Journalist Weighs In On Zimbabwe’s Future As Election Ends

The results of Zimbabwe's presidential election were announced last night — and since then, it's been a turbulent time for the press. NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with Tendai Marima, a Zimbabwean journalist, about what has unfolded in the past few days.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Early this morning, Zimbabwe time, Emmerson Mnangagwa was officially declared the winner of the country’s presidential election. Now lots of people there are trying to figure out how he’ll lead, including journalists. Riot police earlier today disrupted a press conference for the opposition party. Here’s local journalist Tendai Marima describing the scene.

TENDAI MARIMA: At first, it seemed like perhaps they were looking for people or, you know, they were just passing by. But then the trucks stopped, and then 30 to 40 riot police came out of the trucks. And they were saying, you know, all of you journalists, what are you doing here? What are you doing here? Get out of here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: I said out. Go that way – out. Get out – out.

MARIMA: And they were armed with batons, and they had shields. And some of them were also carrying canisters of tear gas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We live here. We’re not leaving. We live here.

MARIMA: At that point, you know, people sort of stood their ground and said, no, we can’t leave because this was a press conference, and we are waiting to be addressed.

CORNISH: This went on for several minutes until a government official came in and told the police to leave.

MARIMA: But it was a very, very, very crazy moment.

CORNISH: A reminder of the history here. Former president Robert Mugabe was ousted by Emmerson Mnangagwa, backed by the military, last November. Now, in the months since, there was a window of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. So I asked Tendai Marima if what happened today felt like a step back for Zimbabwe.

MARIMA: I think at this point it does feel that way because there are still so many questions that we are asking as journalists. It’s like we don’t understand why that had to happen. Later on this afternoon, when we went to the statehouse, the presidential spokesperson apologized to journalists. And the president himself did apologize to journalists.

And according to the presidential spokesperson, he said that there was a lapse in command in whatever order had been given because they had assumed that it was a political gathering and not a journalists’ press conference. However, whether it was a political gathering or a press conference, it’s still within the constitution of Zimbabwe. You know? So…

CORNISH: Right. Right. And you – as you mentioned, President Mnangagwa also tweeted that what happened today had, quote, “no place in our society,” that he values freedom of speech and assembly. What do you make of that disconnect?

MARIMA: I think what we’ve seen so far in these past eight months that he’s taken over since Mugabe, you know, it’s like he’s somebody who talks about, you know, respecting rights and, you know, upholding the freedoms and liberties that we have as citizens and as people also working in the media industry. But there are certain blips and there are certain incidences that happen that then remind you that, no, it’s not as free a place as it’s supposed to be. And some of the values that he talks about aren’t entirely expressed in the actions of perhaps the security officers or even other government officials as well.

CORNISH: What has this week felt like for you personally when you think of the future for Zimbabwe? Do you feel like this is a turning point? And if so, what direction?

MARIMA: I think it is a turning point. But then, you know, I’ve gone from it being a turning point of hope to being one of confusion because now I don’t know where this country is headed. On Monday, when everybody went to cast their votes, it seemed like, you know, it was so hopeful. And this election was so much more different than previous elections, you know, when there would be tension, or people would be anxious about casting their votes.

But the events of this week have just sort of left me feeling very confused and anxious about the future because I don’t know what kind of an administration we’re going to be under. You know? And I don’t know if we’re going to go back to the 2000s – the era of the 2000s when we saw some really terrible human rights abuses, or this is just – again, just a blip in the moment and, you know, things will come right.

CORNISH: Tendai Marima is a journalist in Zimbabwe. Thank you for speaking with us.

MARIMA: All right. Thank you. Thank you.

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