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Enough is Enough
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29 October 2004
The high water mark of lawlessness
There are some acts which, even coming from a regime notorious for its brutal disregard of human rights, still cause a sense of shock and outrage in the nation. Such an act is the sentencing of Roy Bennett by Parliament to an effective term of imprisonment of 12 months with hard labour. It is grossly disproportionate. It offends every civilized standard of law and morality. It is outrageous and should be condemned in the strongest terms by all who have any concern for justice and the rule of law.
However this monstrous injustice is dressed up it remains just that, a monstrous injustice - a calculated act of racial bigotry, an act of political revenge by a hugely unpopular regime carried out on one of the most popular opposition members of parliament.
For make no mistake Roy Bennett, member of parliament for Chimanimani, enjoys massive support in his constituency and way beyond. He is not – NOT – an unreformed “Rhodie” as the Mugabe regime would like to paint him. In fact he is one of the most culturally-sensitive, enlightened and progressive white-skinned Africans among the present leadership of the region. A politician who won his seat in an almost entirely black constituency by a resounding majority, a man of the people who has contributed substantially to the spirit of ubuntu in this country.
Nor is by chance that Bennett who epitomizes this wonderful spirit, has been singled out for an extreme form of victimization by the clique of small-minded, intolerant, racist and xenophobic politicians who now constitute the ruling elite. If there is one kind of person this clique fears, and has good reason to fear, it is the bridge-builder in the community, the person who stands for unity rather than division, and the common good rather than personal gain – and such a man is Roy Bennett. Hence the vicious assault upon his Charleswood Estate farm in total disregard of several High Court orders, the violent attacks upon his loyal farm workers, the destruction of his coffee plantation, and the daylight robbery of his coffee crop by ZANU PF chefs. Hence the sustained hate campaign against him by the state-controlled propaganda machine, and hence the latest, and most despicable, abuse of parliamentary procedure to send him to prison.
During a parliamentary debate in May this year Bennett was subjected to intolerable abuse when justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa persistently called him “mabhunu” – a term of derogatory racial abuse – and accused his ancestors of being thieves. The supreme irony of course was that the man abusing Bennett himself presided over an administration that not only permitted but encouraged the illegal seizure of properties such as Bennett’s Charleswood Estate. The provocation was more than most mortals could take.
So Bennett pushed Chinamasa to the floor. Yes, he did go over the top and such behaviour cannot be condoned, though in the circumstances it is hardly to be wondered at. Also to be considered is the fact that in this undignified scuffle Bennett himself was pushed to the floor by other MP’s and kicked while down by none other than senior ZANU PF politician Didymus Mutasa.
It is understood that Chinamasa had not a bruise to show for this altercation but obviously his pride was offended mightily. So he and others in the ZANU PF circle plotted their revenge, and they achieved that revenge yesterday in Parliament.
An effective term of 12 months imprisonment with hard labour. For the offence committed, and taking into account the severe provocation, the sentence was grossly excessive and totally disproportionate. One lawyer consulted said that on similar facts in a case some years ago a fine of Z$ 80,000 was imposed (or 50 days in prison in default). The more normal outcome would surely be a caution and discharge. And bearing in mind that Bennett has no recourse to appeal to the courts because Parliament has independent judicial powers, the need for a proper judicial approach to the case was all the greater.
To achieve this result the ruling party used its built-in majority in the Parliamentary Select Committee (3 to 2) and in the vote in Parliament itself (52 to 42). In short ZANU PF steam-rollered its way to this pre-determined conclusion. It did so in blatant disregard of every norm of civilized government and every tenet of human decency. And what, one might ask, is to stop the ruling party from using this as a precedent to hand out long custodial sentences to any other members of the opposition with whom they are displeased – on the most flimsy pretext ? The door is wide open to further abuse of the same kind.
Offended pride and personal vengeance no doubt featured strongly in the decision to hit Bennett with this Parliamentary equivalent of a lynching party. But there was a measure of cynical calculation in it too, for at one stroke ZANU PF have further reduced the MDC caucus in Parliament, rid themselves of an embarrassing political opponent in the run-up to the 2005 elections, and removed an opponent from a seat they could not otherwise have hoped to win. (As a “bonus” they have also removed any cause for restraint in the continued plundering of Charleswood Estate by the local ZANU PF mafia) All of which are more than convenient to a beleaguered regime which has virtually no prospect of ever again winning the hearts and minds of the people it purports to represent.
On the pretext of upholding the law, ZANU PF have perpetrated the most cynical and calculating act of lawlessness. They cannot be allowed to get away with it. Let lawyers and legislators around the world condemn this barbaric act. Let the Church and civil society protest in the strongest terms. And let Zimbabweans of every racial hue, tribal or party allegiance, finally say to this fascist regime “NO !” You have gone one step too far. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH !!
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
Monday October 18th- Sunday October 24th 2004
Weekly Media Update 2004-42
1. GENERAL COMMENT
2. ELECTORAL ISSUES
3. DEFENCE OF AIPPA
DESPITE the government media regurgitating claims by the authorities that the country had reaped enough crops to feed the nation through its land reforms, The Financial Gazette (21/10) revealed that there was still confusion, even within government circles, on the exact amount of grain the country has produced.
The paper revealed that the parliamentary portfolio committee on agriculture would summon Agriculture Minister Joseph Made to explain the country’s food situation.
The weekly also alleged that even ZANU-PF’s Politburo and the Cabinet had cast doubts on Made’s projections that the country would produce more than 2,4 million tonnes of cereal.
Lending credence to fears of food shortages, the paper also cited reports from the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) and Amnesty International (AI) disputing government’s projections of a bumper harvest saying millions of people were in need of food aid.
The government media remained silent on the issue.
As a result, most Zimbabweans who are now obliged to rely on these media following the forced closure of alternative sources of information, were left no wiser on the matter.
In fact, the government media’s habit of remaining silent over issues that expose government mismanagement (thereby denying their audiences important information on pertinent issues affecting their livelihoods) also manifested itself in the way they reported problems besetting preparations for the current farming season.
Although these media reported shortages of farming inputs and implements, they treated the issues in isolation and failed to view them as symptomatic of the chaos in the agricultural sector following government’s controversial land reforms.
Neither did they fully discuss the underlying implications of the problems on the country’s food security next year.
As has become the norm, the responsibility was left to the private media.
For example, the Zimbabwe Independent (22/10) columnist Eric Bloch contended that as long as farmers had problems accessing the necessary inputs “there is no realistic prospect of Zimbabwe producing sufficient food to sustain itself next year”.
The Gazette also reiterated fears that the maize seed deficit would have an adverse impact on the country’s ability to produce adequate food in the coming year.
THE government-controlled media’s role as slavish defenders of government policies further found expression in the way they passively allowed authorities to misrepresent the spirit of the SADC Charter on democratic elections in a bid to justify their cosmetic electoral reforms ahead of the 2005 parliamentary polls.
While they propagated every excuse the authorities offered for not fully subscribing to the regional electoral guidelines, they simultaneously dismissed all other voices that dared question government’s stance as being unpatriotic and fronts of foreign interests.
These media continued to allow government officials free rein to extol the supposed virtues of repressive laws such as AIPPA and POSA as consistent with the SADC principles and guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections, despite the fact that these laws are anathema to elementary standards of democracy.
Only the private media exposed this fallacy by measuring the government claims against the SADC Charter.
For example, while The Daily Mirror (22/10) highlighted worries by the Zimbabwe Liberators’ Peace Initiative (ZLPI) over government’s reluctance to fully implement SADC’s electoral guides, ZTV (21/10, 6pm), Radio Zimbabwe & Power FM (21/10, 8pm) and The Herald (22/10) were busy diverting attention from government’s non-reformist attitude by counter-accusing the West of trying to discredit the country’s pending polls.
For example, The Herald quoted Foreign Affairs Minister Stan Mudenge alleging that “some western countries and organisations” had not only begun producing documents intended to tarnish the Zimbabwe polls, but were also scheming to influence “the composition of the African Union and SADC observer teams for the elections so that the teams’ reports could reflect their preconceived opinions and not the actual facts.”
Thus, added Mudenge, “they were now devising a scheme to measure Zimbabwean elections using the SADC ambassadors”, a development that he said would compel Zimbabwe to “bar” these diplomats from observing the election “despite the fact that they are already accredited in the country”. But instead of challenging Mudenge to substantiate his claims, ZTV (21/10, 6 & 8pm) simply sided with him and gave the impression that there would be nothing unusual in Zimbabwe barring foreign observers because the US too, had not invited observers for its forthcoming elections.
ZANU PF apologists Tafataona Mahoso and William Nhara, who were presented masquerading as analysts, were quoted saying “the refusal by the Republican Party to allow foreign observers for the forthcoming elections is hypocritical”, adding that this “has characterised (US President George W) Bush’s domestic and foreign policies”.
The station then used the controversy surrounding the US 2000 election to discredit that country’s electoral conduct as flawed and not worth drawing lessons from.
One of ZTV’s favourite analysts, Claude Maredza, contended: “America is ruled by wasps (White Anglo Saxon Protestants). Basically, these are satanic freemasonic white people who hegemonically rule America… As Zimbabweans we are wasting our time trying to explain ourselves to America and the West. Let’s forget about America.”
Similarly, the Chronicle (23/10) comment, Of the West and its double standards, lambasted the West for its alleged hypocritical approach to the Zimbabwean elections. But like its counterparts, the paper did not provide any evidence to support its claims let alone carry comparative analyses of the set of electoral rules the West wanted to evaluate Zimbabwe’s elections with against those by SADC.
However, the private media challenged the government media’s notion that Zimbabwe’s electoral problems emanated solely from Western interference in the country’s affairs. They argued that these were largely self-inflicted.
For example, The Standard (24/10) columnist Pius Wakatama blamed the ruling ZANU PF for tarnishing the image of Zimbabwe beyond “recognition” because of its dislike for the truth.
Said Wakatama: “Even in Africa our real friends are now few and far between. We can’t stand them because they tell us the truth, which we don’t like to hear…we see them as agents of imperialist Western countries who want to ‘take away the gains of our independence.’”
In fact, despite the Chronicle’s (23/10) observations that the country had a “stated position of respecting the SADC guidelines”, The Zimbabwe Independent (22/10) contradicted these assertions when it quoted MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai raising fears that the ruling ZANU PF may have already started “rigging” next year’s elections using the latest “fictitious” voters roll.
The paper cited Tsvangirai alleging that an analysis of the hard copy of the new voters’ roll recently availed to his party by the Registrar General’s office showed that hundreds of thousands of voters had been removed from his party’s strongholds while massively boosting numbers in rural areas, support bases for the ruling ZANU PF. This was surprising, said Tsvangirai, considering that the 2002 population census depicted population increases in urban centres than in rural areas. Consequently, added the MDC leader, urban areas were likely to lose some seats during the ongoing delimitation exercise.
Studio 7 carried a similar report the following day.
Government’s electoral reforms further suffered more credibility problems as the private media continued to expose the fallacy behind the authorities’ drive to democratise the conduct of the country’s elections. For instance, The Standard and Sunday Mirror (24/10) carried critical reports on government plans to deny at least two million Zimbabweans working abroad from voting in next year’s polls, at a time when countries such as Mozambique had registered their citizens living in Zimbabwe to vote.
Moreover, The Daily Mirror (19 & 21/10), The Standard and SW Radio Africa carried nine reports of fresh incidents of rights abuses perpetrated against MDC supporters, independent journalists and members of civic society by ZANU PF activists and state security agents.
The government media censored such incidents. Instead, ZTV (20/10, 6 and 8pm) tried to present the opposition as the instigator of the violence saying the MDC has recently “been urging people to be violent and then blame ZANU- PF for violence”. However, there were no concrete examples cited to substantiate the claims.
While the official media tried to gloss over the country’s electoral problems by giving the impression that government was fully complying with the regional charter on elections, The Daily Mirror on Saturday (23/10) revealed that SADC was not impressed by the situation in the country. The paper reported that a SADC troika, led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, would soon be in the country to help resolve the political impasse between ZANU PF and the MDC by urging the ruling party government to implement the region’s electoral norms.
The government media ignored these developments.
Rather, The Sunday Mail (24/10) columnist, Lowani Ndlovu, deliberately obliterated the crux of the Saturday Mirror’s “diabolic” revelations by carrying personal vitriolic attacks on the author of the story, including its sources. The columnist even added more confusion to the matter by suffocating his audiences with semantics over the difference between the SADC electoral “norms” as reported by the Mirror as compared to the SADC “guidelines and principles”, which he contended were not “binding” because they had “no force of law”.
And contrary to previous government claims that Zimbabwe was instituting its electoral reforms in the “spirit and letter” of the SADC Charter, Ndlovu revealed that Zimbabwe had “in fact, adopted its own principles well ahead of the SADC Summit in Mauritius”, which gave birth to the electoral agreement.
Meanwhile, fears that the country’s state security agencies would not handle election related cases professionally because of their inclination towards ZANU PF were given credibility by reports in The Herald (21/10) and on Radio Zimbabwe (21/10, 6am), ZTV (21/10, 7am) and Power FM (21/10, 1pm), which unwittingly exposed the agencies’ partisanship. The Herald quoted Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri almost echoing the bigoted language of the ruling party when he allegedly noted that, “the elections posed a challenge to all police officers and beckons the need for well thought out tactical plans to counter enemies of the state, whose fortunes thrive on bashing the image of the country”.
Not to be outdone, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander, Constantine Chiwenga, was quoted on ZBC telling his visiting Malawian counterpart that “ZDF supports Mugabe” adding that, “the current challenges being faced by the country are a passing phase.”
Echoing ZANU PF’s rhetoric he further contended: “Zimbabwe will not apologise for reclaiming its heritage, land, from colonial masters” and told the Malawian commander that he “will be better informed after his visit and clear misrepresentations and onslaught of our country to the international community by detractors”.
The Daily Mirror (18/10) reported MDC MP Willias Madzimure objecting to such partisanship when moving a motion in Parliament on how the law enforcement agencies were discharging their duties. Madzimure accused the State of “interfering” and “usurping” the powers granted to the police by the Police Act, a situation he said had resulted in the force dropping its ranking from Africa’s best police force to one that “is repressive and driven by partisanship”.
IF the government media were not glossing over the country’s flawed electoral reforms, they were unquestioningly endorsing government’s moves to further curtail the citizenry’s right to receive and impart information without hindrance.
They cheered the authorities’ lie that the amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) were consistent with the SADC principles and guidelines on democratic elections.
This was illustrated by the manner in which they exclusively reported on Information Minister Jonathan Moyo’s Parliamentary defence of the proposed amendments, which purportedly seeks to “clarify” or “improve” some sections of AIPPA, but downplayed MDC MPs’ contribution on the matter.
The MPs’ concerns were only reasonably highlighted in the private media.
In their report on the debate ZTV (19/10, 8pm) and Power FM (20/10, 6am), allowed Moyo to mislead the public by claiming that the amendments and other clauses of AIPPA were “based on an Act, which is consistent with principles of good governance enshrined in SADC principle and guidelines governing democratic elections.”
None of the government media measured such claims against the SADC electoral principles, one of which calls on member States to guarantee media freedom and equitable access to the public media of contesting political parties.
Instead, The Herald and Chronicle (20/10) simply followed their broadcasting counterparts and severely restricted the MDC’s objections to the AIPPA amendment. In fact, The Herald only gave prominence to the ejection from Parliament of two MDC MPs for disobeying orders. The two were reportedly ejected from the chamber after they allegedly “continuously demanded” that the House be divided during the second reading of AIPPA.
In contrast, the private media gave fair exposure to the MDC MPs’ strong opposition to the provisions of AIPPA. The Daily Mirror (20/10) and the Independent (22/10), for example, revealed that Moyo had actually been subjected to “withering attack” from MDC MPs for “abusing the public media to further his political ambitions” during Parliamentary debate on the AIPPA amendment Bill.
The Independent reported the MDC MPs as arguing that Moyo had become an “ambitious” and “dangerous” politician who should actually be reined in by both ZANU PF and MDC legislators because no one was safe from his machinations to entrench his control on the media for “personal political gain”.
Gonese reportedly told Parliament: “We know the minister wants complete control…In the Sunday Mail he calls himself ‘Under the Surface’. He also calls himself…(Lowani) Ndlovu or Mzala Joe or Nathaniel Manheru…He even writes stories in The Sunday Mail under the by-line of Munyaradzi Huni.”
But despite such observations, The Daily Mirror (21/10) revealed that the authorities’ defence of AIPPA had reached ludicrous and blasphemous levels after the head of the government-appointed Media Information Commission, Tafataona Mahoso, projected the impression that the repressive law, just like the Bible, was modelled to guard against the peddling of falsehoods. He thus claimed Zimbabwe was “not caught between the free flow of information and the so-called draconian laws” but that the issue was about “embedded journalists promoting harmful relations on behalf of Western countries”.
While Mahoso was glorifying the virtues of AIPPA, the Independent reported that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights had taken government to the African Commission on Human Rights and People’s Rights over its closure of The Daily News and The Daily News on Sunday under the same law. The Independent cited the papers’ lawyer, Professor Michello Hansungule, as saying he believed that his clients’ case had merit because they were denied their basic right to have their dispute with the Zimbabwe government over the constitutionality of AIPPA determined by the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, SW Radio Africa (19/10) reported that two more journalists working for the private media had been arrested in Gweru and Kwekwe and charged under AIPPA.
The MEDIA UPDATE was produced and circulated by the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, 15 Duthie Avenue, Alexandra Park, Harare, Tel/fax: 263 4 703702, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Feel free to write to MMPZ. We may not able to respond to everything but we will look at each message. For previous MMPZ reports, and more information about the Project, please visit our website at http://www.mmpz.org.zw