The arrest of Newsday deputy editor Nqaba Matshazi, reporter Xolisani Ncube and legal officer Sifikile Thabethe shocked the media profession so early into 2016. It was a stark reminder that President Robert Mugabe’s repressive regime remains an affront to fundamental rights such as freedom of expression.
While Zanu PF apologists will justify the arrest like they shamelessly do, all progressive societies have come to accept that when a party feels aggrieved by a news report, such individuals must opt for a civil resolution. The criminal justice system must not be used to settle purely civil matters. This barbarism must stop hence forth.
The onslaught on the media is a shameful attempt by those in power to muzzle the press. It has become clear that threats by Information minister Chris Mushohwe to stay off the security forces were not idle. The latest arrest has opened yet another dark chapter for the country’s democracy. The attacks on the media comes barely two months after police arrested three journalists from the Sunday Mail and charged them with slander for publishing a front-page story that implicated an unnamed top police officer and other officials in fatal cyanide poisonings of more than 60 elephants for tusks.
Matshazi and Ncube’s arrest this week has further emboldened fears Zanu PF wants to trample media freedoms under foot.
“A pencil cannot be greater than security. A pencil must know its limits and those who direct pencils must know where to direct pencils. Even the opposition knows that when there is no peace there is no opposition politics to talk about,” Mushohwe declared.
The media is not a threat to government, but plays the watchdog role that fosters the growth of democracy, accountability and transparency. Any perception to the contrary is just delusional at best.
The security forces are not immune to the public’s scrutiny, especially when they renege on their constitutional duty and start dabbling in political matters. The public has every right to know when the security forces have disregarded their constitutional duty.
Mushohwe must remember that like him, military generals are senior civil servants, whose livelihood is sustained by the taxpayer, the same public the minister is seeking to deny information. Such beliefs are merely retrogressive at least and barbaric at most. The military, like a public company, must account for its actions to shareholders, the public and taxpayers. Journalists have a legitimate and constitutionally guaranteed right to impart information to the country’s citizens. This right cannot be violated to engender the Mugabe regime’s stay in power by imposing a blackout on coverage of the securocrats. This is a serious violation of section 61 and 62 of the Constitution which guarantees press freedom. It’s common knowledge that there are better and more civilised ways of dealing with cases where parties feels aggrieved than intimidating, arresting and detaining journalists.
For instance, the CIO could have lodged a complaint with the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe and this matter would have been resolved amicably. A worrying trend where journalists are arrested and ill- treated by police for carrying out their duties is emerging. Police on October 23 last year detained and interrogated three journalists in Rusape in Manicaland province.