Wednesday, 21 December 2011

2012: Zimbabwe’s Year of ‘Politicized Deception?'

 2012: Zimbabwe’s Year of ‘Politicized Deception?’
By Takura Zhangazha.

Predicting future events in Zimbabwe’s general cultural practice is usually the preserve of spirit mediums, prophets and scientists. Political predictions are more difficult even for ‘specialists’ in that line of work. In Zimbabwe’s case it is necessary to attempt at outlining potential key political developments for the year 2012, bearing in mind that in some quarters there is talk of a harmonized election while in others there is fear, foreboding as well as calls for electoral reform before any elections can be held. Further to this, there is also excitement in elite economic circles about the Community Share Ownership Trusts, Youth Funds and diamond sales, all of which indicate that these are issues that will take center stage as 2012 unfolds.

Whereas the Chinese have their own animal titled lunar calendar years (for example, the year of the ‘boar’ or even the year of the ‘rat’), I think that the next twelve months in Zimbabwe should be referred to as the year of ‘the people’s politicised deception’. This is because the leaders of the inclusive government will once again individually try and hoodwink the people of Zimbabwe that they are serving their best interests while they slug it out in Cabinet and Parliament over elections, SADC mediation, diamonds and allowances.   In order for this to be acceptable to their supporters, they will mix the personal with the political and the political with the economic.

The personal will be in relation to issues to do with the social and private lives of various leaders that will be made public by an eager media, while the economic will be through the partisan distribution of resources either via the Youth Fund or the community trusts that are being established via the indigenization programme. In both, there will be the cajoling of party supporters to tow the official party line on all issues as well to try and make sure that party supporters get a piece of the economic pie. In short, it will be a political party fest that will seek to undertake, on behalf of itself, the continuation of a partisan but non-people centered political narrative in Zimbabwe.

It is for this reason that 2012 will be characterized by a number of specific events that are easy to predict. The first such event is that there will be another big political dispute next year over the issue of elections which will once again involve SADC. As in March 2011, the parties will try and influence SADC on the matter of the election roadmap, security sector reform and sanctions. In doing so, the end result will be similar to the Livingstone SADC Troika Summit whose resolutions ended up being disputed as well as unimplemented. At best however SADC will probably seek a compromise that will lead to the holding elections at end of the five year term of Parliament, which is 2013.

In the midst of the SADC lobbying, the political parties are going to continue arguing about the contents of the Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) draft constitution. Whoever wins on the contentious issues of the same draft will also take comfort in the knowledge that all of the member parties to COPAC will still campaign for a ‘yes’ vote to the draft in order to save face and to continue with the contested argument that the whole process was ‘people-driven’. There shall be a well funded ‘yes’ vote campaign that will be used to test the electoral waters by the three antagonists in the inclusive government. Whatever the result of the referendum, it will be used more for partisan political interests than for broad national legitimizing of the supreme law of the land.

There shall also be serious political competition as to issues of ‘economic development’ or community economic beneficiation by the three political parties particularly due to the establishment of the various support funds to the youth, small scale business, ‘rural women’. A number of projects will be competed over and the youth ministry will be at the forefront of the greater majority of them in what will be a concerted effort to lure young peoples’ votes.

The national economy will continue to be characterized by the dictum, ‘availability of goods (foreign) and services without accessibility’ for the majority of our country’s citizens. While social services will become more expensive due to the lack of a central government plan to avail these consistently and to all. The safety and security of citizens will continue to be under threat from repressive laws and security forces habits that inhibit the enjoyment of particularly freedoms of assembly, association and expression.

So as it is, 2012 is a year in which our political leaders will appear as though they are very busy trying to resolve national problems when in fact they are resolving their own. It is up to the people of Zimbabwe to seek to bring them to account on concrete matters that cover the broad spectrum of challenges the country is facing. In doing so, we must be wary of being co-opted into false realities that appear urgent when instead they are the stuff of momentary political flashes in the pan. 

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Political Impediments that have inhibited the realization of Media Reforms in Zimbabwe.

