Report & Essay

Watching ZBC
Philo Ikonya

 Kenyan writer Philo Ikonya recently returned from a fact finding-mission to Zimbabwe, organized by an international body of media organizations. This is her story.

Watching Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation is a lesson in how to enlist state machinery to the service of a political campaign. Even the business updates are cast as advertisements for Robert Mugabe’s ruling party, ZANU PF.

To help ensure the absence of unbiased reporting, foreign newspapers (which retail for 800 000 000 Zim dollars) are about to be slapped with extra duty fees, so that those few people who can still afford to buy them will find them out of reach.

The UNESCO Protocol on Duty Exemption (which applies to books, newspapers and periodicals), though ratified by Zimbabwe, shall not apply in Zimbabwe. Apparently, it would lead the citizens of Zimbabwe to become puppets of the West.

I do not understand why the world continues speaking to and of Zimbabwe as though we can reason in terms of the law. I do not understand why journalists here keep saying this and that law is against them – the rule of law has collapsed completely in Zimbabwe.

The fabric of the law in Zimbabwe has been fraying for a long time, and it now lies in shreds. Lawyers – the last line of defense – are being harassed, particularly those who represent media practitioners or opposition supporters. Zimbabwe is now a police state.

Some of these ‘police’ are militias in disguise. Gado’s cartoon in the Daily Nation of Saturday, 14th June, aptly depicted the country as an open grave: too much has died in Zim, including the law itself.

This is the land in which it is a crime to be a journalist who fails to serve Commander Bob’s Brigade of Lies. This is the land in which it is a crime to hold a different opinion from that of the ruling party. This is the land in which arrest comes first and the charges come only after they’ve decided how long to put you away for; in one documented case, a journalist was charged with burning a bus and 79 other ‘acts of violence.’

So why does the world sit and watch and hope for the best? In the worst of cases, political analysts will just tell you that countries are made by wars and that you should let Zimbabweans sort themselves out – even if they die. But I am a Kenyan; I know that we were saved from the brink of civil war by the physical presence of world leaders.

We can do without new wars. We have enough already: Hunger, HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis… on top of these, Zimbabwe has a wrecked economy on its hands, even as food prices are erupting all over the world.

It does not matter how often you tell me that I am an African who deserves the land that was stolen from me; if you are abusing human rights, how does it all add up?

Listening to ZBC in Shona it was evident that everyone against ZANU PF is cast as a traitor. “Mwana wa Nyoka ni nyoka,” – “the child of a snake is a snake,” said Mugabe about the son of his former supporter who had decided to go with the opposition.

Free expression is outlawed, human rights lawyers are on the run, and on Thursday last week, the offices of several aid-providing NGOs were raided, after which they were told to cease all operations “until further notice.” They are all watching their backs, doing everything they can just to keep themselves being thrown into what one journalist described as “probably the worst jail cells in the world.” He was speaking from experience, but I can’t name him, or anyone else, because of the trouble it would bring them. “As soon as you are finally in the dark and damp cells,” he said, “a mad man yells all night. When you try to sit down, you know you are sitting on fleas, and the lice crawl and bite too. I was in there for only some hours but I left with a chest infection.”

Any journalist writing, or speaking, for anyone other than the state media must work under a false name.

The campaign on ZBC goes beyond praising Mugabe; it includes hate language for all ‘outsiders.’ Words like ‘enemy,’ ‘betrayer,’ ‘white colonialist,’ ‘imperialist,’ ‘puppet,’ ‘murderer’ – all these and more are issued daily, with no hesitation.

I heard the head of the “War Vets” call for all war veterans, from all ranks of society, to come out and “save their country.”

Meanwhile, the only time that Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, makes it into the news is when Comrade Bob or one of his henchman comes on to describe them as murderers.

The president is calling for war if he loses. Mlitary personnel have been told that they will vote under the supervision and in full view of the generals, no secret ballot.

Why then do we continue to talk about an election, or a country ruled under a specific legal system?

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