Be a patriot, not an idiot

HARARE - Mugabe stole election: SA, was a front page story of a local daily of November 17.

It was not the lead story.

That was something to do with the continuing saga of Vice President Joice Mujuru and her tribulations with her party, Zanu PF.

As a reader, I would have been a little surprised at the choice of lead story: the Mujuru story was hardly a new story to the paper’s readers.

But this is Zimbabwe, in Africa: even independent newspapers can surprise you with their choice of lead stories.

The editors were not born yesterday.

I would have been flabbergasted if the story of the theft of the election by Mugabe had made The Herald front page lead story. 

I am assuming, as a journalist, fellow citizens are aware who owns the two newspapers.

One is commercial, depending for its success on how many fact-based stories it carries.

The other is owned by the government of Zimbabwe.

Editorially, it is controlled entirely by the government.

The editor is appointed by the government and is under the general control of the government.

I should know — I worked for the government conglomerate Zimpapers, for 10 years.

But this is not an expose, as some might assume: these are statements of FACT.

The government newspaper contains news which must have the approved imprint of the government.

Why the story of the president of Zimbabwe having “stolen” two parliamentary elections was not published in The Herald ought to be self-evident.

I have always assumed that readers of newspapers in Africa have a vague idea of why government newspapers report events as they do and why independent papers do it their way.

Some blunt-thinking people assume that the government newspapers are there to hide the truth.

If that is not the case, then they certainly wish their readers to know only that which is favourable to the government.

I realise that people who claim to be entirely objective, would continue the argument until the cows come home.

Yet it surely must decide who is a patriot and who is not.

A patriot, by the way, is not one who claims “my country — right or wrong”. 

Take the case of Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers in history.

At the height of his career, he refused to be drafted into the US army, whose soldiers were dying in Vietnam.

Ali refused: he had no quarrel with the Vietnamese, who had done the African-Americans no harm.

He was punished with imprisonment, but did not flinch at that.

Ali was one of the greatest conscientious objectors in any war situation.

Most people will remember him for that, as much as for being “the greatest”.

He may now suffer from the terrible Parkinson’s disease, but he is alive.

I bring up this incident to highlight why patriotism is so vital to a citizen, in both moral and physical terms.

For all Zimbabwean patriots, the fact that two of our elections were “stolen” by Mugabe, ought to be one of the most disgusting episodes in our political history.

People didn’t march in the streets to display their disgust: these events occurred too long ago to be altered in anyway now.

Still, a massive gesture of patriotic disapproval would have had its effect… on Mugabe and his allies.

The definition of a patriot may differ from one citizen to another.

But a patriot does not make excuses for his government — on the basis that his government is always right. It’s not.

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