Fresh information about the Harare government’s relationship with London-based New
African magazine came to light this week amid revelations that it has
splurged significant foreign currency amounts to pay the publication to
undertake various public relations projects to revamp its tainted image, writes Itai Mushekwe in the Zimbabwe Independent.

Sources this week said New African editor Baffour Ankomah has been government’s point man in fighting what it perceives as negative reports from the media. The magazine was paid £60 000 before the 2002 presidential election. Last month government squandered over US$1 million on a 70-page supplement with the magazine, putting President Mugabe’s battered image under media surgery while exonerating itself from fomenting gruesome political violence in March, which left opposition leaders with serious injuries whose images startled the world including Sadc leaders.

"Ankomah was paid over £60 000 in the run-up to the 2002 presidential election to do publicity work for Zanu PF," sources close to the matter said this week. "Government has footed his airfare and hotel accommodation bills every time he jets into the country," the sources said. Ankomah was also instrumental in marketing Mugabe’s presidential campaign manifesto promoting land reform.

The New African editor also tried in vain to suppress the horrendous effects of Operation Murambatsvina two years ago through a puff piece, which all but ended up being a disastrous exposé of government as it revealed the globally condemned operation had been orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Organisation as a pre-emptive strike to contain a possible Ukrainian-style Orange revolution against Mugabe.

Critics accuse government of recklessly spending taxpayers’ money on its secret propaganda wars at a time when foreign currency is in short supply while ironically it is failing to secure fuel, food and adequate electricity supplies to the people. Its domestic debt has shot up to $2 trillion or US$8 billion in terms of the official exchange rate, while its foreign debt has topped US$4 billion.

There are also reports that a South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Africa female reporter was last year removed from the station for doing sponsored propaganda work for Zimbabwe. The journalist was showered with gifts from Harare to handle its publicity work at SABC. Newly appointed Information minister, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, recently announced that SABC would soon set up a bureau in Harare in what is seen as another attempt to use the broadcaster as a conduit for its publicity. Ndlovu revealed that government would be sending information attachés to various embassies around the world to defend it from so-called negative publicity by the international media.

Click here to read the full report, posted on the Zimbabwe Independent's website.