Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Role of the media in Social Movement Building, Promoting Accountability and Community Development – a regional perspective

Role of the media in Social Movement Building, Promoting Accountability and Community Development  – a regional perspective.

A  Presentation to the MISA-Zimbabwe and  SADC CNGO Commission on Media and Social Mobilisation

29 July 2014, Cresta Lodge, Harare

By Takura Zhangazha

(Establishing a Tradition of Southern African Media Freedom)

The media and telecommunications technology have had an  important role in regional political and economic processes.

It has also been key to our regional consciousness in our struggles for democratization. 

Whether one considers the mainstream news media of gone days such as the African Daily News, the Voice of Zimbabwe, the Weekly Mail and Guardian the media has shaped our regional consciousness.

It helped shape a consciousness that has focused primarily on the pursuit of democracy and socio-economic liberation.

Further to this, regional liberation movements did not wait for the media to come to them. They created their own media in aid of this same said consciousness. 

Many  pamphlets, magazines, radio broadcasts helped to accentuate the message of freedom in its Manichean and holistic form.  The spoken, written and in most cases coded word was key to the liberation of our peoples across our borders.

In the aftermath  of independence , even if ideologically diverse, the media has held firm in continuing to bring not only the regional body  but also members states to democratic account.

In the course of doing so, the media has been vilified, repressed and journalists targeted by those very same democratic or majority governments it helped to establish. 

Some ember states of SADC have sought more to arrest, detain and convict the media for merely doing its continually organic job off informing the consciousness of the peoples of  the southern African region.

This is in direct contrast to the historical tradition of the media having assisted former liberators and liberation movements arrive not only to political power but also to the fulfillment of the democratic principles and values that such struggles entailed. 

Examples of post independence repression of the media have been numerous. With some being as recent as the imprisonment of the editor of the Nation in the same kingdom on the charge of contempt of court, the placement of terrorism charges against the editor of the Sunday Mail in Zimbabwe and  the pending Protection of Information Bill in South Africa.

The heady idealism of freedom and democracy of the liberation struggle era has been lost to opportunism of the ruling elite, some of whom survived the vagaries of prison and even the death penalty for their political activism due to the stubbornness of the media in covering their individual cases continuously. 

Were it not for a media under fire as colleagues at MISA continuously refer to, some of the heads of state and government that will be at the Victoria Fall for the SADC Summit would not be among us.

There is therefore no doubt about the positive historical role of the media in establishing a democratic Southern Africa.  Especially where it concerned the media that sided with those that fought for liberation.

This has been well documented by Julie Frederikse in her two seminal works, None but Ourselves, and the Unbreakable Thread. In both works she brought to the fore the role of the media in the struggle for liberation of two southern African countries Zimbabwe and South Africa. 

In 2014, as citizens of Southern Africa, we are faced with challenges that affect not only the region but the globe. Especially where and when addressing issues that affect the media. 

From questions of the impact of the internet on freedom of expression and access to information to our own governments  increasingly following the example of those in the West and the East over and about how to control the media.

More-so in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, Wikileaks  and continual global terror threats and the corporate censorship of the world.

In the region, the media has tended to develop without too much state investment on its own. Particularly so where and one considers advances in telecommunications technology.  Governments have tended to react to the media only in order to tidy up regulatory frameworks or in order to seek control.

This is regardless of general guarantees of the right to freedom of expression and access to information in most national constitutions in the region. 

In keeping with developments in the West regional  governments have also sought to control information around the activities of the state using the now common pretext of countering terrorism or protecting sensitive information

So the media’s current positioning in the region is currently reliant largely on the benevolence of governments, global trends in media regulation (especially where they are negative) and a declining market for the mainstream media.

In order to address the key tenets of how the media can play a critical role in building social movements and enhancing democratic participation by the regions peoples, one must ask the question which media?

This is a question that has emerged as a result of the rise of the new/social media driven by private mobile telephony companies and the expansion of the internet.

The mainstream media however remains the most critical, for now, in telling the story of social movements and playing the effective role of the fourth estate.  For community development, it is community radio that normally specializes in these issues but because our whole region requires development for the purposes of this presentation we have to consider the media in its entirety

But in order for it to play an effective role in building social movements, the mainstream media has to be establish a democratic tradition of editorial independence.  This is for both state owned media as well as that owned within by private corporations and individuals.

The reason why I mention this issue of editorial independence is because our mainstream media has been largely compromised by two factors. These being political interference and the interference by profit motives.   

Political interference is largely undertaken via the state especially in media that is funded by the state.  This is what has compromised public service broadcasting in most countries in the region. The state prefers to control the output of state funded broadcasting stations.

The state also interferes with the private media for the purposes of control through criminal defamation laws and the registration of journalists and media houses.  While countries that still do this are fewer in the region, the continued arrests of journalists in Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe together with repressive media laws remains a thorn in the side of the region.

The motive of profit has become more commonplace in the region and it is increasingly what drives most media businesses.  Issues of sales, advertisements have created an unfortunate trend wherein the media now views news largely on its ability to generate revenue than its specific pursuit of the public interest.  This has led to the creation of celebrity cultures, which though welcome in democratic societies, has led to the public interest devaluation of news.

Because most of our societies are not arrival societies and while our media can mimic global trends, the region still needs a media that is motivated more by the public interest than it is by profit. 

In this we also need a media that is not dominated by monopolies either through the state or singular business corporations. In the region there is a sad trend of multi-media ownership with emerging media moguls investing in newspapers, radio stations and television stations.

From a business perspective it is a good thing that those with money should chose to invest in the media. The challenge has been their potential monopoly on public discourse and news that is in the public interest from a singular vested interested perspective.

It is therefore imperative that the mainstream media strive to continue to serve the public interest from the perspective of its own journalistic values and ethics.  In doing so, it may have different ideological biases, but it will assist in bringing to the fore the democratic interests of social movements.

It is however the new media that will remain critical for social movement building. While internet penetration is still relatively low, it is an inevitable that it will soon reach even the remotest areas of the region as companies compete for mobile telephony markets.

The major impact of social media has been to accentuate the right of ordinary citizens in the region to express themselves as well as access information with greater speed.  They have also taken to social media to communicate amongst themselves for social purposes such as religious worship, sporting events and keeping in touch with family and friends.

It is however important that social movements understand the utilitarian value of these new media and telecommunications tools. And they must understand them faster than regional governments. There is no social movement that can argue against social media and claim to be intending to serve the public interest.  This new media needs to be harnessed to serve the broader public interest in a fair accurate and balanced manner.

There is also an urgent need for both the mainstream media, regional social movements and civil society organizations to collectively act to review the current SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport. It is an archaic and outdated protocol that must be changed in order to embrace both democratic values and technological developments as they have occurred.

The media, media freedom and freedom of expression remain integral to our region’s development  and further democratization.  The primary responsibility for this resides with member states of SADC that must review and reform in particular SADC Protocol on Culture, Information and Sport. Regional social movements and civil society  must ensure that it exerts the necessary pressure on both domestic and regional policy bodies to take into account the integral role that the media plays in the furthering regional solidarity and development.  And the media itself, must remain true to democratic principles and values in order to better serve the democratic public interest.

Monday, 21 July 2014

‘Zvirikufaya’ Videos: Diaspora, Locals’ Converging Consciousness, Materialism and Humour

By Takura Zhangazha

Social media continues its increasingly phenomenal role in Zimbabwean consciousness. Particularly where it is used to navigate the linkages between the Zimbabwean Diaspora and the growing number of its users in Zimbabwe.

While initially it was intended for communication purposes, it is increasingly being used for entertainment and even the regular jocular sparring by a number of middle aged and young Zimbabweans. 

The latest such trend has been the most times humorous ‘Zvinhu Zvirikufaya’ social media platform. It is one that arguably takes its cue from the original Kuripwa Kugara’ video done by a character called ‘Baba Tinsely’ 

It has caught on back home largely because of what local mobile phone companies have called ‘social media bundles’ for Facebook and Whatsapp.

What now obtains however is the seeming permanency of new/social media as a communication/ interaction platform between the Diaspora and those living at home in Zimbabwe.  It’s largely humorous but it also indicates or confirms an emerging shared  value system across rivers and oceans by Zimbabweans.

It remains a value system that is largely materialistic, laced with humour and as a result thereof, flaunted in pursuit of ‘recognition’. 

From what I have seen (thanks to bundles) it is the Diaspora that appears more keen on demonstrating how its living and working conditions are comparatively better to those at home, in good jest. 

Even if most of the videos are about food and cars.  The fewer home country based video responses have been in part defensive of the current living conditions or more to ridicule those that are claiming a life that may at times appear to be contrived.

Either way, it is evident that the common thread from both sides (Diaspora and Local) is the pursuit of the ‘good life.’  Even the definitions of the latter appear to be similar.  That is to say,  ‘the good life’ consists of lots of food, big/expensive cars, occasionally nice houses/flats and fancy computer or mobile telephony gadgets. 

What is however important to analyse further is the indispensability of the relationship between the Diaspora and local citizens where and when it comes to the consciousness of an increasingly young Zimbabwean population. 

While this relationship had initially taken on a particular economic form through remittances (US$1,4 billion in the last year), social media is augmenting its organic status.

The humour and  material well-being comparisons, even where they appear contrived on new media applications, remain poignant reflectors as to how home and the Diaspora increasingly have a lot in common.
These interactions while previously having been largely political, are now more grounded in individuals demonstrating lifestyles or at least their preferred ones. 

In both,  there is the intention to live a good life largely informed by materialism.

However it cannot escape the mind that perhaps the era of the Diaspora being a quick, easy and rosier life option is dissipating for varying reasons. Not least of which is the fact that it is getting harder for younger Zimbabweans to be able to get Visas or even cross borders illegally. Just as much as it gets harder for  our Diaspora to be able to make enough income to sustain to the same levels of the Zimbabwe dollar periods, families at home and abroad.  

I am sure for the young Diaspora and the young locally based Zimbabweans, there is an acceptance, despite the good humour, of the permanence of the phrases ‘handidzokiko’ or ‘hatiuyiko’ respectively.  Movements from home to the Diaspora are much harder and the same is true for movements from the Diaspora to home. 

After the laughter however is the serious question of engaging the Diaspora and the Local on a much more structured way forward as to how to improve the interaction of both groups.  It would be a way forward less enamoured to materialism but to engaging on broader policy issues which would include less politicised approaches to dual citizenship, sharing of lived experiences, mutually beneficial economic development issues and trying as far as is possible to keep cultural/social linkages alive. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Increasing Influence of War Veterans in Zimbabwe’s Politics.

By Takura Zhangazha*

Veterans from Zimbabwe’s liberation war are an ever present  generational feature of our political landscape.  Their narratives of struggle have largely been captured by Zanu PF as a political party and as a former liberation movement. They are however not  uniform in how they have responded to contemporary challenges that our society faces.

I have noticed that there are perhaps three strands of war veterans.  The largest grouping is that which places emphasis on its historical roots being in Zanu PF (especially as a united party after the Unity Accord in 1987).  These are the veterans who have been willing players in the fast track land reform that began in the year 2000.  They have also been the most active supporters of their party during highly contested elections as they occurred over the last thirteen years. 

Recalling their loyalty to their party and their historical role in the liberation struggles, these war veterans were at the height of campaigning for Zanu Pf, often times violently,  were key to all the victories that came to claimed by their party.  It is also this group of politically active war veterans that continues to be at the heart of land redistribution and allocation of land to citizens or even party supporters. This they help in distributing both by way of being party activists or being senior civil servants or security personnel.  They are also involved in indigenisation issues particularly where it comes to mining, safari operations and importing of fuel.

There is a second strand of war veterans that are not as politically active but remain committed to the former liberation movement. They however do not get involved in the daily conundrums of party campaigning or organising. Instead they generally rely on themselves and the qualifications that they acquired either via post independence education or businesses that they established. 

You will find them in offices of private corporations, in mining or even commercial agriculture predating the fast track land reform programme.  They will however occasionally defend Zanu Pf in social conversations, and politely so. What they do insist on is that they continue to get their pensions and that the scholarships offered their children are duly fulfilled by the state.

The third strand of war veterans are those that have actively taken up opposition politics. These are in the minority of war veterans.  They offer counter narratives as to how  the liberation war was fought and how they never intended, as liberation fighters to have one party rule the country for so long.  These war veterans have actively supported major opposition parties and in some cases sought form their own as some did with Mavambo in 2008.  Their political aspirations aside, these war veterans do not directly benefit from the state and are generally not keen on enjoying the pensions and other benefits that come with war veteran status. 

