Credibility gap, no gullibility fill

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Credibility gap is a political term that came into wide use during the 1960s and 1970s.

At the time, it was most frequently used to describe public scepticism about President Lyndon Johnson administrations statements and policies on the Vietnam War.

Today, it is used more generally to describe almost any gap between the reality of a situation and what politicians and government agencies say about it.

In many societies there is general public scepticism about the truth of statements, especially official claims and pronouncements. This is very apparent in this country where sometimes it is safer to disbelieve official statements than to embrace them as reality.

Nowhere has this notion of a deficit gap been more apparent than in the death of Retired General Solomon Mujuru. This week the inquest into the death started at the Harare Magistrates Court and immediately, the process of rolling back the shutters on the saga was set into motion.

When Mujuru died last August the government took a decision to say as little as possible and in instances when announcements were made, these were meant to kill off any speculation that there was foul play in the death of the general.

This strategy failed. The greatest attack on the ruse came from the generals widow, VP Joice Mujuru. She started asking uncomfortable questions a few days after the death of her husband and has continued to harp on the refrain: I am still waiting for an explanation.

The late generals family members joined in, so did a number of allies in the party and in business. The general public and speculators did not need a second invitation to partake in the speculation stakes.

This put the conduct of investigators, especially the police, under scrutiny. In such a scenario, one would have thought that the police and all parties involved in the investigations would raise their game to ensure their conduct was beyond reproach.

From a strategy point of view, police should have worked to achieve a comfortable position of having VP Mujuru on their side to sway public opinion into their favour.

But proceedings in court this week have opened State parties involved in the investigation to attack and VP Mujuru is leading the charge. Her lawyer Thakor Kewada said he was not given relevant court documents.

The VP said she was not given the report into the investigation of her husbands death.

Her cross-examination of a police officer who was on duty at the Mujuru residence on the day of the tragedy is testimony that she does not trust the official version of events.

She has described the evidence from one of the police officers as really shocking! In so doing, she has put a huge dent on the integrity of State processes.

How are State institutions going to manage this attack on their honesty by the VP who by virtue of her position should be punching from investigators corner?

The grieving widow has the public behind her and the integrity gap in the investigation is exposed further. It is too late for the authorities to fill this chasm.

While author Richard Clopton coined the saying; For every credibility gap there is a gullibility fill, it has not been so with the Mujuru case. The public has not been easy to fleece. Like VP Mujuru, they are waiting for an explanation.

Writing in this column last year at the time of Mujurus death, I pointed out the death of the general was a major test for information handlers in government.

There are golden rules in crisis communications and one of them is to tell the truth and retain your integrity.