via Moyos Herculean Task in the Era of Twitter Facebook Whatsapp and Baba Jukwa by Trust Matsilele for Zimbabwe Briefing
The past decade widely referred to as Zimbabwe’s decade of crisis has seen the Southern Africa nation, once the breadbasket of Africa diminishing to a basket case. Political contestations with most, if not all of them, being disputed since 2000 have been the major discussion point but media has also received extensive study (Matsilele, 2013; Mare, 2010; Kuhlmann, 2010; Peel: 2008; Batist, 2010).
Since the dawn of the new millennium, the ruling ZANU PF has intensified its propaganda campaign through deliberate manipulation of the state print and electronic media to construct the narrative around issues of ‘citizenship’, ‘patriotism’ and ‘traitors’. One of the leading historians on Zimbabwe, Terrence Ranger (2005), has made a seminal contribution on patriotic history and patriotic journalism that was promoted by Jonathan Moyo during his first spell as Information Minister. During Moyo’s first spell, legal and extra-legal instruments were employed to promote positive coverage on the Zimbabwean government.
The discourse of language construction by ZANU PF has sought to redefine the issue of citizenship thereby creating social and political boundaries between those ‘for us’ and those ‘against us’. Ndhlovu (2006) has conducted an intensive study on the language of politics in 21st century Zimbabwe with focus on discourse construction and discourse manipulation. It is in this milieu with Professor Jonathan Moyo, the architect of discourse manipulation being reassigned Information Minister and this time with protégé Supa Mandiwanzira that this scholar seeks to make a critical analysis of challenges and opportunities that this new regime faces.
Mandiwanzira and Moyo are reported to have started demanding for answers from the almost defunct Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation’s (ZBC) Executive after its employees went for months without being remunerated. According to the Independent newspaper “Moyo faces an uphill task of, among other things, rationalising salary scales of senior managers at the troubled and top-heavy ZBC, with 46 managers gobbling up close to US$800 000 in wages, the Zimbabwe Independent has been told”.
The Independent recently also noted that “the least paid manager nets around US$7 000, while general managers get about US$18 000, heads of department around US$14 000 and the highest paid manager more than $20 000. The rest of the employees (reporters and supporting staff) get below US$1 000,” reported the standard. Apart from the ZBC quagmire, Moyo’s mammoth task is on censoring alternative and social media and redeeming Mugabe’s battered image.
The duo face several challenges among them is the issue of how to censor social media and alternative media especially the diasporic media. Moyo, upon being appointed Information Minister wasted no time in stating that the period for journalists to continue lying was over and that the season for ethical journalism had just but begun. If Moyo’s words are to be believed this would be a welcome development in Zimbabwean journalism whose ethics have deteriorated in the past decade to lowest levels as noted by UCT’s Dr Chuma in a recent report on the state of the media in Zimbabwe.
Dumisani Moyo (2007) conducted a research on ‘Alternative Media, Diasporas and the Mediation of the Zimbabwe Crisis’. Moyo discussed the use of the new media, especially internet, to answer to the state repression of the mass media. His paper analysed the value of these, often foreign-based, journalistic websites in relation to state repression. In part, issues raised by Moyo in 2007 point to challenges the reassigned Minister is facing especially on how to police journalists and censor the ever sprouting bloggers, social media characters such as Baba Jukwa and Mugrade 7.
The most popular faceless facebook character with close to half a million followers Baba Jukwa at the time of writing had just issued threats to Jonathan Moyo that “unlike 2001 things are different in 2013. In 2001 there was no Baba Jukwa. In 2002, he was still a quiet steady voice, and during these times Jonathan Moyo could do whatever he wants and even get away with murder, that’s why he could coordinate the bombing of the Daily News without being tracked. But 2013 is an entirely new battlefield where Jonso’s (Jonathan Moyo) bombs, gongs and tongs will not work.”, read the post by Baba Jukwa.
The above citation is just a tip of an iceberg pointing to the possible challenges Moyo and Mandiwanzira will be facing in the next five years. Other than Facebook they also face challenges imposed by other social media platforms such as Whatsapp and blogs. Regardless of the levels of censorship the major challenges they will be faced with is on censoring faceless characters with some even operating from outside the country. Storck (2011) writing on contemporary politics postulates that “democracy is just a tweet away” or as the oft quoted Egyptian Google Executive Wael Ghonim famously said: “if you want to liberate a society, just give them internet”
Leading Zimbabwe media scholar and University of Cape Town senior lecture Dr Wallace Chuma captured succinctly when he noted on his facebook wall that “Jonathan Moyo comes back as Zimbabwe’s Information Minister in an environment quite different from his first, infamous term between 2000 and 2004. There was no Facebook then. No Twitter. No broadband to write home about. No Baba Jukwa. Or even Mai Jukwa. No ‘pirate’ radio stations.
“He can use his tenure to heal a media fraternity that is fractured, divided and ethically degenerate. He can help liberate ZBC and Zimpapers to be truly public service media, if he chooses. Or he can pretend this is 2000 or thereabouts, and take off from where he left when he was sacked in 2004. If he chooses the latter path he will be frustrated. Because social media are here to stay, and they do well subverting institutionalised news production structures. And, close to 60 as he is, the minister would be better off avoiding the stress that comes with fighting phantom enemies, and instead channel his energy toward creating a media policy regime that makes all of us proud to be Zimbabwean” added Chuma.
Even with his repressive legal apparatus, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), Broadcasting Service Act (BSA) and the Public Order Security Act (POSA) still intact, Moyo still faces challenges on how to control what Zimbabwean audiences stomach considering that with overwhelming mobile penetration, it has become easier, cheaper and quicker to get both credible and discredited news on social media that traditional news media outlets. The next five years present an interesting case study on limitations of dictatorship, press censorship and silencing social media activists. The Zimbabwe government might have benefitted from SABC’s switching off of SENTEC signals that made the country’s populace to access free to air channels. However, the biggest threat to Zimbabwe government is on how to deal with social media activists especially Mugrade 7 and Baba Jukwa and maybe others who might emerge during this tenure.
Trust Matsilele is a journalism and media scholar with a Master of Philosophy in Journalism degree from Stellenbosch University. Matsilele also specialises in political strategy and communication. He can be contacted at email@example.com.