Terrence Mukupe, the deputy finance minister and a ruling ZANU-PF party member of parliament, made his threats against Blessed Mhlanga, a reporter for the newspaper NewsDay, during a studio discussion broadcast live by radio SFM, cutting short the discussion.
SFM had invited Mukupe to come and discuss Mhlanga’s front page story the previous day that was based on a video recorded at an internal ZANU-PF meeting earlier in the week in which Mukupe said the military would not recognize opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa as president if he won the 30 July general election.
Mhlanga said Mukupe got angry within a few minutes of the start of the radio debate and began attacking him verbally. “I will beat you up, you want to belittle me,” he shouted at Mhlanga.
“Such public threats against a journalist are all the more unacceptable when made by a government minister,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “We call on the Zimbabwean authorities to systematically condemn such attacks and not let them go unpunished. After years of persecution under Robert Mugabe, it is time to recognize that the media and journalists play a key role in the public debate, especially in the run-up to a general election.”
In a letter released on 26 May, Mukupe accused Mhlanga of “provocative behaviour” during the discussion. “I am shocked that a minister can lie with impunity over things that happened live on radio and broadcast to the whole country,” Mhlanga told RSF. When Mhlanga went to the police to file a complaint about the threats, he found that Mukupe had already made a statement accusing him as the aggressor.
MISA Zimbabwe, an NGO that defends freedom of expression, condemned Mukupe’s threats, saying such attacks “undermine the constitutional role of the media in entrenching democracy.”
Despite President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s promises of a new democracy, attacks on journalists have been frequent, especially on political issues, since Mnangagwa replaced Mugabe in November 2017.
In the past three months, journalists have been threatened by politicians and a photographer was roughed up by supporters of the opposition MDC-T party. In April, a journalist was arrested for taking photos at a meeting between ZANU-PF members and polling station officials during the ZANU-PF primaries.
Zimbabwe is ranked 126th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.