Rest in peace

“After a long and difficult illness, freedom of the press and freedom of expression died in Zimbabwe last Friday. They were buried this week. Mourners did not include South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki and his Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
But the workers of South Africa, its fourth estate and the legal fraternity were devastated.”

So might read the death notice of Zimbabwe’s free press this week. After a brave court battle and international campaign, the Daily News and its sister, the Daily News on Sunday, closed their doors. Their journalists are jobless and the country without a brave voice that has sought to focus the world’s attention on Zimbabwe’s political and economic implosion.

The Zanu-PF-packed Supreme Court ruled that the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) is constitutional, enabling “Information Minister” Jonathan Moyo to shut the newspapers because their holding company and journalists are not registered with the Media and Information Commission. Another law is in the offing, designed to complete the hatchet job. It provides that independent newspaper owners now living in South Africa must reside in Zimbabwe. 

Like South Africa’s independent media under apartheid, Zimbabwe’s freedom sheets have become its citizens’ information lifeblood. They expose the harassment, torture, detentions, rapes and other state-sanctioned abuses from which the South African government averts its gaze. They have documented every pothole in Zanu-PF’s journey from proud liberation movement to rampant cronyism and corruption. Decent democracies engage and persuade gadfly newspapers.

Last May President Robert Mugabe promised Mbeki he would amend the AIPPA and other repressive laws. He has not done this, as he has failed to deliver on other alleged commitments. At every step Mbeki, the master-strategist, has been out-thought by Mugabe, who merely reads South African endorsement as justifying his abuses.

This week, the AIPPA judgement left Dlamini-Zuma cold. “I am not here to try to say constitutional courts [sic] of other countries are wrong. If it was happening in Britain and the Constitutional Court [sic] said it was okay, I’m sure all of you would accept it without question,” she said.

Shock and disgust greeted this, but should we be surprised? For years, our government has intoned: leave Zimbabwe alone; give it time; Mugabe is misunderstood and misrepresented. It refuses to view Zimbabwe through the prism of human rights, of solidarity with its people and not just its rulers, and in keeping with the principles of the African Union.

Increasingly, South Africa’s government is at odds with its people. The 1,7-million-member the Congress of South African Trade Unions deplored the closure of the Daily News. “The law and the judgement make it a crime for journalists to carry out their work without government permission. This is totally incompatible with universally recognised principles of the right of freedom of expression.” South Africa’s editors echoed the sentiments, as did the General Council of the Bar. 

Not all Cabinet members share Dlamini-Zuma’s myopic faith in Zanu-PF or her lack of passion for a free press. Reason prevailed on treatment for HIV/Aids after a lengthy struggle in the ruling party. We can only hope that the principled elements eventually win the argument over Zimbabwe.

A case of true love

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, we present excerpts from “Love Letters to Bob” by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a selection from 2000 to 2004:

  • On the state licensing of Zimbabwe’s journalists: “I don’t see how that would in itself translate to control of the media, unless we could say here and here and here the government has refused a legal application.”

  • On whether the registration of journalists would hamper free and fair elections: “If a journalist follows the legal process and the government still refuses to register him, and the process goes through the courts, only then would it be worrying.”

  • On alleged plans to restore confiscated farms to white farmers: “Work is still going on to do that.”

  • At the National Press Club: “You are waiting for condemnation of Zimbabwe. You will never hear that. It is not going to happen as long as this government is in power.”

  • “Zimbabwe is a democracy; the president does not decree laws.”

  • On why Zimbabwe needs more time: “Here in South Africa, you don’t say you are going to change the law today and tomorrow it has been changed. But somehow you expect it to work like that in Zimbabwe.”

  • “Zanu-PF is a progressive organisation for obvious reasons.” 

  • On Zanu-PF as the African National Congress’s sister organisation: “We liberated our countries from the yoke of colonialism and we are set to improve the lives of our people in our respective countries.”

  • On the alleged dialogue between Zanu-PF and the opposition: “Everybody has their opening lines in negotiations. That can be overcome.”

  • “If you have problems with the Zimbabwean government, go to the Zimbabweans. The government … was elected by Zimbabweans. It was not an imposed regime.”

  • “He [Mugabe] may not live up to the expectations of Western countries, but he is interested [in peace and stability].”

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