Wednesday, 20 February 2013

An Ordinary Civilian's Perspective on the Ban on 'Illegal Communication Devices' in Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha*

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), in a recent press statement issued via its Chief Spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner (AC) Charity Charamba, gave some insight as to how it views freedom of expression and access to information.  It was a statement, as reported both in the state controlled and private media, announcing the banning of  ‘illegal communication devices’.  It turns out these ‘illegal communication devices’ are most probably those that come in the form of small portable radios that have Shortwave (SW) and Frequency Modulation(FM) bandwidths. In its announcement of this blanket ban, the ZRP also indicated in the same press statement that the force was worried about citizens who were meeting in ‘groups of 40-50’ in the evenings and therefore allegedly in violation of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). 

That the ZRP has deemed these devices or their distribution illegal may be a matter that must be determined by our courts of law or where and when it relates to elections and the referendum, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. It would however also be important that the AC's statement also be subject to public scrutiny and debate.  And hence the purpose of this article is to seek to examine the social import of the immediate ban in relation to the rights of the people of Zimbabwe to freedom of expression and freedom of association. This also because the ZRP did not issue a blanket ban on debating the merits or de-merits of  its public announcement.

In reading the reports over and about this statement from the ZRP, one can easily surmise two things. The first that the ‘illegal communication devices’ referred to are in fact portable radios with access to the Short Wave frequency and that have been in use and in distribution in Zimbabwe since the days of the liberation struggle. These devices generally have not been part of the mainstream latter day radio technologies in Zimbabwe due to  the global expansion of cheaper and clearer broadcasting via Frequency Modulation (FM) under the aegis of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) of which Zimbabwe is a member state and signatory. This expansion has generally led to radio manufacturers not making as many SW frequency receiver radios.

 Radios with SW frequencies are largely manufactured for and used in countries where either there is a lack of media diversity and pluralism or alternatively where there is underdevelopment of the necessary infrastructure to broadcast via FM. Indeed in the past they have been used for propaganda purposes (within the context of the Cold War) but for our purposes since the liberation struggle, they have been used as platforms to access alternative  information or entertainment from what would be regarded as mainstream or popularly viewed as unbalanced. 

It would be however important to note that in terms of the ITU SW radio station frequencies are essentially permitted to broadcast across borders and are therefore not officially recognized as a violation of the ‘sovereignty’ of a country.  And in any event Zimbabwe has its own current SW Radio station that no country has sought to close or limit its citizens from owning these radio sets.  

So, on the face of it, while the ZRP may have perused through the Postal and Telecommunications Act in tandem with the Broadcasting Services Act and POSA, it would also be important  for the public relations department  to note that there is no particular international restriction on SW radio broadcasts via the ITU. Where it feels this affects its ability to implement a law, then the police services should also  talk to the relevant cabinet minister to seek bi-lateral agreements with our neighboring countries and ask the latter not to host transmitters for SW radio frequencies.

The second issue to note about the announcement by the police is the coincidence of the seeming simultaneous  ban on both the ‘illegal communication devices’ and ‘evening gatherings of 40-50 people’.  What is apparent is that it is most likely the police are aware that most SW radio stations, including those that specialize on Zimbabwean issues, broadcast most clearly in the evenings and a good number of people tune into their programmes. Except that due to the general shortage of SW radio-sets I cited earlier on in this article, Zimbabwean citizens will gather in small groups to listen to a singular set. 

This was the case during the liberation struggle and even though we are no longer at war, this appears to be the case in contemporary times.  It would be somewhat unfair to label such a development a ‘conspiracy’ as appears to be the case from AC Charamba’s statement. Instead this development is more indicative of a willingness by ordinary Zimbabweans to listen to alternative and internationally legal  SW radio stations of their own volition and not in aide of any conspiracy around elections or any other matter. If it were within the purview of the ZRPs mandate, it would have been preferable that they explain what is particularly wrong that is communicated by these SW radio stations that is not broadcast via the nationally licensed FM radio stations.  

In the same vein, it is also important that the ZRP make clear how their blanket ban relates to the use of mobile telephony to access either SW or FM radio and whether mobile telephones fall within the ambit of their term, ‘illegal communication devices’. This too would be the same for the world wide web and its contents as well as its reach or its ability to be shared between individuals or ‘gatherings.

From a civilian perspective, I am aware it is important that the public understands that the ZRP does not make the law, it implements it. Indeed the onus resides in civilians (inclusive of security services when they are off duty) to lobby government to effect changes to the law via their political leaders. It however remains the prerogative of civilians to also assess the performance of the ZRP in tandem not only with the law but with the values, spirit and letter of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. In the case of SW radio devices, it is not so much their technical ability to be listened to by Zimbabweans that should be the issue. Instead it should be the ability of citizens to enjoy the right to receive and impart information without undue hindrance that is paramount and in an age where the more free and technologically sound a country's domestic media is, the less it has reason to fear information coming from elsewhere. 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Democratic Importance of the 'No' Vote on March 16, 2013

By Takura Zhangazha*

The inclusive government’s draft constitution has now been gazetted and is due to be put to the people of Zimbabwe for their assent or rejection on March 16 this year. The less than four weeks that have been given for it to be distributed and debated by the public are not only  evidently inadequate but can also be seriously viewed as a form of contempt for the peoples views on the same document.  

