Outrage over interviewer's 'fawning' over Mugabe

Celebrity interviewer on the defensive after presenting the ageing despot as a caring family man while ignoring horror of his abusive reign

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 1:49am

"Warm, charismatic and very humorous."

Could South African television personality Dali Tambo really have been talking about Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe?

Asking him to stare into his wife's eyes ... is an act of almost comical horror
Columnist verashini pillay

Tambo, the son of South African liberation heroes Oliver and Adelaide Tambo, has been on the defensive since throwing a series of soft questions at the Zimbabwean leader during interviews for his TV show People of the South.

South Africa's Twittersphere lit up with outrage, and media critics slammed the programme, with Mail and Guardian columnist Verashni Pillay calling it "sycophantic and fawning".

Mugabe alienated many South Africans with his criticism of the country's beloved former president, Nelson Mandela, whom he said had treated non-blacks too kindly.

Mugabe, who faces elections this year, said his people still needed him as president.

"We will fight to the finish. That's it," he said.

Tambo presented a softer side of Mugabe, showing the leader in a pale grey suit and tie at the presidential luncheon table, with its crisp white table cloth and sprays of flowers.

Surrounded by wife, Grace, Hong Kong-educated daughter Bona, son Bellarmine and a flamboyantly dressed, mustachioed Tambo, Mugabe looked at his wife and told her, rather formally, how he valued her for the children she gave him and the happiness she brought him.

Cape Town-based morning radio anchor Kieno Kammies, of Cape Talk 567, invited Tambo onto his show and told him he was "disappointed" there was no discussion of Zimbabwe's human rights abuses and violence against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

"You raised issues such as the Western media attacking Robert Mugabe and then you just allowed him to go on and basically do a PR exercise," Kammies said.

Tambo lost his temper.

"You know, it's really boring when I get people like you with your superficial attitudes. What do you mean, a PR exercise? What you wanted me to do was to say to him, 'You're lying! Robert Mugabe, you're a liar!' ... Is that what you think an interview is?" he asked Kammies sardonically.

When Kammies asked why Tambo had not questioned Mugabe about human rights reports critical of his regime, Tambo responded: "Why would I, when I've got 48 minutes to do the life of an 89-year-old man … How many human rights reports do you think there are on Great Britain, the US, on all kinds of countries?

"If you want to go and interview Robert Mugabe about the human rights report, that's your prerogative," he continued. "I don't obsess on what you want me to obsess on because it's my interview, you understand?"

The Mail and Guardian columnist, Pillay, wrote that Tambo's defence was disingenuous. "Mugabe is no neutral figure, and trying to show his 'softer side' is a doomed mission if one does not at least acknowledge his mistakes - mistakes that have adversely affected a country, a region and millions of people," Pillay said.

"This is a man who has stayed in power using violent and undemocratic means. On his watch, his country has experienced a total economic meltdown, while dissent has been brutally suppressed. Asking him to stare into his wife's eyes and describe his love for her in this context is then no isolated and endearing action. It is an act of almost comical horror and disregard for the suffering of millions."