The decision by Dr Fred M’membe to join the 2021 presidential race has attracted mixed feelings from citizens who knew him as Editor-In-Chief of The Post Newspaper. Some are in shock and they think Zambia’s greatest journalist has lost his mind. Others are excited and eager to support him because they feel it is time for the kingmaker to contest the presidency.
Then there are those Zambians who are not clear about what is going on. They were certain that Dr M’membe went into hibernation after relentless attacks on his business and family by the brutal PF regime, and they anxiously expected him to return even bigger and better on the journalism front. Some of these puzzled people are extending questions to us at News Diggers! “Has M’membe given up on the fight for The Post? What happens to his journalism legacy now that he has decided to join full time politics?”
Most of the questions we can’t answer until after we are given an opportunity to interview the world press freedom hero who has retired into politics. However, there is something that we are capable of narrating, and perhaps this might make the picture a little clearer.
The closure of The Post Newspaper was as sudden as lightning; you know it is likely to strike because it is raining, but you are always hopeful of surviving the storm. On June 21, 2016 when the police stormed the Post newsroom, those who worked there thought it was just another fruitless attempt to shut down the country’s most powerful newspaper organisation.
No employee or manager knew that they would never be allowed to set foot again in their offices. Reporters left their academic qualifications in the drawers where they usually kept them. Most ladies left their high heels which they wore in the morning upon reporting for work, and when they returned from the field, they found the company closed. Others left their passports and related personal documents which, to this day, they have never been given permission to enter the premises to collect.
Post employees were extremely loyal. Of course traitors lived amongst them, but those who believed in Fred M’membe’s vision and resilience had no reason to doubt that he would push for the reopening of the company. That is why they continued to work from the roadside for weeks hoping that one day The Post would be handed back to its owners.
Unfortunately, even after the Tax Appeals Tribunal Court ordered that the newspaper be opened to facilitate the payment of the demanded debt to the Zambia Revenue Authority, the State simply ignored and kept the company shut. Eventually The Post was liquidated, as planned by those who saw it as a hindrance to their enrichment.
It is this liquidation of The Post which marked the beginning of so many undertakings. Some former employees continued to pursue their various careers in the corporate world while others established their own business entities like News Diggers! and some advertising agencies which we might not be permitted to name.
It also became hard for former Post employees to trust one another because PF agents who were behind the closure of the company still wanted some hungry mouths to manipulate. So during this scattering period, colleagues were separated and contacts were lost. But life had to continue, and therefore, the closure of the Post Newspaper produced new names in journalism, book authors, business executives and now politicians.
There is no doubt that Dr M’membe is a world-celebrated hero in journalism. Zambia’s democracy cannot be written without outlining his contributions. Indeed, he was a king maker and there are no better placed people to narrate his political influence than those in the Patriotic Front who used his resources to campaign in 2011.
Unlike the ungrateful politicians in PF, the three former Post employees working at News Diggers! have a lot of respect for Dr M’membe because almost everything they know about journalism, he taught them. That is why sometimes when they write, some people fail to distinguish and they interestingly give credit to the award winning journalist-turned politician.
It is for this reason that Dr M’membe’s decision to contest the republican presidency puts us and many others, in an awkward position. For us, this is difficult news to digest because we are now expected to view him, not as a teacher, but as a politician like any other who is running a political party. How will we be able to write and disagree with Dr M’membe without hurting his feelings or being misunderstood by those around him? How will we be able to write and concur with Dr M’membe without inviting his disgruntled enemies in the PF on us?
To those who are asking us what this decision means, we can only answer with more questions. One thing that we are certain of is that our coverage of Dr M’membe’s politics will put our professionalism and ethics to a great test; but we are not afraid of new challenges.
All we are interested in is journalism. If Dr M’membe will give us news, we will report it without adding or subtracting. The most important thing for us is to respect his constitutional right to join politics, and we expect that he will also respect our freedom of speech and expression.
The question of whether he will succeed or fail on the political arena is not for us to judge. It is you the people of Zambia whom he diligently served in his previous career to analyse and advise him according to what you think about his character. As we said, we all have questions, but time has a way of providing answers.