to express my views in how the country is being run. So, it is like yourself you are journalists, there are things which are close to your heart and when you speak about them you are not crossing the boundaries of ethical journalism, you are simply expressing yourself.
NH: We have noticed you are expressing these views on social media, but are you still practising as a journalist?
HC: I have heard that so many times and I’ve always said social media is like The NewsHawks website, it’s like a TV station, it’s like newspaper, and it’s a platform where you can exercise your journalism.
When I come and expose that so and so has taken some amount of money as I did with Draxgate, it’s social media, but I am practicing journalism. Journalism does stop because it is now being practiced on social media, it has given us the freedom not to wait for an editor to say you can publish this or not.
Social media allows me to express my views, so when I express my personal views it is just like you as a news editor going to The NewsHawks and writing your editorial, it is your personal view, but it is being published in a newspaper or on website and the same thing applies to social media. I can write an article for The NewsHawks and still take it to social media.
Social media to me is just a platform. I think a lot of people get unnerved because I have a huge social media following and they say that it is now broadcasting because I have many followers, but those people follow me because I am saying something they find interesting. If I was not saying anything they find interesting, they would not have followed me.
In 2017, I had 400 people following me, today I have 228 000, it’s because what I am saying is resonating with people and I am able to say it in a simple way that people understand without making it complex.
So I will give you a good example, everybody for over five six or seven years has spoken about US$15 billion worth of diamonds being looted from Chiadzwa, I then broke it down and said what was actually looted is hospital care worth 320 years because all six central hospitals in Zimbabwe cost US$50 million to run.
The US$15 billion that was stolen is equivalent to 320 years, so I am communicating in a way that makes people understand because if you tell my colleague here that US$10 billion was stolen, if he is going to be honest he doesn’t know what US$10 billion is.
I do not know either, but if you then explain to me that US$10 billion is the size of your country’s GDP, it makes me have clarity of what has been talked about and because of that I think I have been able to break down things in very simple ways.
NH: I want to bring back the subject of arrests and detention. Has that not taken a toll on you emotionally and physically? Is there any post-traumatic stress disorder on your part?
HC: It takes a toll more on friends, relatives and the people that care about you and when it does then it obviously takes a toll on you because people around you are worried.
Ultimately it’s something that I’ve decided I am going to do because it is the right cause. I am sure you have seen me buying food for people, paying people’s hospital bills, it’s because it hurts me to say that I lead a comfortable life when someone else is not living a comfortable life.
NH: Some people in the security system believe you are part of a formation called the July 31 movement involving some activists and opposition parties which want to overthrow the government. Are you a member of such an organisation?
HC: I am not a member of such an organisation. That to me is tragic because it shows a very incompetent security service because if a security service is competent they should know that I am not a member of any organisation.
If security service people are saying those things, then it worries me because it means we have an incompetent security service system. I am not a member of July 31 movement, it’s a movement that was started by Jacob Ngarivhume. I merely reported on it and that was the attachment they saw.
NH: Do you have a political ambition? Some people are saying you doing this because you have bigger plans ahead.
HC: I have no interest in politics. I was asked to come and join Zanu PF as far back as 2004 but I refused, MDC also asked me to join and get a position, and I refused because I have no interest in politics.
NH: Some people, especially those close to the President, believe that you might be close to Vice-President Chiwenga and you are therefore advancing a factional Zanu PF agenda. What sort of relationship do you have with Chiwenga?
HC: I have only met the Vice-President twice, the first time when I was taken there by Kalaa Mpinga and the second time when he called me when I had protested.
After the meeting, George Charamba got the meeting to be published in the Sunday Mail in 2018 and I protested because I said you are characterising Dr Lovemore as someone who is a bad person and anti-government.
I then called Kalaa Mpinga and said if I had known this is what you guys were going to do I wouldn’t have come. Kalaa then called the Vice-President, who then said I am sorry and I did not know anything about this article. Those are the only two times I met Chiwenga.
NH: You were involved a lot in the Draxgate scandal in terms of revealing what was going on behind the Covid-19 procurement scene. Do you think that was your number one issue with this regime or there is another issue?
HC: It is the Draxgate issue. Before the Draxgate issue I am sure we can all agree that I was never attacked even when I was talking about hardcore politics. I would go and film hospitals with no medication, they would never respond to that.
The minute I started working on the Draxgate issue, it was like I had touched the lion’s tail and the fact that Zanu PF wheeled out its spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa is a tragedy because when they are cornered by facts they start to politicise things.
It is like that thread which was done on Twitter, it is just a pack of lies but for me tragedy is not on the lies, but on the state because if a state can lie about things that can be proven its ridiculous.
In his thread when he was lying that I brought people without accreditation, he was talking about Emma Hurd and she was actually accredited. I will give you Emma Hurd’s number and you say Hopewell has given us your number and ask her about the reports that she was accredited along with her cameraperson and producer. But this guy lies and that is why I want you guys to put that evidence out so that people can see for themselves.
I find it very disturbing that people can lie about things with records and lie about something that you yourself can just pick up the phone and call the American ambassador and say is it true that you wanted to assist ZBC and is it true that Hopewell came to you.
You can even ask the Australian ambassador is it true that you were part of this project that Hopewell wrote a concept paper for and you can even ask the same question to Dr Mungai Lenneiye.
I can send you the concept paper, what we want is our colleagues at ZBC to work under the right conditions, to be well-trained and have the right equipment. The state took my equipment, which is better than what ZBC had.
I am an individual and yet I can produce better stuff than a whole broadcasting institution not because I am smart but because I am able to get what is needed for me to do my work and we were saying the same thing had to be done for ZBC.
Call Judith Todd and ask her if she was approached to be on the board of ZBC, I have the emails where they all said we cannot be a part of this when I moved out.
Ralph Stutchbury, he was a cameraperson and wildlife photographer, he once worked for ZBC when it was still RBC, they all wanted to come onboard to become directors and they had agreed. I had actually been asked to look for people, ask Shingi Munyeza, he was one of them.
If you go on Twitter and look at what Jealousy Mawarire wrote or what Matigari wrote on his new Twitter account Mhofela, he says it was in January, Charamba says it was in 2018, Jealousy says it was in 2019, they are reporting on one story.
Ultimately I cannot do much about that other than just telling it like it is. People can call me an opportunist if they want. I have had opportunities in life that I had to walk away from simply because I was pursuing other things. I was working for ITV news and I resigned because I wanted to do other things.
NH: What is your opinion on the coup and the Mnangagwa presidency? Comparing it with the Mugabe regime, has there been progress in terms of service delivery, reforms and fixing the economy?
HC: I think the coup was based on fiction and lies. Everything that was promised, the freedoms, constitutionalism, all that has not happened, we have now seen that this regime is more corrupt than the Robert Mugabe regime.
Mugabe is now being seen as a mere spokesperson of the system, the wrong assumption that we had was that Mugabe was the problem but now we have seen that Mugabe was not actually the architect of all that madness that was taking place because the madness is happening.
Some of the madness is new and some of it is worse and I do not think under Mugabe Draxgate would have happened.
He was a bad leader, but I do not think he would have been so callous to loot money meant to address the pandemic.
I think that ultimately this regime is cleansing Mugabe bit by bit. I thought that ED was going to be completely different; redeeming himself and all people around him for what they did under Mugabe, the violence and so forth.
Even after the August 1 shooting there was still a chance and even after 2019 there was still a chance to do the right thing, but I do not know whether that chance is still existing.
Because we are going into elections, what they try to do may be perceived as politicking.
Even if he comes today and builds a hospital outside my house, I would say that you are doing this because you want my vote, so it’s a lost opportunity if he was a young man, he would still have time to redeem himself, but he is not.