Investigative journalism in Zimbabwe has played a critical role in uncovering corruption in government over the past year — especially when it’s come to the procurement of COVID-19 equipment and the distribution of relief funds.
Resources are key for carrying out a thorough investigation, said award-winning investigative journalist, whistleblower and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin'ono, who last year unearthed corruption in the government’s procurement of COVID-19 equipment. His investigation led to the dismissal of Zimbabwe’s Minister of Health and Childcare Obadiah Moyo.
“Investigative journalism requires resources; I was able to see my corona[virus] story through because I had resources,” said Chin’ono. “I had to make follow-ups in Namibia [and] Dubai, and if you have no one to check leads for you in such instances, it becomes challenging.”
A lot of corruption in the country goes unnoticed because many journalists don’t have access to these same resources, he continued. “Investigative journalism is quite dead at the moment because resources are not there for journalists to go and investigate. If corruption is happening at [the local mining company] Hwange Colliery, for example, journalists need to go there and spend several days, which requires money that is not there,” he said.
With billions of dollars in donations and relief funds circulating to combat COVID-19, tracking their use is of paramount importance.
Transparency International of Zimbabwe (TIZ), a coalition that combats corruption, compiled an online COVID-19 Resource Tracker, which investigative journalists can use to assist their reporting. “Last year TIZ had a public litigation case against the Ministry of Health, asking for a distribution matrix of all COVID-19 resources,” said Thubelihle Ncube, a TIZ legal and advocacy intern. “TIZ won the case and the Ministry was ordered by the courts to give us that information.”
The TIZ COVID-19 Resource Tracker contains the following data:
- This page tracks donations received by the Government of Zimbabwe to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- This page holds a list of companies and institutions that have been allocated funds by the Government of Zimbabwe to purchase goods and services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- This page tracks the distribution of COVID-19 equipment and products from the National Pharmaceutical Company, and who receives them.
“Investigative journalists [can] come to [our website to] try and verify if what the government says was released, did actually get to the intended recipients,” said Ncube.
Similarly, the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, an organization that seeks to uphold professional journalism ethics in the country, created a fund to monitor corruption related to the pandemic.
“The investigative journalism fund we introduced is aimed at tracking what the government and stakeholders are contributing to the management of COVID-19,” said Loughty Dube, the organization's director. “The investigations must center around resource mobilization, resource utilization [and] tender processes, because a lot of corruption took place in the first stages of the pandemic in Zimbabwe.”
Dube noted that when large amounts of funds are involved, wrongdoing or mishandling may follow. Ensuring transparency is key. “For example, people heard of a Jack Ma donation of personal protective equipment and other consignments, yet nobody knows how these were distributed. Ideally, when you have such donations you must have a distribution plan that must be made public,” he said.
The investigative efforts have also highlighted the importance of data analysis and visualization for communicating findings to readers.
“Using raw data provided by donor agencies, civic organizations [and] even from various government departments, I am able to use it to analyze a situation and compile a picture of what is happening on the ground. I then present that information visually using tools such as Flourish or Tableau to make the data more appealing and simpler for audiences,” said Lulu Brenda Harris, a senior political and investigative journalist. “At the moment, I am investigating the procurement of vaccines by the Zimbabwean government, by analyzing the data that has been provided. I observed there was a gap since the figures that have been thrown around don’t add up.”
Despite COVID-19’s negative consequences for many aspects of the news industry, the pandemic has underscored the need for quality investigative journalism, said Limukani Ncube, the editor of the Sunday News.
“There is room for investigative journalism because life did not stop even during the lockdown period,” he said. “There were a lot of activities taking place, and a lot of promises were made by authorities which have to be investigated.”
Lungelo Ndhlovu is an award-winning journalist based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe who specializes in news writing, photography and video production.