Journalism in Zimbabwe is a risky business, especially when trying to expose dodgy dealings.
Today I was trying to get a photo for a story about job scams. In particular, scams being run by bogus employment agencies offering paid-for training as a security guard with the promise of a job at the end of it, though the jobs never materialise.
I was at the Coke grounds along Seke road where several different groups were conducting their security guard training, and was seeking comment and pictures from reputable companies on how members of the public can be avoid being conned. I was expecting that genuine trainers wouldn’t be offended.
Before I could do anything, a man claiming to run one of the groups and saying that he was connected to the police saw me trying to take a picture and said that I was not allowed without first seeking permission. “Have you consulted all those groups that you want to take a picture of?” he asked.
A heated argument broke out and I told him that I knew the media laws governing my profession and that legally, I don’t need to seek their consent when photographing people in public spaces.
I showed him my press card from the Zimbabwe Media Commission, and told him I was from Harare News, and he even spoke to my editor on the phone. He became aggressive, and then started to exaggerate the extent of things, saying that I was hiding in the bushes, when in fact I was just on the side of Dieppe Road.
One of his colleagues who was overseeing the training suggested that we should see their superior before handing me to police. We went to see him at corner Samora Machel Avenue and Enterprise Road, and on arrival I introduced myself to him. I told him that if they are bona fide agents, I wasn’t shaming them, and that my story was meant to expose the bogus ones. Upon learning my mission he cautioned me not to fight ZimAsset which give them authority to use any open space to empower themselves. “Even if there are no water or ablution facilities, registered or not, no one should disturb us. You may go now,” said the big boss, who also did not identify himself.
I was not happy after this encounter, but not surprised either. Journalists are often threatened and harassed when trying to expose social ills. Nonetheless, I will carry on, since I believe the mandate as media is to educate the public about the bad apples rotting our society.
Photo: Harare News staff writer, Lovemore Lubinda who was accosted today