"I don’t care if they kill me today. I only care about how I’m going to be remembered"
This is a lightly edited transcript from a talk by Zimbabwean journalist and anti-corruption activist Hopewell Chin'ono in conversation with Deputy Director of the Reuters Institute Meera Selva. It was held on 3 February 2021 as part of our global journalism seminar series.
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On my time in prison ↑
I was last arrested on 8 January. It was my third arrest, and I came out of prison last week. I’m fine, physically and mentally. I was released from a maximum prison and I’m now home. But I consider even my existence outside the maximum prison is of one who is in jail, because you are constantly being intimidated, harassed and you are not able to do your work as a journalist the way that you should be doing it.
The third time I was arrested, it was supposedly for posting something on Twitter which implicated a police officer who was supposed to have killed a child. The fact of the matter is the police and the state lied in court when they said I had done that. I never tweeted that. Then they charged me under a law which does not exist. It was expunged from the Zimbabwean Statutes and from the Penal Code in 2014. So, my detention was actually illegal, but the magistrate upheld that my detention was legal, which is a story for another day.
The second time I was arrested, a lady called Henrietta Rushwaya, who is the President’s niece, was caught at the Robert Mugabe International Airport with 6kg of gold. I got wind from my sources that they’d done a corrupt deal, so that she’s given bail without the state opposing it. When I reported that on Twitter as a journalist, I was arrested and jailed, and I spent 17 days at Chikurubi Maximum Prison, which is the worst prison in Africa.
The first time that I was arrested was on 20 July, supposedly for inciting people to get involved in violence, which again was not true. I was simply doing my work as a journalist and reporting on what was happening in Zimbabwe. I had uncovered a scandal with two other journalists. The Minister of Health and political surrogates around him were looting money from a $60 million facility meant to buy and procure COVID-19 PPEs [personal protective equipment] for our health delivery system. And for that I was thrown into prison for 45 days.
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The conditions in our prisons are terrible. They are horrible. To start with, a lot of prison inmates die in these prisons because they don’t have access to proper healthcare. For instance, when my doctor came to see me, he wanted to check my blood pressure. The prison hospital did not have a blood pressure machine, which costs five US dollars or two pounds. The quality of our diet is extremely terrible. The prisoners are woken up in the morning and they are given porridge, which is nothing.
In the afternoon they are given beans which is boiled with nothing, without cooking oil or tomatoes or onions, with badly cooked cornmeal, and the same diet, the same meal is repeated in the evening. And that’s what they have 24/7 for 365 days. Sometimes they will get spinach if they are lucky, but that’s the diet they get. When I was arrested in July, it was COVID-19 time and we were actually under a lockdown. And we were about 2,500 to 2,700 prisoners with no masks.
My co-accused at the time and I were the only people that were actually wearing masks whilst in prison. They didn’t have masks. The state could not provide masks, and this is a result of the looting of public funds that I always talk and write about. It is about the plunder of Zimbabwe’s national resources.
While I was in prison, I realised that the World Health Organisation’s protocol, which is also followed by the Zimbabwean government in theory, states that people should wash their hands. Prisoners did not have washing soap. They could not even give them toilet paper. Even when I was there this time around prisoners did not have toilet paper. They used Bible pages as toilet paper, which is quite tragic. And there is no facility which gives prisoners an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves so that when they are released they become better members of society and they throw away their past deeds.
Under Robert Mugabe I was never jailed. I was never arrested. They would intimidate you, they would give you a phone call. Sometimes they would engage you. We thought that Robert Mugabe’s administrations were the worst. We never thought that one day we would turn around and say Robert Mugabe was better than someone, but this is what Zimbabweans are now saying.
Even if you go to rural areas, the poverty is biting the lack of medication in hospitals, the lack of books in schools, the lack of jobs. 95% of our potential workforce is out of work. They are staying at home. These people are now saying that Robert Mugabe was better. We know better as journalists that it’s no longer just about individuals. It’s the whole system that is corrupt. It is the whole system that is responsible for the looting of public funds. But at the moment [President] Emmerson Mnangagwa is seen as worse than Robert Mugabe, and that’s a very terrible indictment.
