Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

In UK reports about Zimbabwe, truth and distortion often co-exist

Posted by CM on December 9, 2008


Zimbabwean villagers have resorted to selling wild berries by the side of the road to buy food

Zimbabwean villagers have resorted to selling wild berries by the side of the road to buy food

The photo above and its caption recently appeared in a story in the UK publication The Independent. The headline of the article was  UN forced to cut food aid to Zimbabwe’s starving people.

It is one of the many articles chronicling the hunger in a once proudly food self-sufficient nation. As reports in the UK media go, it is a fairly “straight” article devoid of any of the hysterics that often accompany stories about Zimbabwe because of the deep, complicated, not always positive relations between the two countries over more than a century.

The reality of Zimbabwe is bad enough, but it is often made to sound even  worse  than it is because of the many overlaying and underlying issues beyond the obvious ones of horrific hyperinflation, hunger, political repression and so on.

An example is the caption accompanying The Independent’s otherwise admirably restrained, sober story. The women pictured are indeed selling “wild berries,” but everything else about the context of the photo and its caption in a story about hunger in Zimbabwe is plainly wrong, and quite probably in a deliberate effort to mislead, not as an error or out of mere ignorance.

The “wild berries” in the picture are called mazhanje in Shona, and are a widely appreciated seasonal delicacy in Zimbabwe. Many people enjoy their rich buttery taste, and they provide additional income to many rural folks who collect the fruit and sell it, often on roadsides. This has been a practice during the brief seasonal window when the fruit ripens for as long as I can remember.

The selling of the fruit by the women in the photo by the side of the road is therefore very much normal practice in Zimbabwe. It is not because they have suddenly “resorted to selling wild fruits by the side of the road to buy food” as a result of The Zimbabwe Crisis. The importance of selling this non-cultivated, freely-available fruit may have increased during these hard times, but it is hardly a practice that has been brought on in recent years  by the current economic difficulties as the caption, photo and placement in the article very subtly and cleverly imply. Mazhanje have always provided easy supplemental income in the areas of Zimbabwe where the tree grows.

The road side selling of this delicacy is such an age-old practice in Zimbabwe that I find it hard to believe that even a ‘parachute journalist’ bravely flying into the country for a few weeks under cover of being a tourist in order to earn their  “I did the Zimbabwe Crisis” stripes would have failed to find this out.

The average British reader, already trained over several years by their media to understand that ‘Mugabe-land’ is the world’s worst hell hole (“if only they had never interfered with the with the innocent, hard-working white farmers”) is naturally horrified at the true evil-ness of a despot who not only ‘unreasonably’ hates Britain, but confirms his nastiness by driving his people to sell “wild fruit” by the side of the road in order to alleviate their hunger. Oh my God, those poor oppressed people must be so desperate: to be driven to such humiliating survival extremes!

So the article, photo and caption together serve their propaganda purpose for an audience that does not have the context to know any better, and is inclined to eat up the thrust of the propaganda anyway, because of how it confirms what they already feel about Zimbabwe, and what they think they know about it.

Except the article in its totally as featured is a clever, subtle fraud. It is not journalism, but propaganda. The text of the article is largely factual, but the powerful graphic and its caption are not correct illustrations or appropriate accompaniments of the text.

The battle of/for Zimbabwe is being fought on many fronts, and for many more reasons than those stated publicly. Zimbabweans, let us be extremely wary of some of those who claim to be our “we-are-so-concerned-for your-plight”  friends.

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