AS government takes tentative steps towards a free and open society, events this week over the selection of commissioners to man the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) do not inspire confidence.
Interviews for those shortlisted for the positions on the commission were carried out on Monday.
As it emerged that candidates aligned to Zanu PF, especially former Media and Information Commission chair Tafataona Mahoso, had flunked, party leaders emerged from the woodwork with guns blazing to condemn the process and declare it a nullity.
They now want President Mugabe to select the commissioners from the long list of 27 and not from the short-listed 12 as required by law.
Their disquiet was expected. They are afraid of the new order. They still want their man Mahoso to do a hatchet job on the free media. Here is a party which believes that an essential ingredient in our democratisation process â€”an independent media â€” could spoil the broth. They are afraid of opening up with democratic space, the same way they are afraid of a constitutional reform process that is people-driven.
The fact that more than 80 people threw their names into the hat to be considered for the positions on the envisaged ZMC speaks volumes about the urgent need for a free press in this country.
That those who have all along actively participated in stifling the independent media still feel they have a role to play in the new commission more than boggles the mind.
Surely the brouhaha over the interviews in which 27 short-listed candidates participated can only be sour grapes from the old and domineering order. Months before the inclusive government was formed, Paul Mangwana basked in the limelight as acting media minister. How he must have cherished those days.
These days everyone has something to say and they all want the spotlight. Mangwana is finding it increasingly difficult to command centre stage.
Those of us in the independent media were not entirely surprised when Mangwana cried foul on Monday. After all, his trusted media thoughtâ€“controller Mahoso had fared badly â€” according to the results of the public interviews he found himself at the bottom of the pile.
In the 15 minutes allotted to each candidate the only significant thing Mahoso could say in his favour was that he had â€œmanaged to put together the Media and Information Commission from scratchâ€.
Mahoso didnâ€™t tell the panel that he was behind the ill-informed expulsion of the BBC and other foreign correspondents. He didnâ€™t tell the panellists of his role in harassing media practitioners and that he was opposed to the liberalisation of the press.
The fact that the BBC has been allowed back into the country seems to have escaped Mahoso â€” a man who fears independent newspapers and believes broadcasters of all stripes could become a security threat to ordinary Zimbabweans. In short, he demonstrated that he had nothing to offer in the new dispensation because he belongs to the discredited old order.
For Mangwana to claim the process was flawed was rather rich. His belief that all things â€” when correct â€” must favour Zanu PF cannot go unchallenged.
Even those Zimbabweans who are no longer members of Mangwanaâ€™s party are patriotic and would not necessarily pose a threat to state security if they are placed in charge of the ZMC. Then there was the patently undemocratic ruse to let Mugabeâ€™s decision overrule the interviewing panel; a dubious announcement that speaks volumes of Zanu PFâ€™s contemptuous disregard of parliamentary processes.
Zanu PFâ€™s sorry dependence on President Robert Mugabe (85) for guidance on every little thing must not be allowed to become a national habit. If Mangwana and his minions feel the process was unfair and weighted in favour of the MDC they must prove it.
Dragging the good name of the Speaker of the august House, Lovemore Moyo, into squabbles about the selection of the private company that assisted with the interview process is rather childish.
The truth of the matter is that Zimbabwe will never be the same again. A free press is inevitable. The ZMC and the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe are in themselves merely facilitators of media freedom and not an end.
Zimbabweans have a right to know and that right can only be enforced by a free press. This was an opportunity to demonstrate to the world that indeed the GNU is committed to media freedom.
One way of showing that commitment is for Zanu PF to respect national institutions set up under agreed terms to facilitate change instead of sabotaging them at every turn.
Mangwana and his colleagues have to get used to sharing whatever influence they had all to themselves in the past. As for the president, it remains to be seen whether he can do a better HR job than parliament and its hired help.
Perhaps the test of the appointments will be the proof of the press-freedom pudding.
We wait with bated breadth.