Presentation to the Radio Dialogue-Bulawayo Agenda Civic Society Consultative Meeting.
Date: December 15, 2011
Title: Political Impediments that have inhibited the realization of Media Reforms in Zimbabwe.
By Takura Zhangazha.
The topic that I have been asked to make a presentation on, while it infers a direct analysis of the policies of the inclusive government in Zimbabwe, it remains a matter that must be of utmost concern to every single Zimbabwean. I make this immediate assertion in order to emphasize that the key issues around media freedom and media reform in Zimbabwe are all derived from the Article 20 of Zimbabwe’s constitution which gives all of us that right to receive and impart information. Indeed there are what have been generally described as undemocratic limitations to this section (public health, national security etc). 

But the key point in my observation and in relation to this important topic that I have been asked to present, is that this right to receive and impart information  has existed since our national independence in 1980 and therefore it is a right that precedes as well  as surpasses the Global Political Agreement of 2008.
It is from this fundamental premise that I wish to examine the topic in question. I am sure that the conveners of this conference have a particular urgency in seeking to understand the political impediments that have inhibited the realization of democratic media reform in Zimbabwe. 

This urgency would be one that has emerged in the context of the processes around the licensing of free to air national radio broadcasting licences by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ). The controversy has been about the legality of BAZ as well as various perceptions around the companies that have been awarded the licenses. As recently as Tuesday 13 December 2011, the matter has taken a further political twist with MDC-T members of parliament moving a motion that these licenses be rescinded altogether. So as it is, there is limited reason to assume that there will be collective resolution within the inclusive government  of the emerging contestations around broadcast media reform as was seen with the print media.  
But broadly spoken for and within our current political context, the issue of democratic media reform in Zimbabwe is one that is generally misunderstood by our political leaders in the inclusive government. Initial evidence of this misunderstanding was demonstrated during the negotiations that led to the formation of the inclusive government. During these negotiations, there were amendments that were made to the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in what some negotiators called ‘necessary compromises. 
They however did not define the extent of the necessity of these compromises in direct relation to the enjoyment of the right of the people of Zimbabwe to receive and impart information.  Instead the issue focused on getting concessions that largely included the participation of parliament and eventually, in the aftermath of the appointment of the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, the same particular office into the appointment processes of various persons to become commissioners or board members of BAZ and of the ZMC. 
Against better advice from civil society players, the political parties of that time and of present day chose the path of looking at media reform from a highly politicized perspective as opposed to one that takes into account the right of the people to receive and impart information.  In this too, the political players made the grievous political mistake of assuming media freedom to be a privilege and therefore not a right. And the end product of this approach has been the maintenance of laws that criminalize freedom of expression via AIPPA, POSA and read with both these acts the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. 
Indeed some might argue that within the context of the inclusive government , it is one political party more than others that has persistently undermined media reform. I would not necessarily disagree with that point because since our national independence it is indeed Zanu Pf that has yielded the executive authority that comes with government all of the time. But in the aftermath of the GPA and formation of the inclusive government itself, it is evident that a key political impediment to media reform has been found in two particular components of the policy approaches of government actors and political leaders. These are: 

a) An incremental approach to media reform
b) A politically expedient  lack of knowledge and understanding (either deliberate or non-deliberate) of the media, media freedom and freedom of expression by policy makers.
The first point is self explanatory in the sense that it is apparent that any form of media reform has been slow and highly politicized. This is true in relation to changes in legal and policy frameworks. A tacit example of this is the decision to not only retain the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and AIPPA, BSA, albeit with slightly different terms of reference, but with greater roles and influence (e.g. the ZMC is now a constitutional commission).   

Further to this, the inclusive government has fought over the people that sit on media related constitutional and statutory boards more than they have sought  a holistic and fundamental democratization of our media policies and media environment . This is a particularly telling point because it re-affirms the ‘politics of benevolence’ that now informs the approach of government to the issue of freedom of expression. 
The second point I refer to is that of a lack of knowledge or understanding  of the media by government on media issues. This lack of knowledge is not because the knowledge does not exist or that policy makers do not have access to it. Instead it is based more on matters to do with political expediency and a desire to maintain some sort of hegemonic presence via control of the media by all political parties in the inclusive government. 

