Comment

A fearful party hides behind repression


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HE ruling party’s campaign to close democratic space and criminalise opposition to the regime was given voice in parliament this week with claims that disruptions of Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s roadshow meetings in Britain and South Africa and calls to extend sanctions to include Dr Gono were “an attack on the economic interests of the country” and therefore a crime under the law.


This followed remarks made in the London Times by MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube.


Nothing more graphically illustrates the siege mentality currently gripping a party that more often prefers to communicate its mastery of power. The motion tabled on Wednesday linked MDC “treachery” to moves by the ICC to suspend Test cricket matches against Zimbabwe.


Several chickens are coming home to roost here. Firstly, Zanu PF’s attempts to hijack Gono’s monetary reform programme are exposing him to international embarrassment, just as political interference with the ZCU has isolated Zimbabwe’s cricket team. The world reacts to what it sees. It doesn’t need the MDC to stimulate a response to mounting signs of repression.


This week we have seen attempts to tighten the already draconian provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the regime’s chosen instrument in suffocating press freedom. An independent newspaper has been closed down under the provisions of that Act, ostensibly because it breached registration rules but in reality because its publisher spoke his mind in parliament on laws that choke off investment. The case brought against him is manifestly devoid of merit and exposes a woeful ignorance of business practice by the regulatory body.


The Botswana authorities have been castigated for allowing the Voice of America to utilise broadcasting facilities in that country at a time when Zimbabwe has refused to open up its airwaves in conformity with a court ruling and persists in manipulating the public media in a way that benefits ambitious individuals in Zanu PF instead of the public generally.


It is an abuse of power writ large. At the same time Zimbabweans are arrested for exercising their right to protest against unjust laws. Forty-six women were arrested in Bulawayo this week for demonstrating peacefully against Posa. And despite a court ruling striking down provisions of the Posts and Telecommunications Services Act relating to the monitoring of mail, the state is again attempting to lean on Internet Service Providers through the back door of operating contracts.


Then there is the climate of intimidation generated by government’s growing paranoia. Newspapers have been denounced in vitriolic terms for carrying remarks by Vice-President Joseph Msika on the occupation of Kondozi farm or those by Zanu PF chairman John Nkomo on land reform. And United Nations security officers have been reprimanded for warning about crime and insecurity in the country.


In defence of its propaganda claims of abundant harvests, government has refused to meet UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s special representative for humanitarian affairs James Morris while the UNDP/WFP has been prevented from assessing the crop situation on the ground.


This is playing politics with people’s lives on a grand scale and has inevitably attracted world-wide condemnation. On Wednesday UN agencies said two million people in Zimbabwe were at risk from food shortages.


Morris said this week he applauded the government’s willingness to take responsibility for feeding its people. But he said it would be “one of the most remarkable turnarounds in history” if the country in which the WFP was feeding more than six million people last year could now support all but the most vulnerable on its own. UN crop forecasts estimate Zimbabwe will produce only half the food it needs this year.


It is against this background that Zanu PF is attempting to work up charges of “treachery” against those who have the genuine interests of this country and its people at heart. Zimbabweans abroad — a growing proportion of our overall population forced into exile by failed economic policies — have every right to express themselves on what they think of Gono’s Homelink scheme, especially when they are not allowed to do so at home.


Gono himself said last weekend in Midrand that protestors should have their say. In practising democracies that is unremarkable. Only in Zimbabwe is it “treachery”.


So long as it continues to prevent democratic discourse, close newspapers and harass the opposition with repressive laws, Zanu PF will be confronted by people impatient with its empty mantras and demanding change.


Tyranny and repression work only in the short term. Eventually dictatorship gives way to democracy. Zanu PF’s pretence that it is besieged by foreign forces is a self-evident lie. There were no foreigners protesting in Britain and South Africa last week.


They were Zimbabweans exercising the rights they have been arbitrarily stripped of at home because the ruling party fears freedom of expression.

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