As such, debates over the content of the draft constitution have been overtaken and come back full circle to being more about the undemocratic nature of the process. Questions over and about the inadequacy of a little over three weeks for the public to debate the draft constitution have become common place and have led to some political leaders in the inclusive government claiming the document as a compromise one that will be amended by the political party that wins the harmonized elections scheduled for later on in the year. The truth of the matter is that this short time frame is a direct result of the undemocratic nature of the constitutional reform  process undertaken by COPAC and as approved by the political party principals. And it is such developments that should make it clear why it is necessary for Zimbabweans to reject the draft constitution primarily on the basis of process with the added dimension of content. 

It is however necessary to explain the full democratic import of voting against the draft constitution. And this must be done in three parts, namely, understanding the historical significance of constitutional reform in Zimbabwe, secondly, bringing political leaders to full democratic account and thirdly understanding the generational context to constitutional reform and democratisation processes in Zimbabwe.

To take an historical perspective to constitutional reform in the first years it would be important to dispel the false assertion by PM Tsvangirai and Professor Welshman Ncube that the watershed ‘no vote’ in the year 2000 was a ‘mistake’.  Such an assertion has been invoked once again where and when they have discussed the current draft constitution. The reality of the matter is that contrary to their assertions, the ‘no vote’ of 2000 was the end result  of both an undemocratic constitutional reform process as well as an increasingly unpopular ruling party, particularly as regards it's performance legitimacy within the context of economic structural adjustment programmes. 

That the two MDCs principals wish to invoke revisionist history to cajole Zimbabweans to support their undemocratic document is not necessarily a problem. But it would be fair to say that their interpretation of the import of the February 2000 'no' vote is an exercise in political dishonesty.  

Historically post independence constitutional reform has generally provided a platform through which Zimbabweans have eagerly participated with the intention of making their country governed better yet only to be treated as subjects through the political dishonesty of government leaders of the day. It would therefore not be remiss to state that the 2000 'no' vote was a declaration of intent by the people of Zimbabwe, notwithstanding the different mainstream political viewpoints, to make their voices heard. This is the same case in 2013, where the people do sense a serious travesty of being asked to vote yes by a political elite that has mistaken their popular support to mean unprincipled acceptance by the masses of their every word and deed.

Where the politicians seek to repeat their ahistorical mistake of largely  ignoring the views of the people in 2000 and acting as though they own the country, the people of Zimbabwe must reassert their right to reject the same said’s proposed draft constitution. This, not in order to wantonly repeat history but to salvage democratic principle and ensure the entrenchment of the understanding that Zimbabwe belongs to all of its citizens, not just the political elite. 

The second element that must be considered in seeking to understand the democratic importance of the ‘no vote’ is that where we can, we should never allow such casual and undemocratic leadership of as important a process of wholesale constitutional reform to be repeated.  

This means that the no vote is primarily about bringing to account on leaders who do not take such important national political processes such as constitutional reform with the democratic seriousness that it deserves. This is particularly so for the political (and in some cases, civil society) leaders of this current undemocratic constitutional reform process who failed their own tests of undertaking it on time, within a reasonable budget or with the maximum possible public accountability.  Against better advice, they forged ahead on a partisan basis over a period of four years while missing the national and historic significance of the process and simplistically banking on the assumed infallibility of their party principals for short term political capital. Such an elitist approach to a national issue/question  must not  be permitted to occur without judgment of the people. And in this instance the 2013 ‘no vote’ will serve to bring leaders to account.

The third and final perspective that adds weight to the democratic importance of the no vote is that of the generational question.  And it is one that must be viewed within the framework of the famous phrase provided by African liberation war hero and thinker, Franz Fanon who once wrote, ‘Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it in relative opacity’.  This oft forgotten phrase is one that in our context must be taken to mean that the 2013 no vote is no longer about the political leaders of  either the liberation war or the second phase of post independence democratization struggles (since 1997) who have been key players in the current undemocratic process.  Instead, the ‘no vote’ is about the future, and not the past. It is a future that directly affects younger Zimbabweans who must embrace a determinate course of making a democratic history that is sensitive to not only social democratic values and people driven processes, but also understands that their time too will one day be up. And furthermore that they too will be judged on the basis of how their actions and principles helped build or destroy a democratic future for Zimbabwe.