This was initially demonstrated through the amendments to media laws and the maintenance of the criminalization of freedom of expression curing the negotiations that led to the GPA and the formation of the inclusive government. Even in the aftermath of that there has been a tendency by government in its collective responsibility element to continue with processes that are inimical to democratic media reform such as arrests of journalists, media freedom activists as well as limited progress in the diversification and editorial independence of the media.
A final political impediment to the key national question of media reform is also to found in those, like me, who are activists in the struggle for media freedom. We have tended to be too subservient to the incremental and sometimes partisan interests of those in power. And this has included over-compromising on what are democratic media freedom principles in the hope that we will gain the ear of government or those that have vested interests in the same, be they international donors, business interests or partisan political considerations. We have occasionally lost sight of the goal and in the process  have tended to have to react to events after their occurrence.

It would however be necessary to conclude by providing a way forward framework. There must be a consistent understanding on our part that media freedom is not a privilege but a right as enshrined in Section 20 of Zimbabwe’s constitution, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is this fundamental point that must inform how we approach any strategic way forward.

We must not over compromise on this principle, and this is one of the main reasons why organizations such as the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe  (VMCZ) continue to exist. At the VMCZ we have been asked many questions as to why we are not asking to be members of the ZMC and our reply is that we do not believe in being complicit in the criminalization of the journalistic profession. 

And also  because while it may have seemed convenient in the euphoria of the early stages of the GPA, we remained focused on the democratic value of freedom of expression. The challenge therefore over the Christmas holidays is to review, reframe, re-strategise re-struggle ourselves back to the platform of democratic value and democratic principle.
Thank you.

Friday, 9 December 2011

2011 in political retrospect.

By Takura Zhangazha.
The passage of time is a rarely considered element in our national political discourse. A year begins and a year ends and we are all afflicted by short memories. Momentous political events are not easily remembered even in the wake of their occurrence. Instead they are left to the academic historians or the now rare village griot to recount many years after. 

 2011 might however not be an easy year to forget. As it comes to a close, it must be remembered as an internationally momentous year. From the ‘revolutions’ in Tunisia and Egypt that  were phenomenal in their occurrence and somewhat not as significantly defined in their aftermath.  Close on the heels of these revolutions was the removal from power of Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo and Libya’s Muammah Qadafi from power via direct liberal intervention by France and Nato respectively. These interventions left the African Union’s weak standing in international relations literally confirmed while the long awaited independence of South Sudan brought fresh hope for that country’s civil war to come to a final end.

Other events such as the assassination of Osama bin Laden and the riots by young British citizens were felt more in the West than elsewhere, while the Global Financial crisis though epitomized most tellingly by the events and change of government in Greece, is only beginning to be felt in Zimbabwe via the reduction of donor funding to government programmes on health such as the Global Fund to combat HIV/AIDS.

But to be specific to Zimbabwe, we began the year 2011 with a lot of what was then considered serious political tension. There were disputes over outstanding issues in the inclusive government and SADC made interventions via a still very disputed Livingstone Troika summit in March. The issues that were considered ‘outstanding’ by the three parties in the GPA which included an election roadmap, the expansion of JOMIC, the role of the military and human rights violations remain outstanding as we approach the end of 2011. At the time they were being presented, there was a sense of urgency which has turned out be a false urgency. And this is what has come to be the definitive character of our national politics in Zimbabwe via the inclusive government.

Throughout the whole year we have been threatened with  a referendum and elections. Where the three parties have held congresses or conferences, the language has been that of creating a sense of urgency that is not grounded in political reality and therefore has been false. And as 2011 comes to close, we should expect the cycle to continue in the aftermath of the Zanu Pf conference which predictably will insist on elections in 2012, a year short of the government and parliament serving out its constitutional five year term. And as the political parties continue with their false senses of urgency, there is the continuation of repression of the media, human rights activists and ordinary members of the public.
When it comes to reviewing the socio-economic problems that the country faced through 2011, limited little changed significantly. The government economic reform programmes have a broad neo-liberal framework that , judging by the policy pronouncements and speeches of cabinet ministers, wrongly places emphasis on private-public partnerships (PPPs).

