Zimbabwe journalists ordered to delete photos of VP collapsing at rally

Zimbabwean Second Vice President Kembo Mohadi at a rally in Mount Darwin on February 2, 2019. [VOA]

Media watchdogs and journalists in Zimbabwe are fuming after members of the vice presidential security detail ordered journalists to delete photos and video of Second Vice President Kembo Mohadi collapsing at a campaign rally Saturday.

As Mohadi was airlifted to an unknown destination for medical attention, the security detail rounded up journalists and ordered them to wipe out recordings of the event.

Journalists from private and government-controlled media who were covering the Zanu-PF rally where Mohadi collapsed refused to speak openly about the dramatic event in Gutu province, which is about a three-hour drive south of Harare.

One journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that soon after Mohadi collapsed at the podium, security agents and some Zanu-PF officials rushed to where journalists were gathered.

“We were asked to delete our footage,” the journalist said. “Some phones of some journalists were taken for further checks, especially from those from the private media. The phones were taken for 10 to 15 minutes.

“Soon after then, the security was always on journalists … checking the stories that they are going to write,” he said. “Some of the officials said, ‘There's no story about the collapse of V.P.’ ”

The journalist criticized the security officials’ actions.

“We have the right to our phones for privacy,” he said, “and also we have the right to inform the nation.”

Journalists cover a political rally in August 2023 in Harare, Zimbabwe. [VOA]

Tabani Moyo, head of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, agreed, saying, “A story of that nature is of national interest. For them to round up journalists and request them to delete footage of a situation of a public figure who has collapsed in front of a rally, I think it is unfortunate.”

Five days later, there is still no news on Mohadi’s condition, or even an acknowledgement from government sources that he might be unwell.

Contacted by VOA, both Zanu-PF officials and Jenfan Muswere, Zimbabwe’s minister of information, refused to comment on the incident.

Perfect Hlongwane, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, called the incident a “sad and unfortunate violation.”

“It is not just a violation of journalistic rights, but it is also a violation of the constitution itself,” Hlongwane said. “We want to call on government officials to say that they must actually be in the forefront to ensure that the constitution itself is upheld.”

Speaking Wednesday, First Vice President Constantino Chiwenga did not comment on Mohadi’s collapse but said Zimbabwe respects all human rights and freedoms.

Chiwenga made his comments at a rally against sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe in the early 2000s by the United States and the European Union on grounds of election rigging and human rights abuses.