ONE of the key characteristics of Zimbabwe’s flawed governance is the arrogance of those in authority and the blind loyalty of their associates.
By Nhlanhla Ngwenya
Often times, the leaders and their associates are at pains to parry genuine concerns of the people with a stance that seeks to cast themselves as the only ones who have a grasp of issues bedevilling the country, their root causes and requisite solutions.
And for the gullible, they bolster this image by projecting themselves as the most educated and the only ones ordained with the proverbial King Solomon’s wisdom, completely confusing education with wisdom.
The majority of Zimbabweans are then projected as ignoramuses bereft of sound ideological grounding; dunderheads who can’t read in between the lines; idiots who can’t tell the difference between day and night or simply morons who can only be saved from the captivity of idiocy by unparalleled wisdom residing in some government officials and their fanatics.
A rough scan of opinion pieces and comments submitted by selected contributors in the Zimpapers stable and the hijacked public broadcaster ZBC proves this.
But that would be perfectly fine if this were only restricted to their freedom to hold opinions. However, it becomes a problem when that opinion becomes the cornerstone for spin aimed at creating a “Big Lie”, which is then relentlessly peddled as fact. Put simply, it is an exercise in normalising the abnormal.
On June 1 2013, the faceless Nathaniel Manheru, underscored this in his weekly Herald column. In his article Elections: Dangling the Mascot of Reforms, he sought to suffocate the glaring need and indeed swelling demand for media reforms in Zimbabwe with his usual acerbic arguments whose import was to dismiss the quest for the democratisation of the media sector as baseless.
With his usual trick, he opted for his favoured narrow and now tedious escape route: Muddling the demand for the promotion and adequate protection of Zimbabweans’ civil liberties through politicisation.
At the end of the article, it was not clear how a genuine demand for the democratisation of the media space — itself a key ingredient for the exercise of freedom of expression and access to information — is a sinister MDC agenda.
Manheru also implied that those that are advocating the enjoyment of these basic liberties are the party’s “tongs”, including those that began demanding these universal rights well before the formation of the MDC such as Media Institute of Southern Africa.
But such is to be expected given the increasing pressure exerted both locally and regionally on Manheru’s preferred leaders in the government to adopt democratic reforms in line with the terms of the Global Political Agreement, as well as the government’s obligations under the regional and international instruments on the protection of human rights.
Moreso, when the Zanu PF-run Information ministry has defied the government principals’ instructions for it to implement all media reforms the three ruling parties agreed to before Sadc leaders.
Clearly, Manheru was simply trying to justify the ministry’s intransigence and its open disregard for the country and regional leadership, which ordinarily should have invited drastic consequences for those superintending over it.
That he can do, but to then sanitise the media sector and gloss over this evidently repressed space is taking Zimbabweans for granted.
It is a public record that the media that the State has hijacked, including the publicly-owned media, have been turned into supine mouthpieces of the Zanu PF arm of the government, in complete violation of their public service mandate.
Indeed, all media have a public responsibility to report fairly and professionally about events taking place in the country. Even as the private media choose who they want to support among the political actors, for example, they need to do so within the dictates of professional journalism because they are accountable to their readers.
Apart from being responsible to Zimbabweans, the public media must at all times reflect all aspects of Zimbabweans’ opinions. That is basic!
The mere fact that the government has over the years systematically rendered the Mass Media Trust impotent through inadequate funding and staffing it with political appointees while allowing the Information ministry to usurp the trust’s powers, does not invalidate one crucial point.
Manheru’s conspiracy theorisation will not mute the demand for media freedom and adequate protection of freedom of expression which are treasured universal human aspirations not unique to Zimbabwe.
Sadc should not be fooled as it meets in Mozambique!
Nhlanhla Ngwenya is Misa-Zimbabwe director