In the course of the year, the only real evidence of these PPPs has been the government’s policy of economic empowerment and indigenization via Community Share Trusts. Whether these CSTs become of any public benefit, is yet to be seen but it is evident that due to the political contests over the matter together with the politicization of the entirety of the process, these CSTs are more likely to have a trickle down effect on the lives of the communities they are intended to benefit.
As in 2010 the government still does not have comprehensive health, transport and education (including tertiary) plans. Its approach has been to douse out fires, if it does so at all. To  be specific, in the health services there is the perennial challenge of over-dependence on international partners, who should they decide to move elsewhere or say they have run out of funding as with the Global Fund, the country is left high and dry. In relation to education, the government continued to grapple with teachers salaries without taking a holistic review of the entirety of the education system to make it work. This essentially means once again, come January 2012, we will be faced with a teachers strike, high tertiary and school fees,  

As regards, transport,   the government has done next to little to improve public transportation systems. The National Railways of Zimbabwe works intermittently and there is still no visible evidence as to what the road tollgate revenue is being utilized for. More often than not the Ministry of Transport is threatening car dealers and owners with a banning of one thing or the other as regards motor vehicles. Similarly the ministries of Youth and Women’s affairs, who have misunderstood the young people  and women of Zimbabwe by assuming that all they want are ‘projects’ yet none of them have offered a comprehensive public works framework to deal with the high levels of unemployment in the country.

As it is and as the year 2011 comes to a closure Zimbabwe and its citizens are running the risk of continuing with a political cycle that has become less about the people and more about the people in government. Their disputes and actions have largely been partisan not only on behalf of their political parties but also on behalf of their ‘comfort zones’( to which they have demonstrated an unfortunate sense of entitlement to via their purchase of luxury vehicles, unclear mineral and iron production deals, numerous trips abroad). And as the new year approaches, it is hoped that civil society, members of the public shall at some point begin to hold the inclusive government to account with regards to its performance legitimacy, and not just the politics of elections.

Friday, 25 November 2011

An ambiguous change of gear : Zimbabwe Budget 2012: .

An ambiguous change of gear : Zimbabwe Budget 2012: .
By Takura Zhangazha.
Zimbabwe’s proposed national budget for the year 2012 is now formally before the Parliament of Zimbabwe for approval. Its functional political premise, according to Finance Minister Biti, is the promotion of what the inclusive government calls a ‘democratic developmental state’ (DDS).  And this is the departure point for any analysis of the 2012 budget. The DDS is described in the Medium Term Plan (MTP) as that characterized by ten definitive points. These being, good governance, macro-economic stability, a diversified economy, maintenance of political stability, access to social services  accelerated rural development, equal opportunities for all, development and utilization of modern science and technology, a vibrant culture, and sustainable natural resource management.

To measure the 2012 budget against these objectives of the MTP and the intentions of the inclusive government’s vision of DDS would be well and good were it not akin to the biblical accusation of  ‘healer, heal thyself’.  This is because the national budget is not there to massage the rather grandiose plans of a sitting government. Its primary purpose and function is to make pragmatic the priority needs of the country, in real time and for people centered reasons.
The current budget proposal is the second annual one to be proposed and most likely implemented as is by the inclusive government. Its fundamental proclamation of seeking to work toward a DDS is not as obvious as it should be. 

In fact the question that arises immediately upon reading the priorities, is what does the government mean by this?  Is it similar to the years of popular economic programmes such as ‘gutsaruzhinji’ or ‘gore revanhu’ and further still where did the model of DDS emanate from? If it’s a borrowed concept, it would be most helpful for the government to inform the public from whence it was borrowed so we can all have a general idea as to how the national economy and our livelihoods will look like by 2013.
This will also assist citizens to understand the extent to which the inclusive government is working on the budget on the basis of collective responsibility, and not on the basis of political competition over an expected election.

Regardless, the 2012 budget is a different one from the previous one. This is in respect to its theme which is very similar to that espoused by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in one of their recent publications, that of a transformative economy. To be specific, the theme of the 2012 budget is ‘Enhancing a democratic sate anchored by a growing, and transforming, socially just economy’. Unlike previous budgets under the inclusive government, this one gives the distinct impression of being left leaning, but is more firmly within the ambit of general recommendations that are to be found in nascent World Bank related documents as well as mainstream sustainable development knowledge systems.

Such themes are usually the stuff of ‘five year plus’ national  plans, and where the inclusive government has chosen this theme, it has not necessarily indicated how it can achieve these very broad objectives within 12 months. Moreover, this sort of narrative is more template than political reality driven. This is to say, while there was consultation on issues that members of the public would expect in a national budget, the final version suits more a pre-determined framework than the real expectations of the public.

It is the latter point that brings me to the pragmatic nature of the interventions that are proposed by the inclusive government. In the 2012 budget there are six very significant proposals to the everyday person. These are a proposed fund for jobs, a proposed fund for small to medium enterprises, another for vulnerable agricultural households, an intervention into the livelihoods of ‘rural women’ and a youth fund. The nature of the distribution of these funds is essentially left to the relevant line ministry. This in itself is a problem that must be mitigated directly and in relation to the contested party politics of the inclusive government.

It would have been preferable that there be a much more evident, independent, well thought out and transparent distribution agency for these monetary resources. As it is for example,  how the youth fund shall be distributed is a vague matter. The nature of the ‘creative projects/ideas is also unclear within the current framework. Unless it becomes clearer as to the standards and measurement of what sort of business/social/economic ideas the 2012 budget will fund, there is the risk of creating a seriously patron-client loan acquisition system between those in the inclusive government and their supporters. 

This is also increasingly evident with the first such fund under the aegis of the inclusive government, that of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) which at one time saw some members of parliament prioritizing the wrong matters (such as buying generators for police stations without Home Affairs sanction)  because they had no central guideline as to how to utilize the resources.

A further point of concern with the 2012 budget is that of the ambiguity of public-private partnerships within the context of the delivery of social welfare needs of the country. Where it comes to health, education (tertiary included) the government is pledging money in partnerships with either private companies/banks, development banks and the donor community as to the implementation of these social welfarist programmes. These are models that have been tried before and depending on the profitability of the endeavor generally end with the private component of the partnership pulling out, and doing so rather abruptly.  The same can be said for the international donors who are funding most components of our health services provision, who when the global recession affects their funding, also scale down their operations leaving our citizens at their most vulnerable (this is the current risk with the Global Fund on HIV/AIDS). In order to mitigate these issues, the state should have at least indicated the minimum standards that it must meet to ensure key achievables in the provision of health services, education for all and water provision, wherein the engagement of the private sector or the international community would be an added benefit.

On the matter of industrial production, land, manufacturing and trade, the 2012 budget, skirts dealing directly with the issue of indigenization and its impact on the same. This is probably because of the disagreement on the policy in the inclusive government, but it must be noted that the same policy is now a political and economic reality. It is therefore imperative that the 2012 budget takes this matter directly into account, after all, some of the public-private partnerships under this policy are the ones that, by default, are funding the very much competed for Community Development Trusts.

A penultimate point is that of the the budget making provision for democratic processes around national healing, the constitutional referendum and constitutional commissions but not factoring in the matter of elections. Essentially this points to three possibilities. Ther first being that perhaps the elections budget is factored into the allocation is factored into the allocation for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission or secondly  that the government does not want to fund its own country’s electoral processes and thirdly that there are no elections in 2012. It is the third point that is most likely to be true, mainly due to the political competition in the inclusive government and also due to a general disdain by government at not wanting to upset the apple cart that is the inclusive government.

There are many other areas of the budget that are of importance that this short analysis cannot undertake due to the limitation of space as well as the reader’s attention span. It is however imperative that the inclusive government comes up with a clear plan of implementation of the 2012 budget for all of its ministries and their related parastatals. Failure to do so will lead to a budget that may be high sounding on paper but completely vague and politicized in implementation. Simultaneously civil society organizations must also take into account the fact that where the budget makes provisions for social welfare and social service delivery, it is the methodology of implementation that is now most important.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

‘Beyond the Enclave’ and ZCTU’s revisited 'sustainable development' social contract for Zimbabwe.

‘Beyond the Enclave’ and ZCTU’s revisited 'sustainable development' social contract for Zimbabwe.
By Takura Zhangazha.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) recently  launched a new book, Beyond the Enclave, Toward a Pro-poor and Inclusive DevelopmentStrategy for Zimbabwe  The book, which has been well received by members of the affiliate trade unions, is an important and timely academic reminder of the broad socio-economic challenges that Zimbabweans are facing. 

It is also a book that must be read with patience and attention to detail because it outlines what can be considered fundamental flaws within our national economy, both in relation to immediate post-independence Zimbabwe, the Economic  Structural Adjusment Programme (ESAP) years and in what has been described as the crisis years in the 2000’s through to the ‘transitional years’  from 2009 to present day.  
It must also be noted that the study was also compiled with the assistance of Zimbabwe's labour think tank, Labour and Economic Development Research Institute (LEDRIZ) as well as the Alternatives to Neo-Liberalism in Southern Africa (ANSA), organisations that both have strong links with labour issues in the Southern African region.

The primary analysis of the book is that Zimbabwe's national economy faces the challenge of being characterized by a 'dual'  and an 'enclave' economy.  By this, the ZCTU argues that the ‘dual’ nature of our economy is to be found in its formal and informal components, wherein, there is a large unused labour force in the informal sector and a privileged few in the formal. Either way, as the research contends, such a framework leads to a continuation of poverty of the many and the perpetuation of privilege for the few. The ‘enclave’ economy, to attempt at simplification, is referred to as that which is more or less the gate-keeping of the benefits to be accrued from the national wealth by the few on the basis of not only the inherited colonial economy but also the liberalisation of the 1990s.

And it is because of such a skewed economy that the book calls for a re-think of various facets of the national development policy. It therefore itemizes land, trade, mining, agriculture, gender equality, social welfare, education, trade, the labour market and manufacturing amongst others, as key areas that are in need of urgent attention and reform if the country is to return to a path of sustainable development.
On the issue of land, the ZCTU calls for a comprehensive land policy in tandem with a land audit. There is mention, in part, that the land reform process, is now irreversible, as agreed to by the three political parties in the inclusive government. In the proposal for a new land policy, there is the proposal that the issue of land tenure be finalized in order for the administration of land to be less driven by politicians but by democratic and people driven local government structures.
In relation to social welfare, the book urges policy makers to be cognizant of the importance of investing in health, education, and general infrastructure that relates to public transport in order to diminish poverty as well as to create employment.

On trade, it urges that there be a much more cautious approach to foreign direct investment (FDI) where there is less of an open sesame approach and one that takes into account the lessons of the ESAP years. For the ZCTU, any trade related investment in the country must be tied to infrastructural development, commitment to good governance, as well as the importance of all stakeholders accepting that the state must intervene in the market to ensure that social welfare is not undermined in the name of 'free market' capitalism. Instead, the argument of the labour body is that it remains imperative that the state be allowed the right to intervene in the market in order to keep poverty at bay. It however recommends that any changes to the multiple currency regime in Zimbabwe should be long term policies and should be premised on either making Zimbabwe part of the Rand Monetary Area or pegging the new Zimbabwe dollar against gold reserves.

The study  also emaphasises the importance of prioritising gender and gender related issues in all national economic programmes with particular emphasis on protecting women from the scourge of endemic poverty as well as understanding the importance of reigning in the informal economy which affects women the most. The proposition given is that there should be a national gender policy, the engendering of all national policies, the stepping up of social welfare funding and the improvement of property ownership/tenure and access to resources by all women.
In relation to social welfare, the study insists on the expansion of social protection mechanisms to prevent people from sliding further into poverty. These would include a much more comprehensive social security cover scheme, a national health insurance framework, all to be funded by a partnership between government and donors.

Further still, the book also goes on to cover areas that include mining, financial services and  science and technology frameworks. All of which are alluded to in what can be described as the 'sustainable development' model, a-la-cart the new World Bank and IMF thinking around the same issues. 

As evidence of this new approach, the study emphasizes the need for Zimbabwe to learn from international experiences and knowledge production around economic reforms, liberalization as well as the role of the state in a national economy.

All of the arguments presented in the book are well argued even though they are primarily aimed at a new negotiated approach to economic reform in Zimbabwe. The approach of the ZCTU is now one that can be considered less radical, and more in sync with global thinking on what is sustainable development and economic  reform.
Most of the recommendations in the book appear to be Social Democratic in ideological intent but are cautious on making this point patently clear.  This is probably because the book is intended for audiences beyond the workers, and therefore essentially assuages any fears of further radicalism emerging from the national labour union.  It is a well thought out attempt at a new approach to the economic crisis that the country is facing. 

Occassionally it appears to borrow a lot from the World Bank, at other times it remains grounded in the historicity of our national economic crisis. It is however interesting to measure whether the inclusive government will act beyond having merely attended the launch of the book. And it also remains to be seen whether the ZCTU itself remains united or strong enough to carry out the necessary policy lobbying, advocacy to ensure that the set ore recommendations in each chapter of the book are at least seriously considered by the government as well as members of the public.

