25 July 2007

Zimbabwe: People Have Stake in Pius' Saga


Harare — IT'S like punishing the innocent while letting Barabas go scot-free, at least that's how the Pius Ncube adultery and sex scandal is playing out in the so-called "independent" media and its coterie of civil society bedfellows.

In their wisdom or lack of it, these organisations have taken it upon themselves to play God or judge by absolving Pius of wrongdoing over allegations that he had a two-year affair with his married parishioner, Rosemary Sibanda, whose husband - Onesimus - is suing the beleaguered Archbishop for $20 billion in damages.

Not only that, Pius also stands accused of having had a fling with another woman, according to the photos and videos gathered during the two-year investigation.

As usual, the organisations among them the Zimbabwe Independent, The Standard, the MDC, ZimRights, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Bulawayo Agenda, Misa-Zimbabwe, Solidarity Peace Trust and the Women's Coalition rallied behind Ncube and directed barbs at the Government as if it is a player in the saga.

Despite the fact that Pius, when confronted with the evidence, confessed that he was a sinner and implicitly admitted the issue, these organisations collectively claim he is as clean as a whistle.

And their "justification" he is a consistent critic of the Government and to them, that is all it takes to have an "honourable" character.

There are several hilarious contradictions in the organisations' reactions, chief among them the fact that without an iota of evidence linking the Government to what they call a "sting operation" on Pius, they have no qualms harping on that no end. Yet with evidence galore against Pius, they have no word of condemnation or censure for his actions when they have not hesitated to condemn alleged transgressions on perceived Government supporters.

Even if the investigation was part of a sting operation, as they allege, would that make Pius' behaviour acceptable?

The Independent, The Standard and their online clones claim the Pius saga is an attempt by the Government to divert peoples' attention from their everyday problems. By God, is there no end to such childish thinking?

If anything, it is the same organisations that are trying to divert peoples' attention from Pius' fall from grace with all sorts of inane scenarios.

ZimRights questions why, during the burial of the late National Hero Brigadier-General Armstrong Paul Gunda on June 27, President Mugabe made reference to church leaders who sleep with other peoples' wives. This, they claim, proves that the President knew of the investigation, hence it was a set-up. The question is who does not know that not only the Catholic Church but also many other denominations have had their leaders implicated in various cases of sexual impropriety let alone outright adultery? Does commenting on it mean that they were all set-up?

Even is Pius was set-up, as they claim, does that make his behaviour pious?

Anyway, the President did not single out any Church leader.

ZimRights questions why the Deputy Sheriff, who served summons on Pius, was accompanied by members of the "State" media, "how does the media get wind of the supposed scandal to be able to be there when it happens."

Apparently, such a question can only come from lawyers not journalists, this writer would like to remind ZimRights that the hallmark of good journalism is to be first with the story, to scoop, which is why the Newsnet motto is "when it happens, we will be there." Every respectable journalist has sources who alert them to what would be about to happen.

What is more hasn't ZimRights heard of the latest phenomenon that was introduced by the US invasion of Iraq, the phenomenon of the embedded journalist? A phenomenon where the source and the journalist become inseparable?

The statements from these organisations are also suspiciously similar that one would be forgiven for believing they came from the same hand. They all claim Pius is being "victimised" for criticising the Government, insinuate that he is innocent and accuse the public media of lynching the beleaguered Archbishop.

The irony is their "realisation" that there is something called ethical journalism simply because one of their own is involved, yet they were blissfully "ignorant" and conveniently quiet when those they perceive to be aligned to Zanu-PF were involved.

There have been many cases where the private media was caught on the wrong side of the law, yet Misa and all these "media experts" never moralised on ethics.

When the now defunct Daily News published its fiction, primarily the alleged beheading of a Magunje woman by Zanu-PF youths on April 23 2002, Misa was quiet.

When the Financial Gazette published Basildon Peta's "My ordeal as Mugabe's prisoner" on February 6 2002, Misa said nothing.

