By Maynard Manyowa
In June 2014, the then Minister of Presidential Affairs Cde Didymus Mutasa said, “Be careful not to denigrate our president we will visit your bedrooms and expose what you will be doing.”
“We have our means of seeing things these days, we just see things through our system.”, he added.
Mutasa may have left Zanu PF, but of course the system remained and continues to do what it knows best. The matter on whether his Damascus moment was sincere is for another day.
What remains true is that organs of state security for years are used as morality spies, taking advantage of an obsession with sexual morality in Zimbabwe to nail opponents of the regime by depicting them as erotic sexual beasts – something, which surprisingly, is considered worse than murder in the country.
Pius Ncube suffered the fate. Having risen to become a fierce critic of the government and with a loyal backing of the Roman Catholic Church, he had his “nudes leaked” and promptly resigned into silence.
Towards the end of his tenure as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai had his sexual escapades rise to matters of national discussion.
His sexual morality or lack thereof was used to discredit him in the run up to the election, depicting him as a sugar daddy with the appetite of a teenager.
At the time writing, the social media is abuzz with reports that local tabloid H-Metro is to publish highly erotic and sexual acts of Acie Lumumba; a Zanu prodigy turned protester.
Again, the matter of Lumumba’s Damascus moment is for another day. What is clear is that, having denigrated big people and criticized Zanu PF misrule, for whatever reason, the ‘system which sees everything’ has responded by ‘visiting his bedroom’
As usual, Zimbabweans are reacting in a polarised manner which only plays into the regime’s hands.
On one end are thousands trapped on moral high ground, voicing their displeasure that Lumumba is immoral.
On the other end are the privacy enthusiast who are desperate to paint Lumumba as a saintly victim of a system that wants to silence its critics.
The former are childish puritans who believe in a celibate world that goes against basic biology and science. To them, purity is a key aspect of leadership. Corruption, theft and murder are tolerable, but sex between consenting adults is worse than genocide.
The latter stand on somewhat reasonable grounds. For all my dislike for Lumumba, it is undeniable that this ‘episode’ is meant to discredit Lumumba’s activism in the eyes of the purists mentioned prior. However, they over indulge when they slam the journalists that reported the matter and paint Lumumba as a total victim.
It is disheartening, to see how Zimbabweans can be taken for such an easy and cheap ride.
Both groups are similar. One group views sexual purity as a key ingredient in leadership, another group dismisses an inconvenient truth on the grounds of motive. Neither are healthy for a liberal and democratic society.
We need to get a few things clear. Sex between consenting adults is legal. Human beings have sex. There is nothing fancy about this at all. Lumumba’s sexual morality or lack thereof does not warrant outright dismissal unless it involves minors, is not consensual, or is done in full view of the public.
Nevertheless, the media outlet that reported this are well within their right to do so. The man is a public figure, and his actions are tabloid worthy.
Tabloid sensationalism apart, I believe that H-Metro serves an essential function in a celebrity-obsessed nation, and if it were to disappear the world would be poorer and the cause of journalistic truth would be damaged.
H-Metro is effectively a Tabloid media, but it possesses a passé awareness. The publication prides itself on exposes and they believe that the public right to information is more important than any individual’s right to privacy.
As a fellow analyst once said, “to anyone who believes that the likes of H-Metro are just the gutter press, be reminded that their values are worth something even in the gutter.”
If H-Metro can publish sex tapes featuring Stunner, Tinopona Katsande, or random university students, then why not Acie Lumumba?
It would be a completely different matter if the images were photoshopped and fabricated. They are not, so its fair game.
This is not to say it is significant. No, its not.
Whoever Lumumba sleeps with is his prerogative really. As long as he stays clear of minors and seeks the consent of his partners, then its fair game as well.
If images of these escapades find their way to the fourth estate, then it is OK for H-Metro to publish them too. Whatever!
The problem emanates when a big fuss is made out of all this.
It is absurd that we live in a country where legal sexual activity stimulates more debate than Zanu PFs wanton murder and genocide.
Whether you are calling for journalists to exercise restraint – in other words partisan reporting. Or elevating legal and consensual sexual relations to the levels of a national crisis.
In the end both kinds of thinking are what the oppressive state requires to continue silencing activists.
If we cared more about rape and murder than sexual morality, and judged tabloid news for what it is, then what happens in people’s bedrooms would not be such a key weapon in the arms of the state.
For all its faults, South Africa is a model democracy in Africa. We might say they are not as smart as ourselves, but even they did not give a dime about Nelson Mandela’s many marriages, or Jacob Zuma’s 5 wives!
They make noise about things that matter, like looted public funds and corrupt deals. As should be the case with sensible people!
- Maynard Manyowa is a social and political commentator. Article first appears on Khuluma Afrika – a non-partisan center for opinion, analysis and investigative journalism.