In all of the aforementioned groups of war veterans it is increasingly apparent that in part the general tendency amongst them is that they are fully cognisant of their political importance.  Some utilise these reputations and history for direct political benefit .  Others are a bit more circumspect about the politics but all the same rely on the state for some of their basic needs, which include pensions and other benefits such as school fees for their children.  Others still have abandoned the state largess to attempt direct involvement in opposition politics.

In every respect however, these groups of war veterans can be viewed as a generation that has come full circle in relation to its political importance in Zimbabwe.  And they appear to be at the height of their influence on the direction that national politics takes.  Not just by way of campaigning for the ruling party but also by being in key positions either in government, parliament, the civil service or the security services.   

While the nationalists remain in overall charge of government, its mechanics are increasingly in the hands of war veterans. Or at least those who were either at the front of the liberation war or in the training camps.  And they will definitely be key in determining who succeeds President Mugabe. 
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Incident of the MPs Stranded in China: Shopping Without the People.

By Takura Zhangazha*

The majority of our 27 Members of Parliament (MPs)that got stranded in China are safely back home.  With the benefit of hindsight, the incident can only be referred to with good natured humour.  In fact it reminded me of my high school days where, in trying to understand the functions of a member of parliament, I came across the play, Honourable MP, by HG Musengezi, in the school library.  The title suggested that this was a technical assessment of the roles and duties of a legislator until one looked closely at the cover picture/cartoon. It turns out the play was a satirical one about one MP Pfende and his disdain for those who elected him.

One of my favourite lines from the play is when the character Teacher is giving MP Pfende an update from the constituency, which I must quote as is;

Teacher: There is a shortage of textbooks in our rural day secondary schools and a shortage of medicines in the clinics and the most serious is the drought which has already caused a lot of suffering. Also a leadership drought.
MP: (Does not quite get the last part) It's nice you have informed me about this. But did the people say anything about me? Aren't they looking for me? Don't they want me to address them?

I am quite sure our 27 MPs do not want any further query as to what exactly happened for them to be stranded in China. Or any specific questions as to what exactly their mission to the same country was.

What the incident however demonstrates is that our MPs are not only keen on foreign trips but particularly those that provide them opportunities to visit the most developed countries on the planet.  And also that a key priority of such trips for our legislators is accumulation of not only the latest but possibly cheapest goods that are not available back home. 

Now if the MPs were cross border traders or if they had gone in unofficial capacities there would be nothing apprehensible about not only their shopping but also the en masse missing of their flight.  Especially if it was caused by circumstances beyond their control.

What we now know is that some of our MPs (and sometimes government ministers) tend to throw caution to the wind when they visit other countries.  And they do not necessarily go to those same said countries with a clear understanding of expected conduct, let alone the limits of the hospitality on offer by the host countries. One can also hazard to argue that perhaps one of the major reasons why they would agree to such trips is not necessarily the policy issues to be shared or discussed with the host state, but perhaps more the travel and shopping experience it entails. 

The key lessons to be drawn for the legislators and also those that aspire to leadership in whatever form is that we must learn to believe in our own country. Not by way of sloganeering but by way of behaving with the modest dignity that leadership positions require.  It is in not in any way preferable that persons in leadership positions, especially at national level, fall victim to consumerism in such a clumsy and expensive fashion.

While it is generally agreed that the national economic crisis has not only led to the dilapidation of our manufacturing industries and that a majority of Zimbabweans are reliant on foreign made products in our daily lives, we expect better from our MPs.

Not only because they are directly elected representatives of the people but also because they should know better. 

Campaigning to be an MP may have been a hard and comparatively expensive exercise but it would be most unfortunate if the incident in China was part of a ‘recover what we lost exercise’.  Or alternatively, it were part of a tendency by MPs to pursue only those trips that are deemed ‘lucrative’.

Whether the MPs are sanctioned in one way or the other, the fact that they missed a flight as a result of shopping reflects badly not only Parliament but also our political culture and priorities. Especially where it concerns elected leaders.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity