Yesterday, I was shocked but not surprised when I watched online as award-winning journalist, Hopewell Rugoho-Chin’ono, was “abducted” by police and security agents. True to his journalistic nature, Hopewell was livestreaming the events at his house shortly before he was taken away.
By Dr. Leon Hartwell
Hopewell desperately tweeted:
“Police and State agents are harassing my workers at home!”
He then followed-up with a second tweet:
“They are breaking into my home. Alert the world!”
Those were his last tweets before his Twitter and Facebook accounts went silent.
About an hour later, human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa showed up at Hopewell’s house. In a video address, Mtetwa stated that Hopewell’s home was “surrounded by about eight security agents and they broke the glass of his door, gained entry, and he had been abducted.”
If you know anything about Zimbabwe’s lack of respect for human rights, you will understand that the ordeal must have been terrifying for Hopewell.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” Most Zimbabwean journalist know what Jefferson meant as they tend to work under particularly harsh conditions. Hopewell is one of the last of a dying breed of Zimbabwean journalists who survived years of constant attacks against the media.
A Journalist with Great Integrity
Between 2010 and 2013, I got to know Hopewell quite well when I lived and worked in Zimbabwe. For nearly two years during that period, I was the senior policy advisor for political and development cooperation at the Netherlands Embassy in Zimbabwe. The position gave me the opportunity to meet with some colorful politicians from across the political spectrum, civil society leaders, and amazing journalists.
During my time in Zimbabwe, Hopewell and I regularly met for coffee. I loved talking to him about Zimbabwean politics. He would slump into a chair with his large frame and Colgate smile while chatting away about a variety of subjects.
I enjoyed Hopewell’s company as I deeply respect journalists and I sincerely believe in the importance of their work. More than that, Hopewell is a special kind of journalist. He exhibits a strong work ethic, integrity and intelligence. He is well-read and, in addition to winning a string of awards for his work, he went to the University of Oxford and Harvard University.
At the time, as is still the case, Zimbabwean society was characterized by major cleavages. It was thus hard to engage people in a nuanced debate about politics. Individuals were either pro-Zanu-PF or pro-MDC-T. Yet, with Hopewell, I felt like I could have a very honest political discussion and I respected his opinions.
Hopewell mingled with a variety of people, ranging from goat farmers in rural areas to foreign diplomats in Harare. Some of his documentaries – like Pain in My Heart – zoomed in on society’s most vulnerable. Others, like A Violent Response, focused on some of the political issues eating at the corpse of Zimbabwe.
Like me, Hopewell met with politicians from across the political divide. One day he would engage the late prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai in conversation, and the next he would spar with professor Johnathan Moyo. But that was typical of Hopewell. He made a great effort to source opinions from people with different political standings.
His Crime: Speaking Truth to Power
Earlier, I mentioned that I wasn’t “surprised” about Hopewell’s abduction. Hopewell is very different from most Zimbabweans, including journalists. Perhaps out of respect or fear (or sometimes both), Zimbabweans tend to be quiet around political leaders. But not Hopewell – his fearlessness combined with Zimbabwe’s authoritarian environment made him a walking target.
A few minutes of watching A Violent Response will be enough to demonstrate Hopewell’s courage. On numerous occasions, especially at SAPES Trust, I saw him publicly calling out political heavy-weights with his piercing questions.
I must admit that I haven’t been in touch with Hopewell since mid-May and a lot of information will surface over the coming days that will shed light on his abduction. At the same time, I know that his crime relates to his fearlessness. He was not afraid to speak truth to power. Over the years, he has exposed everything from police brutality to large-scale corruption.
I was told by a well-informed source in Zimbabwe that Hopewell was working on exposing something big. He was allegedly set to release damming information about the Command Agriculture scheme and the looting of $3 billion by president Emmerson Mnangagwa’s cronies.
During the last series of messages to me, Hopewell sent me videos of crying activists – Joanah Mamombe and Cecillia Chimbiri – who were recounting their horrors after they were abducted and badly beaten by Mnangagwa’s security apparatus. I asked Hopewell for context and he replied, “They demonstrated against hunger.” I can’t help but worry that if we don’t make noise about Hopewell then he will be tortured just like Mamombe and Chimbiri.
This morning, I logged on to Facebook and Twitter to see whether I could find updates on Hopewell’s abduction. Both accounts no longer exist. Clearly, the Mnangagwa regime has something to hide.
I never had any illusions about the military coup that brought Mnangagwa to power. On 17 November 2017, barely three days into the coup, I wrote:
Those who already rejoice over the removal of [Robert] Mugabe in the hope that something better is on the horizon will most likely be disappointed. What has happened represents merely a readjustment of the old order rather than a new beginning.
Hopewell’s abduction shows once again Mnangagwa’s true colors. He is a tyrant, just like his predecessor.
While Mnangagwa and his cronies frequently pat themselves on the back for fighting a war of liberation against the racist Rhodesian regime, they have not truly liberated the country. After forty years in power, Zanu-PF is yet to provide Zimbabweans with press freedom and other basic liberties.
Release Hopewell Rugoho-Chin’ono!
Dr. Leon Hartwell is a Title VIII Leadership Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington D.C. Twitter: @LeonHartwell