 And this begins in 2013 with a reaffirmation of the democratic values that took generations preceding us to seek to better the lives of all Zimbabweans, be it via the rejection of the Pearce Commission or that of the one party state in 1989. This must and should be done through exercising our right to reject what the inclusive government has dishonestly referred to as a people driven constitution on referendum day, March 16, 2013.

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

ICTs, Time and Zimbabwean Socio-Economic Consciousness.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Ever since the onset of colonialism, information and communications technologies (ICTs) in Zimbabwe have regularly undergone 'revolutionary' phases. The most efficient of these technologies have initially been the privilege of the few and then with the expansion of free market economics, have been imposed on the masses to accept their full import or else re-negotiate their identities and cultural practices. This is true of the written word (paper, mechanised letters/postal services);  the telegraph and telephone; the gramophone/radio;  the television/ audio visual ‘technologies’ and in contemporary times, the internet and mobile telephony.

In the varying phases of the introduction of these mechanisms of communication, their ‘revolutionary’ import has been not so much in their invention for us here in Zimbabwe, but more their ability to change our societal way of life either by way of changes in the mechanics of our existence or by way of embracing new cultural traits and fashions that first came with the onset and longue duree of  colonialism.  

With each new communication technology came changes to different attributes of our society. The letter brought a scramble for literacy, the telephone, radio and television not only became status symbols but also were to be identified with proximity to urban success/westernization and therefore a departure from what was then perceived to be the ‘backwardness’ of rural life.  (During the course of the liberation war possessing a radio let alone a television set in the rural areas would be to risk life and limb after being accused of either being a spy or a sellout.)

But it is perhaps in the aftermath of independence that our country’s interaction with advances in ICTs becomes more apparent. Particularly  where one examines academic considerations as to the meaning of time, space, technology and or mobility . Where we liberated the country, we tended to focus more on ideological demagoguery (perhaps correctly and in tandem with the times) without understanding this important continuum (time, space, technology and mobility) that had been with us since our historical encounter with full scale colonialism. This is why perhaps it was reported that our post independence government turned down offers from potential satellite broadcasters to set up their operations here in the late 1980s. Apparently it was worried about the potential of the latter to undermine our national culture. This, perhaps without a fuller understanding of the full import of the end of the Cold War and the onset of the need to re-negotiate Zimbabwe's placement in the context of globalisation.  

 And this is why too, a now major mobile communications company, Econet Wireless, had to face years of legal battles in order to become legally operational in the 1990s. Our government then did not understand the nexus of time, space and technology or even if it did, it did not understand the new energies within the context of the global political economy.  It was therefore unnecessarily prohibitive and insecure about ICTs instead of harnessing them for the greater societal good without the blatant pursuit of the politics of the belly that we were to witness at that time. 

It is such an attitude that has made Zimbabwean society an unfortunate victim of what anthropologists have called ‘millenial capitalism’ due to our inability to mitigate the direct and indirect dis-empowering socio-economic effects of the technological advances in the ‘time-space’ continuum in tandem with globalized capitalism. An off shoot of which has been our continuing integration into a global economy that values, above all else, hegemonic free market capitalism without social democratic principles. This, at the expense of the livelihoods of a majority of our country’s citizens.

This is a salient point to make in the wake of mobile telephony, the internet and social media expansion in Zimbabwe.  It appears as though, as of old, we are unable to negotiate our way around these new technologies without our government seeking to resort to direct censorship, arrests and intimidation of those who would use these to express ourselves as is our constitutional right.

Where these ICTs would be used to seek to debate and find solutions to our national problems, government officials and state security are more keen on keeping their usage only in relation to the abstract while companies are more interested more in the profit motive in exploring our small but very energetic market. What continues to lack is deliberate application of democratic and maximum possible social beneficiation in utilizing these technologies

Particularly where one considers the scramble to make money from these ICTs by promoting a consumerist culture that does not begin to address issues and matters of production or innovation in our society. Or alternatively, seeking merely to use these technologies for the purposes of partisan and politicized democratization processes without framing their usage beyond the acquisition of power by one party over the other. 

Where we have taken lessons about the significance of ICTs to development processes, we have done so in mimic fashion without full application of context and a pace that is slow due either to government intransigence, businesses competing for maximum profit in the shortest possible time and narrow politically expedient perceptions about the impact of ICTs in the broader democratization struggle.

As it is, what we are witnessing is the unmitigated reinvention of Zimbabwean society via ICTs without a democratic and broad social development  oriented context. Proclamations of ICT policies have tended more to be hand-me-downs either from South East Asia or international NGOs and are rarely interrogated as to their full import for Zimbabwean society or its betterment.  As an unfortunate end product, we will be waiting for ICTs to determine how we utilize space, time and technology, and not vice versa, where we would determine to what best democratic interests these technologies should serve us.  

Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (