Hopewell Chin’ono: Tragic failure of Media Reformation by Zimbabwe Government

By Hopewell Chin’ono

The issuance of a television licence to Zimpapers this week by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe is a monumental terrible joke.

Hopewell Chin'ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

The Government of Zimbabwe can’t continue playing this game where it gives broadcast licenses to its surrogates and expect this to be called media reformation.

Zimbabwe got television for the first time on 14 November 1960 and up to this very day, we still have that one television station controlled by the state and bequeathed to us at independence by the colonial administration.

It is one of the most undemocratic tools of command and control that the government inherited from the brutal and racist Ian Smith regime and refused to abandon the toxicity associated with its propaganda machinery.

It shows lack of foresight and creativity by those in charge of the media “repressive” section of the Government of Zimbabwe.

It also shows that the fight to remove the white ruler was not rooted in a genuine democratic ethos, but in an envious zest to replace colonial rulers and yet continue perpetuating their repressive rule, this time on our kith and kin using the very apparatus like the former Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC), now called Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).

The current government is showing the whole country an emboldened middle finger and exhibiting a very crude sense of importance and disregard for the principles of respect and power that comes with responsibility.

These are the issues that expose those that want to give President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration the benefit of the doubt.

These arbitrary and disrespectful decisions are a point of departure from the “New Dispensation” that has been sold to citizens both home and abroad.

These are reflections and identity markers of the old dispensation of Robert Mugabe and they justify critics who have argued that nothing has changed except the removal of Robert Mugabe from power.

It is this arrogance of power that energizers people like Senators Christopher Coons and Jeff Flake to enact laws like the proposed Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA) Amendment Bill.

I was one of those that stood up and personally asked the senators in early April to give the government a chance to redeem itself against its past history of thoughtless repressive acts in the media arena and refusal to open up the airwaves to varied players amongst many other demanded reforms.

We now look stupid when the very people we stood up for as patriots take a detour from common sense and plough on with the very acts and commissions that underpinned the Robert Mugabe ruinous regime.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his deputies, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi must realize that people who are detached from how the world of media works today are leading them down the garden path.

You can’t disconnect the citizenry from information anymore, this is not 1984 where the Voice of the Dictatorships around the world ruled supreme.
The people making these decisions are still rooted in the cusp of propaganda.

They lack innovative minds and a world media purview that makes one understand what works and what doesn’t.

The media in Zimbabwe has not been deregulated at all as some would like us to believe, the licenses issued have been given to institutions and people linked to ZANUPF.

Supa Mandiwanzira a government minister, government controlled Zimpapers and others like them can’t be called independent players when they are dependent on the state and the party for their survival.

President Mnangagwa must chose between being a reformer or being an extension of his former boss Robert Mugabe and facing the same problems that dogged the former President until the day his comrades removed him from power.

The President has a chance to go down in history as the man who turned around the fortunes of Zimbabwe at a critical time.
He shouldn’t allow those that rely on his benevolence and the state to eke a living to drag him down with them into the political abyss like what happened to Robert Mugabe.

Those that are advising the president must do so from a point of the objective reality obtaining in today’s world and how oppressive regimes are eventually uprooted if they refuse to cease and desist from acts of irrationality.

It is tragic that South Africa that only got television in 1976 is now the continental giant and yet countries like ours that pioneered this technology now watch from the sidelines and are subjected to that one and only television station whose production values are no better than that of a High School television station.

Today South Africa has over 100 radio stations and yet we are continuously subjected to the very same brand of airwave propaganda from colonial days here in Zimbabwe, a country with the highest literacy rate on the continent.

The level of incompetence exhibited both by the authorities and their surrogates is historical and immeasurably comical.

It shows an administration not bothered by even pretending to put on cosmetics, they just don’t care and they are disingenuous in act and indeed.

So much goodwill has been lost and so much could have been done had it not been for the arrogance exhibited by the new administration and its old accessories that have shown that they will not change regardless.

In true Lippmann’s words, it is altogether unthinkable that a country like ours should remain forever dependent on unreformed and accidental policy makers, the better course is to send out into government a generation of policy makers who will, by sheer superiority, drive the incompetents out of positions of authority.

The better thinkers like July Moyo must now come to the fore and give the president consummate advice rooted in not only personal interest, but in the advancement of the state and continued survival of the liberation ethos of democracy.

Bonafide liberation icons like Leopold Takawira, Herbert Chitepo, Joshua Nkomo and General Joasiah Tongogara must be turning in their graves with all this Muppet and circus shows on display.

Regimes can’t control information anymore, that concept belongs to a bygone era.

It is as embarrassing as knowing that we are the only country in Sub Saharan Africa still holding on to a media concept borrowed and passed on to us by the colonial authorities.

We are back to the future, welcome back to April 1980. It is called Arrested Development.

Instead of using the State controlled media to intimidate, embarrass and ridicule citizens, President Mnangagwa’s administration must use the media to win hearts and minds of compatriots.
There is nothing to be gained by being crude, arrogant and disconnected from a new world which has many other forms of media and social platforms that citizens can use without state intervention and more importantly supervision.

What are we going to say now when the Americans put through their ZIDERA Bill at Capitol Hill (their equivalent of parliament)?

Give our government more time? What are the British authorities going to say to their citizens when they are asked about why they are ignoring all the failures to reform Robert Mugabe’s repressive machinery?

Self-interest I guess. What else can any sober and rational diplomat say to justify the hocus-pocus taking place in Zimbabwe?

Please Mr President, make it easier for your citizens to rally behind you. You don’t do that by sticking to Robert Mugabe’s script and calling it the New Dispensation.

ATTACHED IS A CLIP FROM THE NEWLY LICENSED ZIMPAPERS TELEVISION STATION. IT IS A REFLECTION OF WHAT WE WILL BE SUBJECTED TO COURTESY OF OUR RULERS.

Nomsa Nkala, the Head of the newly licensed Zimbabwe Television Network interviewing the former American Ambassador, Harry Thomas.

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a CNN African journalist of the year and Harvard University Nieman Fellow.

His next film, State of Mind looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe will be launched in June in Harare and Johannesburg by Graca Machel. He can be contacted on [email protected] on twitter @daddyhope