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Robert Mugabe: Still one of the ‘Hottest News Stories’ in Africa

Robert Mugabe is still one of the hottest news stories on the African continent – and as he gets older that’s unlikely to change. His heal...

Robert Mugabe is still one of the hottest news stories on the African continent – and as he gets older that’s unlikely to change.

His health (or lack of it), his glamorous wife Grace and his pronouncements on sanctions and elections: if you’re looking for clicks, Mugabe is your man.

But the Zimbabwe and Mugabe story has moved on a long way since it began hogging headlines again back in 2000, when the president launched his land reform programme.

So if you’re a foreign journalist hoping for a scoop – or a writer whose regular beat is not Zimbabwe – here are some things to bear in mind:
President Robert Mugabe 

DON’T believe that Mugabe is on his last legs every time Twitter tells you that he is.

The rumours go round so often, sparking panicked phone calls from editors. Mugabe himself joked last year he had resurrected “as I always do”. One day, of course, the rumours will turn out to be true.

DON’T go driving past State House, Mugabe’s official residence, after 18:00 at night looking for colour.

OK, so the South African hunter who was arrested earlier this month after driving through the State House barricades late at night “by mistake” wasn’t a reporter. But you can’t just meander past State House. This is Zimbabwe, remember.

DON’T think that the next election will be a simple contest between Mugabe and his main rival for the last 17 years, Morgan Tsvangirai.

There may be an opposition coalition, which Tsvangirai may or may not head (Former VP Joice Mujuru is still committed to this coalition apparently, despite comments from a deputy earlier this month). A lot can happen in the year’s run-up to the elections.

DON’T think that Zimbabwe’s problems will be magically solved once Mugabe is out of the picture

Who knows what (or more importantly, who) will happen next? Author Geoff Hill talked about the WHAM (What Happens After Mugabe) factor back in 2003. The question still hasn’t got a definitive answer.

DON’T forget that many of those who are critical of Mugabe are equally critical of Zimbabwe’s opposition

That’s why there was outrage on social media this month recently following reports of calls for voting to be made compulsory in Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai’s stay as prime minister in the 2009-13 coalition brought a measure of economic stability to Zimbabwe. 

But it also left the MDC leader with a severe dent in his popularity. Just because someone is anti-Mugabe doesn’t mean he or she logically supports the opposition (or protest pastor Evan Mawarire, for that matter).

DO remember that most Zimbabweans are proud of their country, with or without Mugabe

Which is why Mugabe’s “Zimbabwe is second only to South Africa in terms of development” claim at the WEF Africa forum in Durban was not dismissed with outrage by everyone back home. Take a look at other countries in Africa, some Zimbabweans urged. We might have our problems but…

DO remember that some local news outlets are biased (as they are in other countries)

The state-controlled Herald newspaper will usually give you the fullest quotes from ruling party politicians (in Shona and English). But the Herald’s stories aren’t always to be trusted.

Remember last year’s “flopped” stayaway? (It didn’t flop). Political stories in some privately-owned publications should also be taken with a pinch of salt. As for the fake news websites, don’t even go there.

DO be alive to the fact that fear is a factor in Zimbabwe’s elections. But it is far from the only factor

So surveys like the one released this month by Afrobarometer (which gave Mugabe the support of 64 percent of adult Zimbabweans) should not just be dismissed as “people are too scared to say anything else.” 

There are all sorts of reasons why many Zimbabweans still support Mugabe. Loyalty, history, cancelled rates bills and pre-election handouts are but a few of them.

DO be alive to the fact that Mugabe’s party is bitterly divided

Remember this when you’re talking to Zanu-PF supporters or officials (including war vets or those ‘party sources’). Factional infighting is so severe now that it degenerated into fisticuffs at a Bulawayo Zanu-PF meeting on Sunday, according to online press watchdog @ZimMediaReview.

A comment from a Zanu-PF official does not necessarily reflect the view of The Party. The widely-accepted line is that there are two main Zanu-PF factions: VP Emmerson Mnangagwa’s and the G40 one aligned to Grace. Will warring factions close ranks if the opposition coalition firms up? Maybe, maybe not.

DO remember Zimbabwe has a multiplicity of other news stories. Culture, environment, farming and – dare we say it – prophets are a few of those stories. Zimbabwe is not just Mugabe. Dig deeper (as ex-Zanu-PF official Acie Lumumba was fond of saying last year). - Radio VOP

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