Sunday, 9 September 2012

Media Self-Regulation: Staying the democratic media freedom course.

The concept of Media Self-Regulation: Staying the  democratic media freedom course.
A brief presentation to the 2012 Highway Africa Conference, Grahamstown, South Africa,( 09 September 2012)

By Takura Zhangazha

A recurrent question that has begun to emerge in contemporary discourse concerning the media has been ‘how do we regulate the media’?  It is a loaded question primarily because the media (both mainstream and social) has generally become a game changer in global, regional and local politics. And it is a question that is asked more by those with power (political or economic) than it is asked by a majority of our African and global citizens. It is a debate that when further placed within the context of the Southern African and African hegemony, South Africa, becomes somewhat more political than it is based on an organic reflection of how the media should be regulated. This is because the South African state, having become troubled at its elite levels, is seeking to pass on the blame for its challenges to the most immediate of opinion makers on its performance legitimacy.  This being through deliberately but euphemistically seeking to silence the media via direct state regulation and criminalization of journalistic work.

As is the habit with a regional and continental hegemon, its sneeze causes the rest of the continent to catch a serious cold. Being from Zimbabwe,  I can safely say that perhaps we have, contrary to general assertions about our inability to influence international trends, successfully exported our media repression models to our colleagues in the  region. Never mind their glossy constitutions. They have taken an attitude to the media that can only be assumed to have been taken from some of the repressive think-tank’s of Harare

From a Zimbabwean perspective however, it is a debate that we do not have to over-theorize on. We have had a direct experience of state regulation of the media. And it has been a thoroughly repressive one.  Where we have an emerging debate in South Africa concerning state versus self regulation of the media, we can safely attest to the fact that , the state is not only predatory toward the media  but it functions on the false assumption that media freedom and in  the same vein, freedom of expression as well as access to information are privileges that it must give to us out of its own benevolence.  And this now  particularly so where our South African counterparts have begun to debate, formally so, the issue and concept of ‘independent’ co regulation of the media as an alternative to assuage the fears of the predatory state in what is unfortunately an apologetic response to our right to express ourselves. 

While it remains of fundamental importance that  alternative regulatory models be examined, we  must remain guided by the adage, ‘comment is free, but facts are sacred’.  And in doing so, we must be cautious of who wants to claims issues as facts and who wants to monitor/control  the comment. This is not in order to relieve the media of any form of public responsibility or lack of blame over and about the way it undertakes to inform our societies of information that is in the public interest. But we must not shift the focus away from democratic principle and value of media freedom as well as media self regulation. We must not negotiate away media freedom or our collective and individual rights to freedom of expression.

This is why perhaps the Zimbabwean example is of significance. The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ)  functions parallel to the state established Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC). This state of affairs is co-regulation by political default. The VMCZ was established by journalists and media organizations  for the ostensible reason of promoting media self regulation against a repressive state. The ZMC was established by a state that has always had a repressive attitude toward the media, let alone a thoroughgoing lack of knowledge as to how the media and media related institutions advance the best democratic interests of the country. The good thing is that the VMCZ has survived and has been steadily increasing public understanding of media public accountability, ethics, professionalism and freedom of expression.

The justification of this unofficial – co-regulatory framework is not preferable but it obtains in Zimbabwe not because of a popular decision but more due to government intransigence on media freedom, freedom of expression and in the final analysis, access to information.

In order to arrive at a way forward concerning the concept of media self regulation, it is imperative that we all understand that the theme of this conference, which is "Africa Rising, How the media frame the continent’s geo-politics, trade and economic growth", is not intended to simultaneously seek to box the media into reporting pre-ordained narratives via state co-control. Similarly, the theme should also not be taken to mean that our media must rise in relation to meeting the increasingly repressive media policy habits of powerful countries in the world.
This would mean that we should not lose ground to the new fears of governments(fears of their own people) both in the north or the south, after the revolutions in North Africa or in the aftermath of Wikileaks.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Consolidating perspectives on Zimbabwe's constitutional reform processes

Consolidating perspectives on Zimbabwe's constitutional reform processes: Understanding the past and present, for a democratic future.

A presentation to the Youth Forum Inaugural Congress, Friday 7 September 2012, Harare, Zimbabwe.

By Takura Zhangazha.*

Cde Chairman and members of the Youth Forum Board, the general membership of the Forum  and colleagues from civil society here present.

Let me begin by expressing  my gratitude to the  leaders and through them, the members of the Youth Forum for inviting me to your important and landmark 2012 Congress. I have defined it is a 'landmark congress' primarily because, as I have been informed by the organizers that this meeting's agenda includes key discussions around how to democratically strengthen the organization's own constitution. It is this that makes the presentation I have been asked to make perhaps more relevant.   Essentially it points to the fact that in order for us to ably struggle for  democratic transparency in Zimbabwe we must also be accountable in our own internal organizations to our membership as well as our stakeholders. And perhaps it is this that gives the Youth Forum the moral political latitude to intend to tackle the broader and national constitutional reform process that is underway at the moment.

Let me also add to this beginning by stating an historical fact. Zimbabwe (as a country and as a territory) has had at least four major constitutional reform ‘processes’ that have been undertaken in the last 40 years. The first significant one was that which catapulted the late Bishop Abel Muzorewa to brief national stardom and gave him part leadership of the then United African National Council (UANC). This was in 1972 with what was called the Pearce Commission that was mandated to consult Africans on a raft of constitutional amendments to the Rhodesian Constitution.

In the last 15 or so years that I have been a pro-democracy activist, I have had the privilege of meeting some of the comrades who participated in the demonstrations not only against the Pearce Commission but also against the minority settler state. The one thing they always accused me of, in 1999, was that they were more radical in their condemnation of constitutions that were intended to dilute the 'full freedom' aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe. By the time the year of the Internal Settlement (1978) came, these then young comrades had already made up their minds, based on their knowledge and experience of the struggle to either join the liberation war or stay and keep the urban consciousness and yearning for freedom relevant. And this is why, the second major constitutional amendment that established the internal settlement was roundly rejected by the people, who never found or thought the then short lived Zimbabwe-Rhodesia state to be legitimate. 

When these then young comrades, some of whom included our parents, witnessed the launching of the national flag of Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980, they knew that their intentions had been partly met because they had remained principled and steadfast. Partly met because again, the constitutional changes that ushered in Zimbabwe had been a negotiated compromise in order to achieve that all important first step toward the realization of freedom. It was to all intents and purposes a necessary compromise, perhaps overly so, but all the same, we got, through that selfless act of our then liberators, the right to vote, equality for all, and a government of our own choice.

The next two major changes to the constitution were to become the “missing of the revolutionary moment”  by our leaders, then and now. The amendments to the constitution after the Unity Accord of 1987 should have ushered in a much more democratic political dispensation. We were told of the necessity of unity but we were not told of the necessity of unity with democratic and people centered governance. It turned out that instead of the latter, we almost had the establishment of a one party state and still ended up with a singularly powerful Executive Presidency which we retain to this day. The young people of that time, some of whom are now in the inclusive government sowed the mustard seed of what is contemporary civil society by refusing the one party state, establishing the short lived by high impact Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM). Their calling was one of principle over and above that of expediency, a point to which I shall return later in my presentation.

For another ten years since 1989, young people from across classes began to build a specific consciousness that saw the rise of important organisations such as the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), Zimrights, Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), the National Constitutional Assembly among many others moving from being office organisations to being people oriented movements against repressive odds. I personally joined the struggle via the national students union, together with some comrades who are now in the leadership of the Youth Forum as well as in broader civil society. We knew, by the time the then government decided, under pressure form the National Constitutional Assembly, to embark on the 1999 constitutional reform process  led by the Chidyausiku Constitutional Commission, that we could not betray our democratic values and principles merely for the expedient moment of wanting to appear sophisticated about constitutionalism and democracy.

We had seen the examples of the then Zaire's early 1990’s failed and undemocratic constitutional reform process under Mobutu Sese Seko, and it was imperative that we pursue the democratic path to constitution making. We assessed as young comrades and in tandem with our leaders in the ZCTU and broader civil society that the then state of affairs under Economic Structural Adjustment (ESAP), the unfinished business of fulfilling the aspirations of our national war of liberation had been caused by unaccountable government functioning on the basis of an undemocratic constitution. 

So we joined the campaign for a people driven constitution under the broad banner of the NCA. The government of that time refused to listen to our mantra, 'we the people, shall write the constitution'. It missed an historical moment by not only ignoring the NCA's recommendations, but by ignoring the findings of its own constitutional Commission.   It was this 'no' vote victory of the people in 2000 that ostensibly gave a full indication that the people of our republic were not happy with the manner in which they were being governed and therefore it formed part of the cliffhanger basis upon which the MDC, when it was still a working peoples party, rose spectacularly onto the national stage.

It is most unfortunate that some of these colleagues in the higher offices of the same have started referring to the historic 'no' vote as a mistake. Such a claim is not only mistaken but indicative of a leadership that is now increasingly on the wrong side of the people's history, a leadership that refuses to take the side of the people in their moment of triumphal consciousness via nationally defying for the first time since independence, the autocratic intentions of the then government.

By the time the inclusive government was established, some of these comrades who had been in the leadership of the NCA and some of our allies in civil society began to sing from different hymn sheets about constitutional reform. Their major trump card in doing so was their targeting of the youth to function only on behalf of the way they thought, and only on behalf of political parties and not the country. By the time COPAC arrived on the national stage in the undemocratic fashion that was their first all stakeholders conference, it was no longer enough for the inclusive government to expect loyalty on the basis of democratic values and principles. Given the gravity of the economic crisis, the government sought to use money, promises of employment to support its flawed process. And it has continued to do so today. 

And this is what brings me to the crux of my presentation. It has been a difficult and winding road for the young people of Zimbabwe. Particularly so in the last twelve years where unemployment levels have shot up to over 80%, health service beyond the reach of the many, education become a private enterprise and the social democratic vision of both the liberation struggle and the post-liberation democratic struggles are no longer organic to many of our movements and our civil society organisations.

I do not wish to be-labour the point that most of you are now aware of. This being the argument given by some of our political leaders that the COPAC process, flawed as it is, must be accepted by all Zimbabweans. Indeed some political parties have already began a campaign for a 'yes' vote yet there is no actual official draft constitution to talk about. I know that some colleagues here present share a different view to mine, and I respectfully accept that. I also know that some of you here would have liked me to discuss the content, and possibly have me demonstrate my ‘paralegal’ status or knowledge but, I also respectfully refuse to do so. This is because, I do not intend to be a prisoner of undemocratic processes or a by-stander in historical and political wrongs as I see them occurring. 
And this is key in addressing the way forward for young Zimbabwean comrades vis a vis the constitution. Whatever your political persuasions, avoid being caught up in a conundrum where the country is lost to the shallow politics of expediency and inorganic celebrity culture. As I have said earlier when I gave the example of those young comrades who rejected the 1972 Pearce Commission, they refused to bow down their heads to opportunism and expediency. They held fort and they held firm.

 The painful but necessary struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe continued and even escalated. The challenge that young people of Zimbabwe face now are many but it increasingly seems that the main one is that of a national political leadership that refuses to allow the people to establish and conclude the social democratic project that is Zimbabwe. We cannot all be paralegals and argue coherently about the constitution, but we can be and are all citizens of the People's Republic of Zimbabwe. And this means, we have a right to directly participate in the making of our country's democratic history. As with those that came before us, history is a burden that we must all bear and all carry. It is a burden that requires democratic belief, democratic principle and democratic purpose. It does not require the ‘high table’ approach that is COPAC, and I as I have stated previously, roundly reject that undemocratic process to the extent that should it be taken to a referendum, I will most certainly vote against the COPAC draft constitution.

And I hope and pray that your inaugural congress will be up to the challenge of remaining committed, democratic and above all, taking over the challenge of making a social democratic future for this, our country, Zimbabwe.
Thank you, and I wish you well in your proceedings.

ENDS// *Takura writes here in his personal capacity(

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Save Valley Conservancy, Indigenisation and 'The Lie of the Land'^

By Takura Zhangazha*

On the surface of it, it would appear that the political dispute over the Save Valley Conservancy in South Eastern Zimbabwe is yet another story of 'illegal land-grabs'. It must however be said at the onset that this is an understandable perception given the controversy and violence that has come to be associated with our government's land reform policies since the year 2000. The fault for such a perception resides with the same said government and I do not hold a brief to assist it in changing how its policies are viewed globally or domestically. It is however important that the issue of the Save Conservancy not be lost in the conundrum of typical debate about land conflict and/or reform in Zimbabwe. This is because it is more complicated than what is currently being placed in the public domain.

Evidently, and as has been reported in the media, there are four points of conflict over and about this safari area. The first being that of the broad policy of the Zimbabwean government to pursue indigenisation of the national economy. In this, the government has insisted that all sectors of the economy must be placed into indigenous ownership. Given the fact that parts of the conservancy are managed by some local state and private entities in partnership with foreign nationals, it appears that the Zimbabwe Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) is not immune from indigenisation . In response, the European Union has issued a warning that it may renew sanctions on Zimbabwe over this matter. This of course is in keeping with the contemporary narrative of our government's international relations and domestic policies.

The second point of conflict over the Save Conservancy has been between the political parties in the inclusive government. The two MDCs in government have denounced not only the broader methodology of economic empowerment but also specifically the takeover of the conservancy through the same policy and by persons perceived to be functionaries of Zanu Pf.

This also leads us to the third and rather surprising node of conflict surrounding this matter. This being that of the Zanu Pf intra-party  divisions over the allocation of parts of the conservancy that have reportedly required the intervention of Vice President Mujuru. The fourth and perhaps most important point of dispute over the Save Valley Conservancy has now been reported as coming from traditional chiefs who are arguing that any redistribution of the land there must not be only for the bigwigs but must benefit the community.

This claim by the chiefs should however be accepted with caution as it is not clear whom and whose interests they are representing. Fundamentally however, all of the four nodes of disagreement have some sort of tentative acknowledgement that whatever happens, the conservancy must benefit the 'community' and this is a point that must be debated honestly.

The general narrative about conservancies has been about preserving wildlife both for environmental reasons or alternatively touristic and game hunting profitable endeavors. As akin to our forestry protection policies,which are largely a carry over of colonial policy, conservancies are protected particularly from what have  been perceived to be the 'marauding' locals who are deemed to have a limited understanding of either the environment or the wildlife that they live in close proximity with. (Hence some of the statements from the incumbents at the Save Conservancy that some of those that wish to take over do not understand a thing about running safaris).

Further still, even those that have been in partnerships or those that intend to politically take over the conservancy have not shifted in their approach to the same 'local community'. As it was in the beginning of the laying of the boundaries between villages and the wildlife/forestry areas before independence, so it has remained. This even in the aftermath of the once much celebrated  Campfire which has demonstrated the patent ineptitude of many a rural district council since its inception in 1989. In effect, all players in this new environmental/safari tourism cum political contest have essentially become part players in what is referred to in some academic circles as the lie of the land ( an unquestioning acceptance of statistical data from environmental and other NGOs that Africa's rural poor damage their own environment). This has been the underlying reason why local communities are barely in with a chance of benefiting from such projects. This is especially so when one looks at the example of displacements of people from Matopos to the Gwaai Shangani forests and their subsequent placement under another Campfire project in their new locations after independence (ostensibly to protect the elephants and other wildlife).

In extending its indigenisation programme to conservancies, the government has not demonstrated a thorough re-examination of its Campfire programmes thus far and is not necessarily seeking to depart from 'colonial' policy understanding of the interaction between environmental/natural resources and the country's citizens. The Save Conservancy debacle is the latest proof of this. To seek to merely want to replace existing owners of the wildlife sanctuary and assume that is 'progress' is thoroughly inadequate. Simultaneously to talk of community share ownership trusts without a thorough re-examination of Campfire's successes and failures is to give false hope (if any) to communities in the vicinity of the area.

The primary challenge is now not only about managing the narrative of investor confidence ahead of the Untied Nations World Tourism Organisation conference. Instead, it is of the urgent need for the country and government to depart from the exclusionary policies of the colonial past not by way of displacement or replacement but by wholesale democratic reform of the manner in which our natural resources are managed in the best public interest. This would begin with an evident understanding that what is happening in Save is a proverbial case of the grass suffering while the elephants fight in order for things to remain the same.

^ Phrase 'Lie of the land'  title taken from the title of the book by Melissa Leach and Robin Mearns, eds. The Lie of the Land: Challenging Received Wisdom on the African Environment Oxford: James Currey and Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1996.
* Takura Zhangazha writes in his personal capacity. (