By Takura Zhangazha
I COULDN’T help but laugh at the circus that Dr Tafataona Mahoso, chairperson of the Media and Information Commission (MIC), is trying to impress on Zimbabweans. What
made it more laughable was his citation, in the MIC’s legal response to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa)’s court application that articles written by my colleague, Rashweat Mukundu and I constitute part of Misa’s media products.
Well after a good laugh, I pondered a little about what type of intellectual Mahoso could possibly be. Educated in the United States and coming back home with all the gallantry associated with a foreign acquired degree, he must have thought his time had come to serve his country.
And lo and behold, he found himself at the prestigious Harare Polytechnic chairing the media department that has produced some of the best journalists this country has seen. While the finer details of his life are probably the subject of a biography that one of his admiring students might decide to write in a couple of years’ time, the feeling I get is that Mahoso is an intellectual of the old guard, Soviet-style, slaving away in the heart of state bureaucracy and working over time to produce a scientific explanation of what the state wants from its own citizens.
In his action of closing down the Daily News, hounding the independent media and hotly pursuing a genuinely civil society organisation like Misa, Mahoso betrays an intellectualism that is not about knowledge production in society, but one that seeks to keep knowledge out of the way of society and the everyday person. It is an intellectualism not worthy of a person who was awarded a professorship somewhere (I am not so sure where and if I knew I would ask them to withdraw it). Any serious person of knowledge never sits on information, never denies those in lesser positions of knowledge the opportunity to learn more.
In the immediate post-Independence period, there were many intellectuals who came back home to “build the nation” and fill in positions of technocrats in the great African socialist revolution. Needless to say, by the time Edgar Tekere formed the Zimbabwe Unity Movement in 1989 most of them had divorced themselves from the intellectual pretensions of the state.
They, in metaphorical terms, returned to the “source” of their intellectualism which was and shall probably remain, knowledge production without interference by the state. In university parlance, it is called academic freedom. Some examples of such intellectuals include the late Kempton Makamure, Masipula Sithole and Dambudzo Marechera.
The argument here is not for Mahoso to be like these intellectuals but to, as he often does to other public figures, analyse his intellectualism for what it is worth. In a way, Mahoso requires comparison with that great writer, Alexander Kanengoni, who, for still unclear reasons, is unable to divorce himself from the thrall of the state, but has rarely acted as a front man for it.
In fact, Kanengoni has retained his individual intellectual identity despite his political opinions which I think a lot of Zimbabweans disagree with. Mahoso on the other hand has lost his intellectual identity to Zanu PF and the Ministry of Information.
Mahoso’s public image has become part of an oppressive system that denies people the right to information. The irony is that Mahoso is the chairperson of the MIC, a body that is in charge of knowledge acquisition, dissemination and retention and his character needs to be scrutinised for what it is or otherwise Zimbabweans will never enjoy the right to freedom of information. Moreover, Mahoso must occasionally get a dose of his own medicine where it is evident that his African focus in the state media is nothing short of attacks on personalities.
It baffles many persons why Mahoso is so fussy about Misa. It need not be belaboured but Misa Zimbabwe is a Zimbabwean organisation that does not hold any imperialistic intentions whatsoever. Its business is simply to promote, protect and nurture freedom of expression and freedom of information. Articles written by members of the Misa secretariat were written in their individual capacities and they were not “sold” to the press. They were sent to the independent press voluntarily and with no price tag on them.
To use these articles in a court of law and claim Misa is a mass media house is not only off the mark but shows desperation befitting a besotted Zanu PF youth league member who is unable to see his master’s failures as a reality.
Mahoso needs to reclaim his intellectual identity, if he still has any left, and get on with the business of producing knowledge instead of stifling it. He should quit the despicable MIC, think about his intellectual capacity and use it for the benefit of the nation.
The county is crying out for intellectuals that bring new ideas to its cultural being and not those content to celebrate past liberation struggles while people suffer from hunger, disease and a drought of both governance and knowledge.
Takura Zhangazha is a Harare-based writer.