Taken against the backdrop of this anecdote, the topic and subject at hand suggests an acknowledgement of Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political crisis.
Viewed differently it also suggests that this crisis will come to pass through collective bridge-building efforts of which the media has a role to play.
It would, however, be a gross irresponsibility on the part of the media or any journalist worth his/her salt to hurriedly gloss over the early pages of our history and expect to meaningfully report and contribute to a new Zimbabwe — post the acknowledged crisis.
This call to national duty demands the media to be well versed and knowledgeable of the historical transgressions, sins of omission or commission that led to the manifestation of the crisis in its past or present form and content.
It is poignant to note that the crisis or conflict visa-a-vis the socio-economic slump of the past 10 years was not thrust upon us from outer space. Its causal effects were the result of certain decisions and actions taken by those entrusted with power and by us Zimbabweans as a proxy collective.
The past informs the present
The first port of call entails acknowledging and identifying the background to the crisis — the issues at stake and the critical players. Equally important is the need to reflect on how these issues were dealt with. This will help in shedding light on the issues that need to be addressed towards a new socio-economic and political dispensation.
I would posit the background into the following transit eras as critical to how the media can play a meaningful role towards limiting and averting new causes of conflict.
=Pre-Independence struggle and events leading to the Lancaster House Conference of 1979.
=Post-Independence policy and conflict resolution mechanism vis-à-vis provisions of the Lancaster House agreement and the quest for a one-party Marxist-Leninist state and the contestations around the issue.
=Deployment of the army into the Matabeleland and Midlands regions which led to the signing of the Unity Accord between Zanu PF and Zapu in 1987.
=The economic decline and introduction of IMF/World Bank Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap).
=Multi-party democracy and the emergence of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) — polarisation and election violence
=The impact of the land invasions/acquisitions on Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political fabric.
=Events leading to the signing of the Global Political Agreement on September 15 2008.
=Constitution making process
The afore-mentioned transitional eras while not necessarily exhaustive should inform the content and shape of editorial conference debates and analyses on how best to report beyond the crisis.
Intricate or sensitive as they may be, it is the duty of the journalist to dissect and simplify these issues in a manner that will not ignite and engender residual or existing hostilities. Volumes of literature abound on these issues. Extensive research should thus be conducted on how best to proceed and move the nation forward in that regard.
Global political agreement
In my view the understanding and the template for how best to deal with the issues at stake despite its flaws and deficiencies has been made easy for the media through the global political agreement (GPA).
The parties to the agreement among other issues state:
=Concern about the recent challenges that we have faced as a country and the multiple threats to the wellbeing of our people and, therefore, determined to resolve these permanently.
=Dedicating ourselves to putting an end to the polarisation, divisions, conflict and intolerance that has characterised Zimbabwe politics and society in recent times.
=Determined to build a society free of violence, fear, intimidation, hatred, patronage, corruption and founded on justice, fairness, openness, transparency, dignity and equality.
=Recognising and accepting that the land question has been at the core of the contestation in Zimbabwe and acknowledging the centrality of issues relating to the rule of law, respect for human rights, democracy and governance.
The GPA, establishment of the inclusive government and the current stop-start-constitution making process and the underpinning intricate links to events of the past inform the media on how to report the situation as it unfolds in the context of present day Zimbabwe.
Role of the media
The fact that the inclusive government recognises these conflicts and the alienation of the populace is in itself a step in the right direction. That acknowledgment offers the media an entry point in so far as following through the government’s pledges to correct the injustices of the past.
In dealing with these issues the media should always be mindful of the fact that victims of historical injustices in conflict-torn situations are naturally prone to seek their own forms of retribution.
The media should therefore remain on high alert and do everything within its professional mandate of setting the agenda and shaping opinions and views by creating platforms for a multiplicity of views on the issues at hand. The voices of the victims should also be equally heard.
The role of the media is to identify and define the multiple threats to the security and wellbeing of the people (the people should speak on these issues). For instance in tackling the issue of ending polarisation, divisions, conflict etc, the media can draw from experiences elsewhere in the region, South Africa, Mozambique, Burundi and Angola, among other countries.
In South Africa victims of apartheid were able to raise their voices under the new political arrangement through the single narrative that: Apartheid was a crime against humanity and its inequalities will not be repeated.
The aim of course is to avert regression and eruption of conflict which would obviously be costly in terms of the current efforts to rebuild the country, and erode confidence in the inclusive government regionally and internationally. Thus the media should devise the formulas and set the agenda that will steer the nation in a direction that can lead to peace, reconciliation and nation building.
Reportage should be aimed at pricking the collective consciences of those in power and even more importantly their supporters and the generality of Zimbabweans. The onus therefore is on the media to define and pitch that single narrative.
Suffice to say it is the media’s responsibility to influence the course of events towards a secure future for Zimbabwe. This can be achieved through an unquenchable quest for the highest professional and ethical standards.
This will entail extensive research, sober reflections, planning, organisation and optimum utilisation of the resources available.
Resources should be garnered towards the search for new voices and ideas. Reporting beyond the crisis requires journalism that is sensitive to hate speech, xenophobia, tribalism, gender discrimination, racism and sexism. In that regard the media and journalists at large should eschew the narrow and parochial interests of those who pursue power for its abusive sake.
The media’s role is that of serving the people with the highest sensitivity, integrity and credibility and affording the citizens space and voices that contribute on how best to deal with the issues at stake.
To excel in that regard, the media obviously needs the space to fulfil its professional duties.
The media, relevant interest groups and the citizens at large should therefore not relent in the agitation for the repeal of repressive media legislation and the need for a constitutional provision that explicitly guarantees media freedom and the right to access to information held by both private and public bodies.
This article is an abridged version of a paper presented by Zimbabwean journalist Nyasha Nyakunu at a workshop held in Harare on the role of the media in reporting on nations in transition.