Friday, 18 November 2011

An urgent call for media freedom in Zimbabwe

An urgent call for media freedom in Zimbabwe.
By Takura Zhangazha.
The Zimbabwean government has an obligation to listen to the concerns of its citizens. In order for it to listen, the people of Zimbabwe must be allowed to speak. And this they do in various ways but the most important platform for speaking truth to power in Zimbabwe remains our media. 

Regrettably in the three years since the formation of the inclusive government, our media has remained under siege by the state via repressive legislation.  And it is this repressive legislation that has led to the generation of an unfortunate culture of impunity against media professionals, where it is a general habit by politicians and others to seek to have journalists arrested.  This is a point that government ministers, particularly the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity will invariably try to deny but it remains an unfortunate and dismaying truth. 

Since the formation of the inclusive government, there has been incremental change to our media landscape. Some elements of this change include the Zimbabwe Media Commission’s (ZMC) licensing a number of private print media players, most of whom have gone on to publish. There has however been no change to the undemocratic practice of criminalizing the media profession via a number of pieces of legislation that protect public officials, the police and national security services from media scrutiny. Further still,  there has been the maintenance of a political culture that wrongly views media freedom as a privilege and not a right. This latter point has been evidenced by the Minster of Media, information and Publicity, Mr. Webster Shamu who used the occasion of World Press Freedom Day in 2011 to wrongly insist that media freedom is a privilege. 

Most recently, there has been the harassment of the Standard Newspaper editor, Nevanji Madanhire and journalist Nqaba Matshazi by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) on charges that are related to a raft of notorious pieces of legislation that permit our courts of law to consider  not only defamation but freedom of expression  as criminally punishable offenses. The majority of criminal defamation charges have been largely resorted to by persons of influence either by way of politics, business or religion. It is most unfortunate that those that are personally or politically aggrieved by the media may believe that the most effective port of call to seek redress is a police station as opposed to amicable resolution of the grievance in terms of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) Media Code of Conduct. 

Resorting  to the ZRP in order to seek media redress is patently undemocratic and inimical to media freedom and freedom of expression, whichever way one looks at it.  It not only connotes detention for expressing one’s self but also carries with it the fear of what happens in holding cells to those that are deemed to be undermining government or government related authority. This is not to say journalists are above the law, but no one should be imprisoned or physically harassed for expressing an opinion or writing a story that some may consider unfair or inaccurate. There are mechanisms available for redress, such as the VMCZ or the civil courts in addressing issues related to grievances over media stories. 

Where our politicians have retained laws that criminalize freedom of expression, they have been the main actors in the continuation of a culture of arrests that the media profession is now confronted with.  The three parties in the inclusive government, against better advice, decided to amend and not repeal the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in 2008. In doing so they did not remove the clauses that continue to target journalists for criminal charges if they write a ‘false’ story. The same political leaders also retained the Public Order and Security Act together with the notorious and now law of first resort for the police when charging journalists, the  Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The former has undemocratic clauses that punish anyone, and in particular the media, for undermining the authority of the President and the state security services.  

When members of the inclusive government  or parliament get arrested on charges stemming from these laws, they expect the media to make a lot of noise about the injustice of it all, yet when media professionals insist that these laws are causing the undemocratic harassment, arrest and detention of journalists, the politicians turn a blind eye and start talking about ‘necessary compromises’ or citing similar legislation from other jurisdictions.  In one instance, at a media stakeholders conference called for by the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity in Kariba in 2009, unconfirmed but reliable information indicates that the MDCs and Zanu Pf, together with media stakeholders present, discussed the clauses in POSA that criminalize insulting the President. The end result of that particular debate was that the law must include criminal charges against those that also insult the Prime Minister! 

This limited understanding of the importance of freedom of expression and media freedom by the inclusive government is not only disappointing but has dire consequences for the collective national quest to make our society a democratic one. It also essentially points to the necessity of a new urgency by all media stakeholders in fighting for media freedom and freedom of expression in Zimbabwe.  No single Zimbabwean must express gratitude to the government for licensing more newspapers because the government should not be doing so anyway. Neither must media stakeholders continue to be saddled with the burden of accepting incremental and minimal media reforms simply because the government has asked them to do so. Those that are in power or positions of influence consistently seek to posit that media freedom is a privilege that can be taken at any time, an assumption that is not only wrong but one that violates Section 20 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution.