Are we being unfair to Mutambara?

VIVACIOUS Violet Gonda is a Zimbabwean journalist who is persona non grata in her own country simply because she is part of that rare breed of courageous radio broadcasters willing to take on a rogue state.

Such is the paranoia in President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF regime that broadcast laws that deliberately prevent alternative opinion are entrenched in the legislative DNA. The positive spinoff of this scenario has been a proliferation of shortwave and Internet broadcast stations spanning the globe, the most popular being VOA Studio 7  based in Washington DC, Voice of the People in Botswana and Violet’s own SW Radio Africa in England.

On many occasions, Zimbabweans and gullible Africans have been made to believe that vice and toxic rumour is embedded in such alternative viewpoint. In several ways, it is for this reason that Zanu PF refuses to take the Global Political Agreement forward, claiming as long as Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC does not engineer  closure of such stations, Mugabe will refuse to cooperate.

Bulls eat grass, but the fresh results of their digestion are unpleasant to the eye. Had there been a more family-friendly term to describe the product of this biological process, I would have had no problem labelling Zanu PF’s opinion.

Ironically,  Gonda and her friends do not want to live in forced exile because of family commitments back in Zimbabwe. But as long as they face arrest, and as long as the broadcast regulations outlaw alternative opinion, we Zimbabweans at home will continue to tune in to VOA Studio 7, Voice of the People and SW Radio Africa for REAL news. What we know is that the MDC have no chance in hell to influence the closure of these stations. That makes me feel good!

But it is not all diamond that glitters from these alternative airwaves –– at least according to Arthur Mutambara. There is consensus amongst his supporters that most, if not all, external broadcasters have taken a position to support Tsvangirai’s MDC-T formation at the expense of all other progressive forces of democracy. Their argument is that in the haste to rid Zimbabwe of the curse of authoritarian dictatorship, these broadcasters paint anything or anyone who takes a side that opposes Tsvangirai as anti-struggle.
They continue that  the MDC-T’s  failures are not sufficiently interrogated, while only the opinion of analysts who have something negative to say about Mutambara are given undue prominence.

For example, the best news item that can ever emerge from rural Matabeleland is when councillors from Mutambara’s formation defect to Tsvangirai’s party. Such news, Mutambara’s people argue, takes precedence over the antics of Theresa Makone, Tsvangirai’s new home affairs boss who is related to Mugabe’s political hitman, Didymus Mutasa.

The two have been making the front pages for attempting to spring  habitual Zanu PF property rights violators from prison. Zanu PF, who term alternative studios “pirate radio stations”, amplify Tsvangirai’s internal party struggles, reminding readers that Makone is the same woman whose husband “controls” Tsvangirai via what they call MDC’s “kitchen cabinet”. At one time, Makone was accused of displacing the MDC women’s assembly leader in order to exert more influence on the party’s strategy. And all this –– Mutambara’s people argue –– does not receive airplay on “ pirate radio stations”.

As a regular contributor to these useful and value-adding radio stations, I attempt to present balanced opinions. Freelance analysts like me do not influence editorial policy, but we need to pitch our commentary from an objective perspective. I have no sacred cows. More importantly,  Gonda would not be able to influence what I say, but she would be in a position to decide what to publish depending on her editorial slant. For example, in one of SW Radio Africa  Friday night programmes called Hot Seat, Tony Reeler, director of the Research and Advocacy Unit, commenting on Mutambara’s position in government, tells Gonda: “So he’s there by grace and favour of the agreement but not by any other ground.”

A more mundane interpretation of this cryptic statement is that Mutambara is not in the coalition government by virtue of electoral credibility, but that he is the president of an MDC minority party with few seats in a remote part of Zimbabwe. Obviously with Zimbabwe’s first past the post electoral system, it would have been unthinkable to have the professor in government. Herein lies the need for progressive “pirate” analysts to offer objective radio commentary.

My angle would be that the GPA brought into government hundreds of worthless politicians from all three sides. Tsvangirai himself has on several occasions expelled councillors and recently reshuffled ministers. Accusations of corruption, underhand deals and inefficiency have plagued his party, while neutrals argue that as prime minister, Tsvangirai is guilty of soft-padding Mugabe in international foras.

Observers insist that incomes, infrastructure and public facilities are only marginally better than before the coalition, while power blackouts hound an industry struggling to emerge from recession. The human rights sector is disastrous, with no single conviction of Zanu PF zealots who murdered, maimed and raped innocent citizens in June 2008. His critics argue he has failed to rein in rogue elements raiding commercial farms including those properties protected under regional bilateral agreements. Therefore to diminish Mutambara’s role in government without a rub off on Tsvangirai’s personal political reputation is an impossible feat.

Reeler himself is a product of a decade-old struggle against dictatorship, a flag bearer of a contingent of brave human rights defenders that have survived determined Zanu PF antagonism and intimidation. In this noble group of principled citizens one finds peace campaigner Jestina Mukoko, lawyer Irene Petras, constitutional expert Lovemore Madhuku and countless other civil society activists.

But, unlike Mutambara who has risen from mere student activism to national leadership, I and Reeler have little other than political vuvuzelas to show for our rhetoric. My point is simple. This is no time to denigrate each others’ value propositions. If civil society was half as effective as its loud voice, Mugabe would have abandoned ship in 2002.

Rejoice Ngwenya is a Harare-based political writer.

 

By Rejoice Ngwenya