On how journalism has suffered in Zimbabwe ↑
Journalism in Zimbabwe has suffered the same way as other professions have suffered. It’s not disconnected from the economic circumstances in the country. So, you find that a lot of journalists were laid off. Some of the big companies that were operating in Zimbabwe folded so there’s no advertising for the media and the quality of journalism has really gone down, because journalists need funding and most of the funding was coming through advertising.
The state controls a massive majority of media outlets in Zimbabwe. The country only has one television station. It is the only country in Africa not at war which has only one television station. And yet Zimbabwe in 1960 was one of the first two countries, with Nigeria, to have a TV station in sub-Saharan Africa.
Radio licences were issued around 2011 and 2012. They were all given to cronies of ZANU-PF, the party in government. One was given to a government minister. Another one was given to a state-owned media company called Zimpapers. This time around TV licences have been issued again, and again like with the radio licences they were issued to government's cronies. One was even issued to the wife of a sitting government minister. That’s how terrible it is. So, there is no private independent broadcasting taking place in Zimbabwe. All the stations are controlled directly by the government or indirectly through the ZANU-PF surrogates. The state of media is terrible. We used to have one of the best media in the continent, but not anymore.
Generally what we have seen is a trend of defiance from young journalists who are continuing to report on the situation, even reporting on my case.
Social media has been a godsend, not only to Zimbabwe but to all countries that have been suffering from repressive regimes like the one that we have. Social media is a game-changer. As journalists we are now able to communicate and post news, and that is why you find that I’m being arrested by the Zimbabwean government. It’s because they are struggling to come to terms with the new world reality that there is social media, that you cannot control the flow of information the way they used to do in the 80s and in the 90s.
The same people that were media bureaucrats for the government then are media bureaucrats for the government today, and they have not adjusted. They have not moved on. They have no new ideas. They are trying to use the same repressive methods that they used in the 80s to stop us from disseminating information as citizens. So, if you see Hopewell Chin’ono being arrested, it’s meant to instil the fear of God in young journalists that if you report in a way that we don’t like, this is what we will do to you. He is an award-winning internationally-recognised journalist and we’re throwing him into prison.
Invariably you are going to have one of two that are going to be intimidated, but generally what we have seen is a trend of defiance from young journalists who are continuing to report on the situation, even reporting on my case. And the defiance has been working because it is cushioned around constitutionalism. These young journalists are doing what the constitution says that they can do. So, you will find one or two who are intimidated, but the majority so far are reporting as they used to report.
On cybersecurity laws ↑
I’m extremely concerned especially at the false equivalences that are used by the Zimbabwean government when they talk about these bills and laws being in Western countries. What we have is a regime that does not respect the constitution, a regime that will go and resuscitate old laws in order to persecute its supposed political adversaries, critics or journalists. So these cybersecurity laws are meant to muzzle the press. They are meant to muzzle the citizens. If you see what has been happening to me, they have been unconstitutionally using laws that are not supposed to be used in court.
What Robert Mugabe perfected was the fact that he would go to Parliament and pass a law, as my lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, says all the time, which says that it is now legal to slap you in the face. So, when they come and slap you in the face and you complain, they say, “No, wait a minute. This is legal. There is a law that says so,” and that’s exactly the same book that Emmerson Mnangagwa is now trying to do.
To go and enact laws that will muzzle us as journalists and muzzle the citizens, so they are not able to communicate with themselves. The fact that I’m talking to you right now, and that there are thousands of Zimbabweans that are watching this conversation, is a testimony to how we’ve been deprived of alternative media outlets. Social media has become the only outlet for Zimbabweans to engage with each other or to share information, or for us as professional journalists to put information out. So, these cyber laws are meant to try and curtail and sometimes stop that.
On dealing with online trolls ↑
I ignore them. On Twitter I just block them. And ZANU-PF has got a farm of trolls. They come in all shapes and sizes. Even the spokesperson for the President runs a trolling account. Every time something is posted that they don’t like he will use that trolling account to insult. South African journalist Sophie Mokoena, who is the foreign news agent for the biggest broadcaster in Africa, South African Broadcasting Corporation, was being trolled by the President’s spokesperson, George Charamba. When he starts doing that then you find these hundreds of trolls that will come and join him in attack.
I’m fortunate enough that I know executives at Twitter. When something becomes chilling, I inform them, and they deal with the situation. And we also have a problem now in Zimbabwe where these trolls actually report genuine accounts of people, and sometimes because Twitter and Facebook use algorithms in dealing with these reports, genuine accounts are shut down and we have had newspapers, we have had journalists and political commentators having their accounts shut down to algorithms. But I have been fortunate enough to be in a position where I got in touch with Twitter and these accounts are reopened.
On Zimbabwean mainstream media ↑
The idea that they are most popular is a misconception. The Herald is selling less than 5,000 copies a day, and this was even confirmed by the President’s spokesperson. People only watch [television channel] ZBC for sports [or] where there’s an address by the President and they want to listen to what he’s saying and understand and hear how it impacts their lives. But they are not popular at all. If you go to their social media accounts you realise that there is a huge subscription to them, but the interactions do not point to a popular media outlet. In fact people go on there to express and vent their anger because they see these institutions are representative of the state itself.
I think it’s important for journalists to support each other. I’m fortunate enough that I’ve got a very good and active lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, and I’m fortunate enough that I have a family that backs me whatever I am doing as long as I am doing things that are legal. But I’ve noticed that there’s a sense of fear, intimidation that is instilled in young journalists, and they don’t have the profile and name recognition that I have.
So, sometimes they are scared of doing certain things, of reporting in a certain way although it’s a legitimate form of journalism, because they don’t have the support that they require. So, it’s important for journalists in different countries to have a journalism network which supports colleagues when they are in trouble. Here in Zimbabwe we have the Media Institute for Southern African, Zimbabwean Chapter. We have the Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights which comes out for us when we are arrested on trumped up charges. And we also have lawyers and doctors who are prepared to give their services at times for free in helping journalists, because the societies where we come from must understand that when journalism is attacked it is their right to receiving information that is being attacked.
And when they are not able to receive legitimate information they are not able to interact and to engage with political institutions in those countries or institutions that are supposed to look after their needs, like councils, like libraries. And because, you know, that information will not be coming. So, it’s also important for ordinary citizens to get behind people who are being persecuted like myself. I’ve been fortunate enough that Zimbabweans they support me on social media. They come and support me. I mean, obviously they can’t go on the streets because they know the repercussions. In 2018 six people were killed and there hasn’t been any consequence for those killings or extrajudicial killings by the state.
The looting of public funds and the plunder of the nation’s natural resources must be fought everywhere
In Southern Africa, I have been able to get a lot of support from ordinary citizens, especially from South Africa. The Zimbabwean Lives Matter started from South Africa. So it’s important for society to understand that it must protect journalists and support them when they are doing their work.
On tackling corruption ↑
I mean, corruption, the looting of public funds and the plunder of the nation’s natural resources must be fought everywhere. On social media, on the ground, even those in the diaspora can engage in these sorts of fights, because these are legitimate fights. These are fights that are about life and death for the citizens. I’ll give you a good example. The majority of our people don’t have access to healthcare. The majority of our people are dying in their homes because they don’t have access to hospitals.
Our nurses and doctors are dying because they do not have sufficient personal protective equipment, PPE, during this COVID pandemic. Six doctors have died in the last 30 days and one of them died yesterday. A very senior surgeon, a very important member of the medical fraternity. And nurses are going to hospital at times wearing blankets in order to protect themselves from the COVID-19 pandemic. This is caused by the looting of public funds, and I exposed and put the evidence on the table in 2020 around May/June, and nobody has been sent to jail because corruption is tolerated by the political elite in Zimbabwe. I have been sent to jail three times for exposing corruption for talking against corruption, and those who are corrupt are not sent to prison.
Today I posted something on Twitter, a video, juxtaposing how I was treated when I was in prison. I was put in leg irons, I was put in handcuffs when I was going to court. Today a ZANU-PF-aligned land baron who was stealing land and selling it to unsuspecting citizens went to court wearing a suit like he’s going to a wedding. So, corruption must be fought everywhere. Corruption kills. 2,500 women die every year in Zimbabwe trying to give birth. That’s the equivalent of 15 jumbo jets crashing every year and killing pregnant Zimbabwean women. This could be avoided if we invested in our hospitals.
Now, hear this thing. We have five central hospitals in Zimbabwe. They only require 50 million US dollars a year for them to run efficiently, the same way a hospital would run in Britain through the National Health Service, but they do not get this funding, 50 million dollars a, a, a, a year. And 100 million US dollars’ worth of gold is smuggled by the ZANU-PF elite and their surrogates every month, which means gold alone worth 100 million is smuggled every month. That is sufficient to run all the central hospitals in Zimbabwe for two years. 1.2 billion US dollars’ worth of gold is smuggled out of Zimbabwe every year. That is sufficient to run those five central hospitals for 24 years.
So, corruption kills. That’s what I mean all the time when I say corruption kills. It is responsible for thousands of deaths every year in Zimbabwe. So, every Zimbabwean has got a responsibility to make sure that they expose and fight corruption wherever they find it.
I’m not afraid of being arrested anymore. I’ve gone past that. The first time when I was arrested, that’s when I was a bit shaken, but not anymore because I know that I am fighting against evil. Corruption is evil. I’m fighting against evil. Looting is evil. I’m fighting against evil. Plunder of the nation’s natural resources is an evil thing because it kills people as I’ve just explained. So, I’m not afraid of getting arrested. Perhaps they might want to kill me. I’ve gone past that mentally. I’m not afraid of getting killed anymore because I know that I would have died for a good thing, and I know that we are all going to die. What I’m doing now is what everybody should have been doing from day one when this crisis started in around 2000.
If we don’t fight against these things and we live in our cocoons where we think we are comfortable this is going to come and haunt not only us today but future generations. Because what is being stolen is the future of this country. 40 years from now they will look at us and say, “But why did they not do something about it?”
So, I’m comfortable and actually happy that I’m doing my bit and I’m leaving a good legacy. As a journalist I’ve used my talent, I’ve used my skill, I’ve used my training to do something for my country, and I’m happy that I’ll be remembered for the right things. That’s what only matters to me. I don’t care if they kill me today. I don’t care if they arrest me today. I only care about how I’m going to be remembered, and I know that the future will remember me in a better way.
On journalism and activism ↑
The state in Zimbabwe would like to caricature me as a regime change agent. I’ve never called for the overthrow of the Zimbabwean government, and I will never do that because I am not, I am not a politician. I’m a journalist. What I have done is to simply use my skills to expose corruption, to expose incompetence in government, to expose clansmanship in government, to expose all the bad things that are directly related to the suffering of our people, the consequences of our poverty. I have noticed that the state media now refer to me as a political activist and I’ve just laughed it off. They tried to link me to the opposition political parties. I am not a member of any political party. The only time I was a member of a political party was when I was excited about being an activist student activist when I was in England when I joined the Labour party. But I’ve never joined a political party in Zimbabwe, and I’m just doing my work as a journalist.
Now, the issue of activism. There is a very thin line between what we do and activism because sometimes people call us activist journalists and a good example is someone like John Pilger. He is a journalist but there is also activism in how he does his work, his documentary films his articles. And I am comfortable with anyone who wants to call me an activist or a journalist because essentially activism is about being active about something and making sure that you address issues that affect the realities of life in your communities.
On journalism and LGBTI rights ↑
There have been statements that were made by the political elite [about the LGBTI community in Zimbabwe], and this is not exclusive just to the ruling party, even to the opposition parties in Zimbabwe. It’s a cultural thing in Zimbabwe. It’s perceived as a cultural thing. I wouldn’t blame ZANU-PF alone for this. It’s something that cuts across the political divide. In fact, that’s one thing ironically that unites the majority of Zimbabweans. It’s something that is being talked about, but my attitude is that, you know there are bigger things in our society and these are issues that we should be addressing in our society. If someone is killed because they are gay, I would have a problem with it, but I wouldn’t want to spend time making social commentary on what people get up to into their bedrooms. It’s none of my business. It’s their own business. As long as they are consenting adults, that’s their business.
On 'Dem Loot' and campaigning creatively ↑
I always talk about the three pillars that have become an albatross for Zimbabwe as a country. There is corruption the looting of public funds and the plunder. There’s repression, and there’s incompetence. And this incompetence is not only specific to one group of people, it cuts across society because it has been a society that has been dragged down with a big stone around its neck for 20 years. So, the opposition needs to be, I would say, creative to come up with campaigns that work.
I’m not afraid of getting arrested. Perhaps they might want to kill me. I’ve gone past that mentally. I’m not afraid of getting killed anymore because I know that I would have died for a good thing
I mean, look at what I did on Sunday. I simply sat behind my computer played an instrumental and sang on top of it, and it’s gone viral around the world. It’s been covered by international television stations, it’s been covered by the international media and newspapers, and we’re talking about it and you are from the University of Oxford. That’s how important competence is when you are trying to deal with these issues. So, I think the opposition in Zimbabwe needs to be creative. They need to go beyond the political caricature that has been put in place by ZANU-PF where people are elected or appointed on the basis of patronage, but they are appointed on the basis of competence.
I think young people understand social media better than better than old people. I’m turning 50 on the 26th of March. I’m not very conversant with Instagram. I know how to use it, but there are certain things that I haven’t figured out yet, but I will go and post every day because I’ve realised that whilst I have got almost I think 300,000 people following me between Twitter and Facebook, I’ve realised that I need to engage with the younger audiences because you find them I think in most cases on Instagram.
And I posted something on Twitter complaining to young people and I called them unfocussed and they were very upset with that. And then they came to me and they said, “You know what? You need to engage us in a language that we understand,” and part of the song that I did this skit called Dem Loot was part of that. And I’ve realised that they have responded. So, I think as old people, or middle-aged people we need to realise that we need to learn new skills if we are going to have an impact.
The majority of voters in every society across the world are the young people. If you want to have your say with them, if you want to impact their lives, if you want to influence how they make decisions and interact with public life, you have to learn the new skills and use the new social media tools that are available. And this applies not only to ruling parties across Africa, but also to the opposition parties. If you look at the Presidential campaign in Uganda, Bobi Wine was able to use social media skills and reached across not only young people in Uganda but across the continent and across the, the world. He even did a song with a major reggae artist, Buju Banton, and they interacted because they met through social media.
So, I think we all need to understand that social media is the new thing, and that’s how young people communicate. I mean, I talked about how Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper, which used to be the biggest newspaper, is selling less than 5,000 copies, according to the Presidential spokesperson. And you ask yourself, “Where are young people getting their news?” They are getting it on Twitter. So, if you don’t jump onto Twitter then you are not able to influence them or to make them understand things from your own perspective.
Whilst I was in prison I reflected on the fact that the majority of people in this this country are young, and I said, “I might be speaking on top of their heads engaging using old ways , although I’m using social media, but the format of engagement might be different from, from what might [unclear] result and have a proper political discourse in this country.” So, I thought, “You know, maybe I need to do something funny, maybe I need to do something that makes them laugh. Maybe they might want to engage more if I do that.”
So, I was seated exactly where I’m sitting and I just played an instrumental and then I thought, “How do I engage with them,” and then a line just came to my mind and I was like, “Dem loot, dem loot, dem loot, dem loot. No hospital, medication. Dem Loot. No fuel in their cars. Dem loot.” So, Dem Loot is them who are looting, the political elite and, I ran it once. I never went back to perfect it. I just took the first copy because it was not meant to be like a proper music production. So, I took it out, I put it on Twitter and I said, “Let me see how they respond these young people, and maybe we can have a conversation.”
And then before I knew it the whole evening of [unclear] was like, “Dem loot, dem loot, dem loot.” And the next morning I was getting calls from South African radio stations, I’m getting calls from British radio stations, I’m getting calls from German broadcasters like DW. And then I realised the effectiveness of looking at methods that work in terms of engagement, and understanding that you can’t be one trick minded if you are going to engage.
And if you go back to 2008, I covered the 2008 election in America where Barack Obama emerged as the, as the winner and he used social media in a way, especially Facebook, that had never been used. He was competing against a very old candidate, John McCain, who was not social media savvy, and I would say that much of the impetus that was instilled in Barack Obama’s campaign was in understanding that there is a certain way of engaging with young people. Where he would then use rap stars like Jay -Z to engage and he was the master of understanding things.
When he went to Jamaica, I remember one of his speeches where the first thing he started when he was speaking, the president of America, the most powerful man, but he went there on the podium and he was like, “Wagwan Jamaica? What a gwan?” You know, it, it’s a way he understood that you need to speak in a language that excites them, and that’s how I ended up making this thing and it was, it was a skit, it was like a joke, but I wanted to see how they would respond, and they responded positively. And there are actually two big artists in Zimbabwe who are in the studio now working on a proper song and there’s a big Nigerian guitarist who is going to be working on a song and he said he will have it ready by next week. Because he said, “You know, look this is really has really motivated not just Zimbabweans.”
It went viral in Uganda I am told because the issues of corruption and looting don’t only affect Zimbabweans. They are an endemic problem in the whole continent, in Africa. So, it is reflections of what’s happening not just in Zimbabwe, but what’s happening in Uganda, what’s happening in Nigeria, what’s happening in South Africa. The degrees might be different because on the Zimbabwean side they are very high, but the struggle continues, it’s the same thing.
On internet shutdowns and limits of online media ↑
An internet shutdown is nothing new to Zimbabweans. It happened in 2019 when there were protests. The government shut down the internet but citizens became innovative. They went around it. They used VPNs but here’s the thing, when that happened there is a company that is based in Zimbabwe that does work for the biggest mobile phone money platform in Africa, which is on Safaricom in Kenya. It was affected. That company threatened to leave Zimbabwe because it said, “We cannot operate in a country where the internet can just be shut for political reasons.” Because when the internet was shut in Zimbabwe it affected the servers in Kenya for that company.
So, there are huge economic implications, but dictators don’t care about this in as much as they don’t care about investors coming to their country. They only worry about holding onto power and doing anything that gives them power. But also technology is going to find a way for everything that is made, there is something that is made also to undo it. So, when the internet is shut down it affects perhaps the elderly who don’t know how to go around it, but the majority of young people, they now know that, “OK, if they shut down the internet, we use VPN.” But the tragedy is if the internet companies are ordered to shut down everything, and my attitude towards that is that we’re living in a society like in Zimbabwe where I feel that we’re already shutdown anyway, because the people in rural areas don’t have access to this conversation that you and I are, are, are having at the moment.
Ideally if we were living in a proper constitutional democracy, my discussion with you should have been on Radio Zimbabwe, should have been on Zimbabwean television, because it’s an important conversation. But at the moment we can’t do that so we rely on social media, but it has its limitations because of the proximity effect that is there between the social media tools and the citizens across the country. Because some don’t have access to internet, and even if they have access to internet they don’t have the resources to buy data bundles to listen to these sort of conversations, which are important in the way we run our lives and how we interact with public life and officials.
On disinformation ↑
I’m very worried about disinformation and misinformation, and in Zimbabwe it’s predominantly those two tools [the internet and social media] that are used by the state. They disinform, they misinform, they use propaganda to engage with citizens, and you see it through the trolls that we were talking about much earlier in the beginning of the conversation where they will send people to go and write things that are not correct. But as journalists our job is to look at these things on a daily basis and put the correct information out there in order for citizens to be able to make the right decisions about their lives. Because they need this information, and they need information that is truthful.
Disinformation and misinformation are as old as humankind. They were disinforming and misinforming about Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, and it’s still the case today. And so these are phenomenoma that we have to live with but we can manage that by making sure that the media, the journalists like myself and yourself are able to go out and put the truth in its proper perspective. But that’s why we end up getting arrested, because we are trying to remove those elements of disinformation and misinformation, crude propaganda, the lies that are put out by repressive states, for instance to say that Zimbabwe’s problems emanate from sanctions.
Yet, Zimbabwe’s problems emanate from the looting of public funds, from the plunder of the nation’s natural resources. So, you need now to explain to people in the way that I explained earlier that, “Your hospitals only cost 50 million US dollars to run a year. What is being looted a month from just gold alone is 100 million dollars.” That piece of information goes a long way in citizens dismissing elements that come through disinformation and misinformation. But if we are not able to elaborate issues in that manner and context, then disinformation and misinformation will continue carrying the day. And I always say to opposing politicians that it’s also their role, because they are opposing, and as opposers they are not merely there to oppose everything, but they are supposed to offer alternative views. And they are supposed to correct the propaganda because they are the ones who are chasing after votes.
It’s not only the role of the media, it’s also the role of society to make sure that we turn these elements of disinformation, of misinformation and stigmatise them the same way the British were able to stigmatise drink driving. It’s the same way we should be pushing towards stigmatising these elements of disinformation, misinformation and propaganda. We will never be able to really remove them 100%, but they will always be there.
On sustaining Zimbabwean journalism
I would hope that in a new Zimbabwe the state would fund instruments of journalism starting from the training and making sure that for instance the laptops that we use are not taxed, the cameras we use are not taxed. I mean, I lost my camera – the Zimbabwean government took my camera away, and they are refusing to give me this camera because they want to shut me down. They don’t want me to do my work. So, the camera that I paid for with my own money is being held by the state. The state is actually an agent of destroying good journalism in Zimbabwe.
So I think the citizens must also understand that maybe they should consider paying for good journalism. There are good platforms that have been set up in Zimbabwe. If citizens could support that with whatever they do, those institutions whatever they do, if citizens could support with whatever they have, the same way that the Guardian is also supported by its readers. People just give £2.00, someone will give £10.00 because you are paying for good journalism. You are trying to support good journalism. But the problem with Zimbabwe is that the majority of our people are poor. So, that is a very thin proposition.
Perhaps the Zimbabwean diaspora might look at platforms that can be supported. Perhaps the donor communities could do the same thing again until Zimbabwe gets to a point where it can stand on its own because it has become a constitutional democracy, because media can grow on its own and become commercial where it’s not stifled. But at the moment in Zimbabwe the problem is that media is stifled, and nobody wants to put money in those institutions that are doing propaganda work for the ruling party. So, you end up getting the state only funding institutions that propagate lies. Radio stations that are owned by the state, radio stations that are owned by surrogates of the state.
If I were to go to a bank today and say, “I want to start a radio station,” I wouldn’t be able to do that to start with because I wouldn’t have a licence. But let’s assume that I had a licence. Some of the banks who do not want to carry the political risk of funding something that is perceived to be anti-government, so they end up focusing on their core business, it’s banks, or, or even institutions like big companies. In other countries you find that in Britain there are big companies that will support good journalism as a corporate responsibility, but here in Zimbabwe you don’t find it because these companies are afraid of losing their licences, because the Zimbabwean government uses that power as a way of controlling what is said and what is not said.
That’s why you have people like me who are independent of the corporate world and independent of the state being jailed because that’s the only form that they have left to control us. I don’t rely on money from the state or from the corporate world. I go and make a film and the film funds itself, and so the only way they can control me is by throwing me into prison. So, if we are going to have, say, good documentary films, when we make these films perhaps citizens should consider buying the films for only a dollar or a pound. It goes a long way in trying to build a strong foundation of good journalism in a country.
I mean, look at what I did on Sunday. I simply sat behind my computer played an instrumental and sang on top of it, and it’s gone viral around the world.
On resistance to government portrayals of him ↑
The good thing in Zimbabwe is that the majority of Zimbabweans don’t buy into that drivel that I’m a Western pawn or that I’m a Western puppet or that I’m an agent of regime change. They don’t buy that. I mean, that’s why I have a huge following on social media. It’s a reflection that our society does not buy into that cheap propaganda. It’s propaganda that used to work in the past before the advent of social media, because people had no other forms of information. They had no other sources of information.
When I made that skit on Sunday, yesterday I got a skit from a grandmother. Somebody had given a phone to the grandmother, recorded the grandmother singing about the stealing, the looting, the thieving from an old grandmother in a rural area which means people understand. Each time I’m arrested, and I go to my rural area people dismiss the propaganda that would have been put through by the Zimbabwean government through these radio stations. They understand, they empathise with me, they sympathise with me. They show me sympathy. They say, “We are sorry. We know that you are being persecuted because you are telling the truth.”
WhatsApp. People have family WhatsApp groups. People in rural areas have access to WhatsApp. They now get the information. They get to understand that Hopewell Chin’ono is a subject of state persecution by the Mnangagwa regime. They understand all that.