State Media Abuse in Zimbabwe: Different Faces, Same Old Tactics
Alex T. Magaisa
A poll on the website of The Herald, Zimbabwe’s state daily, asks the following question:
“CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS AGAINST VICE PRESIDENT JOICE MUJURU: Should she resign?”
There are only two options from which to make a choice. The first is: “Yes, that’s the noble thing to do”. The second is, “No, she should apologise to the President”.
Three things are immediately apparent:
First, it isn’t much of a choice, really, as either way, the subject of the poll is damned: the first option assumes that mere allegations are as good as a guilty verdict and that she must go, while the second option also assumes the same guilty verdict, although such guilt can be excused only if she apologises to the President. In the world inhabited by The Herald, Vice President Joice Mujuru is, in effect, already guilty by virtue of bare allegations made at a political rally by her rival, Grace Mugabe.
Second, in The Herald’s universe, the law is utterly irrelevant, for even if one is alleged to have committed acts of corruption, all they need to do to avoid the sack or legal consequences, is to apologise to President Mugabe. In this world, Mugabe is the omnipotent sovereign – the law maker, the interpreter of the law and the enforcer, with power to sanction, execute and forgive.
Third and perhaps most importantly at this juncture, the poll represents an important political statement. It subjects VP Mujuru, a contender in Zanu PF’s succession battle, to public judgment without even soliciting, as any serious paper should do, a response from the accused; without giving her an opportunity to be heard, as the course of natural justice demands. The skewed and patently biased poll in the sense that both options are damning upon the subject, is a symbolic representation of the position that The Herald and other papers in the Zimpapers stable (state press) have taken in the succession debate. While they have not openly declared their support for a specific faction, it is patently obvious that they have taken an anti-Joice Mujuru stance and are supportive of her rivals, who at present bear the face of Grace Mugabe, but, it is plain that stronger faces lurk behind that pretty facade.
Grace Mugabe, who has made clear her intense and personal dislike of VP Mujuru, has received generous and favourable coverage in all state media since her entrance into the political arena. When the MDC asked last year for live coverage of their election manifesto launch rally in Marondera, the ZBC, the state broadcaster did not say no in words. They simply quoted a ridiculous sum of $165, 000 for the single event. It was an impossible figure in a country where the majority of people struggle to earn a dollar per day. It is doubtful that ZBC was charging as much, or at all, for Grace Mugabe’s 10 rallies across the country. If it is, then it wouldn’t be struggling to pay its workers or to modernise its ancient apparatus.
The fact is the state media generally has taken sides in the factional fights. Grace Mugabe is lauded by The Herald and other papers in the Zimpapers’ stable, while she enjoys abundant airspace in the broadcast media, more than 90 per cent of which is state-owned. What passes off as private broadcast media is, when you lift the veil, actually controlled by the state or persons connected to the state, all of whom bat for the same side in the succession battles. StarFM – the first entity to be given a private radio broadcaster’s licence is owned by Zimpapers – the same company that owns The Herald and other state papers. ZiFM, is owned by Supa Mandiwanzira, the Deputy Minister of Information and Publicity and a Zanu PF MP. The simple fact is that there is in fact no radio station in Zimbabwe that is independent of Zanu PF and in this case, the anti-Mujuru faction of Zanu PF.
VP Mujuru and her faction have suffered the same fate that has hitherto been served upon the MDC and other opposition forces before it. Where Tsvangirai was once the favourite punch-bag of the state media, that position has now been taken by VP Mujuru, who, day after day, has been the subject of vilification. In this regard, the state media has learned nothing and forgotten nothing, to employ an old cliche.
In the past, when analysing the dynamics between the ruling party and opposition parties, I have recruited and adapted Susan Strange’s theory of structural power in the international political economy. I have argued that political power is drawn from at least four sources: production, finance, knowledge and security. Those who control the means of production, the generation and allocation of credit, the generation, definition and dissemination of knowledge and information and the provision or withdrawal of security, tend to have power over those who lack such control. The use of the media by the anti-Mujuru faction is a clear demonstration of the power that derives from the knowledge/information structure. He who is in control of the media is able to determine what qualifies as news, how it is packaged and how it is delivered to the public. That way, they are able to set the agenda, to influence public debate and, they also hope, to affect public opinion.
Control of the media is critical in the dissemination of propaganda. In The Art of War, that enduring classic on strategy, Sun Tzu says that one strategy is to continuously hit the foundations of the pillar. You hit so often and relentlessly, until the pillar collapses. If it’s the opposition, you focus on Tsvangirai – his reputation and all – hit him continuously, until the edifice collapses. In the case of Joice Mujuru, again, go after her character, her reputation – hit it hard, and continuously, until the entire structure falls apart. Hence, in this case, the object is to paint Joice Mujuru and her group in the most negative light possible, just as the state media has done over the years in regard to Tsvangirai and the MDC.
The media will create news or otherwise capitalise on gaffes – with hindsight, we now recall how The Herald earlier this year went to town about VP Mujuru’s statements on corruption, when she suggested that the anti-corruption drive was merely a political ploy by those aiming to destroy Zanu PF from within. She was ridiculed then by The Herald and many analysts, portraying her as an ignoramus who had made a gaffe and as someone who was insensitive to the public clamour for a strong anti-corruption drive and therefore unfit to be a leader. But where Mujuru was saying they were trying to destroy Zanu PF from within, she probably meant that it was a ploy to destroy her ambitions. Indeed, after that initial burst of energy, the whole anti-corruption drive has gone cold and seems to have been a charade. Arguably, it has only been raised now, again, not because there is any genuine intent to fight corruption, but because it is convenient to use it as a political weapon against Joice Mujuru. It seems therefore, that Joice Mujuru was aware of the machinations of her political adversaries. Certainly, once they have achieved their objective of eliminating the political competition, it will be business as usual, for the corrupt, their godfathers and their acolytes.
Another instance illustrating the power derived from control of the knowledge/information structure and therefore, controlling the packaging and delivery of news, was a story in a recent edition of The Herald, reporting an incident in Mashonaland West at a meeting of Zanu PF’s provincial executive. The wife of President Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, threw a bottle at and slapped the provincial chairman, Temba Mliswa. Mliswa is the nephew of Zanu PF Secretary for Administration, Didymus Mutasa, who is a close ally of VP Mujuru. When The Herald reported the story, the headline suggested that Temba Mliswa had fought Zhuwao’s wife. The fact that he was actually the subject of an assault was deliberately ignored, so that he was portrayed, instead, as the aggressor, with Beauty Zhuwao as the victim. Here the state media had played its part to repackage a bad story for the anti-Mujuru faction and turn it into a bad story for the Mujuru faction by sowing into the mind of the readers that Temba Mliswa and by extension, the Mujuru faction that he supposedly connected to, were violent aggressors.
Overall, what is clear is the deployment of the state media, always a willing and abiding lapdog of its controllers, to set the agenda, vilify opponents, shape public opinion and generally to further the interests of one interest group over its rival just as was the case to fight off Tsvangirai and the MDC and before them to fight Joshua Nkomo and PF Zapu, before they were swallowed by Zanu PF in 1987. Ironically, the state media was used for precisely the same purpose by the Rhodesian regime against the nationalist movements during the liberation struggle. And therein lies the key point:
That to the extent that those who habour ambitions to lead Zimbabwe are willing to abuse the state media and to do so even against their own, in the same way that the colonial regime, which they purport to despise, and from whom they claim to be different, actually did, they are in reality, no better and pose no brighter alternative. In this respect, post-independence Zimbabwe is, in reality, no different from its Rhodesian predecessor, for the same tactics, same attitudes and same consequences are, quite plainly, an enduring phenomenon.
Mujuru and company are simply facing the same abuse that all those who have failed to draw power from the knowledge/information structure have suffered in the past. What we do not know is whether they would have behaved any differently if they had been the ones with control of the state media. The lesson we can draw from this is that, whatever outcome will emerge from this succession battle, will mostly likely be a replay of the same, for while the players may be different, the tactics, methods and strategies have remained the same. To talk of the “post-colonial” is only to refer to the change of faces, because the mindset and the methods mirror those of the colonial era. And in this regard, to claim that Zimbabwe ‘will never be a colony again’, as Mugabe is often fond of saying, is no more than empty political rhetoric, because the colonial is still very much with and among us.
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