THE so-called “access to the media” that has been granted opposition parties, chief among the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has widely been hailed as a move in the right
What unfortunately has not been discussed is that direction when Zimbabwe’s independent media has endured over the last five years cumulative repression under some of the worst media laws in the world.
The direction that is being called right has so far not included debate on the need to remove laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and the Broadcasting Services Act in the proper context of entrenching democracy in Zimbabwe. Instead debate has been that these laws should not have been used to ban newspapers and not whether they need to exist at all.
The granting of access to the media, that even the opposition itself seems to have swallowed as a move in the right direction, is merely a cleansing exercise by the ruling party and government in which the opposition parties are being called upon as participants.
There is no doubt that what Zanu PF wanted was not a free and fair election but a result that would be “legitimate”. This is the position of not only Zanu PF but even the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and South African observer teams who came to witness the self-cleansing of Zanu PF and indeed build a case in support of the party that it must be readmitted into the international community.
The statements by South African observer teams and Thabo Mbeki himself point to a new discourse in Sadc on what constitutes democracy in Africa and what the definition of democracy itself is. The South African president has been at the forefront telling the rest of the world that all is well in Zimbabwe.
Mbeki’s statements have been buttressed by images of the MDC’s Tendai Biti and Welshman Ncube battling it out on television with war veterans, new farmers and businesspersons-cum-journalists in the form of Happison Muchechetere and Supa Mandiwandzira. These images in which Zanu PF, through its control of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH), determines the parameters within which the debate takes place undermines and, in fact, hampers the so-called access to the media that has been granted the MDC and other small parties.
Zanu PF through its apparatus at the ZBH determined what was to be debated on and this, unfortunately, for the MDC included its alleged relationship with the British government and its alleged conspiracy with the West to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe; how Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono is doing a wonderful job; and the MDC’s position on land.
Apart from a few voice-overs on radio in which the MDC wasn’t heard speaking on how things had gone bad in Zimbabwe, substantial debate on real issues affecting the lives of Zimbabweans was largely lost in this circus. Debate was narrowed to where Zanu PF thought it had strength — fighting imperialists.
What Zanu PF had been doing with the so-called access to media is largely authenticating and legitimising its beliefs and using the media to seek national consensus on what the problems in Zimbabwe are and also who the problem is. Anyone who said the elections would not be free and fair was labelled an enemy of the state and strangely, by Zimbabwe’s standards, an enemy of democracy.
Zanu PF and Mbeki’s democracy tells us that half-a-loaf is better than nothing; we are constantly being told that this is Africa and more so Zimbabwe and what Zanu PF gives you take.
The MDC and other parties’ participation in the media circus gave credence to the Zanu PF ideology, an ideology that had largely lost touch with people but now has new energy after four years of intense repression using brute force. The Zanu PF ideology now seeks to survive, renew and reproduce itself although through means other than beating up people, bombing printing presses and arresting journalists.
It seeks legitimacy; it sought to win peaceful and democratic elections. Really?
In any case we have to ask ourselves what really has changed to allow the talk of “right direction” when repressive legislation is still there and being used, when independent newspapers such as the Daily News remain banned. I contend that neither the MDC nor any other opposition political party was granted access to the media.
The MDC and other parties who were being “covered” by the ZBH are largely pawns in a larger game that involves not only Zanu PF but the South Africans and their so-called observers, a game in which the people of Zimbabwe must be put to sleep and accept that Posa, Aippa and many other laws inherited from Ian Smith are okay as long as the MDC appears on national television and as long as the opposition wins a few seats — that is democracy in southern Africa.
The point is that this election, like many others that have come and gone, will not and has not addressed any issues affecting the people of Zimbabwe. Debate by the MDC and Zanu PF on national television was largely on symptoms of issues that are affecting us. Debate nationally and in the region has not forcefully focused on the need to remove repressive laws, engage the government on the need for national dialogue on a new constitution.
Whether the MDC wins 90 seats, the failure by the people of Zimbabwe to take debate beyond parochial issues will haunt us forever. The so-called access to the media that has been granted to the opposition apart from showing us unfamiliar faces on the boring screens has not enriched our understanding of the national crisis, but will in fact be used to legitimise repression.
The question that has to be asked is: what will happen the day after the “access to the media”? Will the MDC, having its 50,60 or 70 seats in parliament be granted the chance to articulate its policies further?
After the elections we are set to find ourself in the darker part of our lives, when Aippa, Posa and the NGO Act will be used against us. Access to the media goes beyond and is not about elections but a national philosophy that is guided and rooted in democratic beliefs and attitudes; none of these exist in Zimbabwe and will not after the elections.
*Rashweat Mukundu is the director for Misa Zimbabwe, but writes in his personal capacity.