When people sympathetic to the Government are tried weekly in the private media, Misa remains mum.

What did Misa say about the coverage of the Ecclesiastical trial of the Anglican Bishop for Harare Diocese, Dr Nolbert Kunonga, who was lynched by the opposition media when racist elements in the Anglican Church tried to victimise him for his progressive stance on the right of Zimbabweans to self-determination?

It is important to note that Bishop Kunonga was vilified, not because he had gone against his vows or his faith, but because he chose to defend Zimbabweans' right to self-determination.

Despite the gapping holes in the case in which Bishop Kunonga was accused on 38 charges ranging from alleged incitement to murder to besmirching the Church, the opposition media had a field day regardless.

But there was no statement from Misa and its allies that the newspapers were conducting a "parallel legal process" to that of the Ecclesiastical Court.

Yet on the Pius saga, Misa suddenly remembers ethics saying among other things " . . . the State media has (sic) embarked on a parallel legal process and persecution of the Archbishop, an act that should be condemned as unacceptable from any media that intends to be respected and believed in society."

Misa also took issue over the publication of Pius' nude pictures saying, "the showing of graphic pictures of the alleged moments on intimacy of parties allegedly involved in this matter smacked of an agenda far beyond normal journalistic reporting."

In this "ethical" argument, Misa got the support of the so-called Bulawayo Agenda and Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe.

Said the Bulawayo Agenda: " . . . Bulawayo Agenda Trust condemns the publication of pornographic pictures in public newspapers that are read by young and old alike . . . The pictures are a vulgar assault on the rights of privacy of an individual and a shameful violation of journalistic ethics as they are indecent and therefore unfit for public consumption, they are pornographic."

With the Women's Coalition weighing in with: ". . . further on the 17th, 18th and 19th of July 2007, The Chronicle and the National Broadcaster have shown pictures of naked women engaging in sexual acts. Little effort was made to censor the images to; at least preserve a modicum of dignity for the people concerned."

David Coltart, MDC legislator for Bulawayo South, became an instant authority on indigenous Zimbabwean culture saying, "How she (Rosemary Sibanda) has been treated goes against the culture of Zimbabweans and it is disgusting that the regime has stooped so low."

The question is, where were all these people when one Beatrice Mtetwa and opposition activists like Grace Kwinjeh, the elderly Sekai Holland and Heather Bennett, among a host of activists, stripped and had their nude pictures splashed on the pages of the privately-owned, pro-opposition, media?

Why was Misa quiet? Where were the so-called Bulawayo Agenda, Coltart, Women's Coalition and all others complaining over the reporting of the Pius "sexcapades"?

When the saga began, Pius was given the chance to respond to the allegations, and he implicitly confirmed them as did his alleged lover, though he refused to explicitly comment, claiming his right to privacy. What is more, the public media has simply been reporting things as they are; they never invented the story, or the women, they all came from the evidence gathered and the lawsuit lodged.

For the record, Pius did not receive unwarranted coverage, far from it, his case happens to not only interest the public but also to be in the public interest. One can not talk of privacy where Pius is concerned because he is a public figure, and by virtue of being a public figure he cedes rights to privacy on those aspects of his life that have a bearing on his work.

Pius is the Archbishop of one of the biggest dioceses in Zimbabwe, as such not only Catholics but all Zimbabweans have a right to know how he conducts himself on the moral plane since that has a bearing on his work "as a man of God." In fact, Pius also doubled as an opposition politician whose pronouncements, and judgments over other mortals were beamed all over the world. As such his case is not only of Zimbabwean, but international interest.

What is more his case is unusual in that here is a man whose vocation, according to his Church's vow of celibacy, is that he would never engage in sexual acts. Yet he allegedly not only did that with one, but several women, one who was his married secretary. What is more, the sinful liaisons were done within the confines of the Church.

That, dear colleagues in Misa, can make headlines anywhere, whether in London, Washington or Rome; whether it involves Bishop Kunonga, Mutume or your dear Pius.

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