/ 8 April 2004

Lost in Jingle-land

Rhodesia. The Seventies. ‘This is the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation. Combined operations headquarters reports that 15 terrorists were killed in Muzarabani. In Rushinga 11 more terrorists were killed this evening.”

The news on radio was always about ‘terrorists” killed or captured. This is the abiding memory of the media in my childhood.

Fast-forward to Zimbabwe in the early 21st century at my parent’s home in Gweru. I don’t have a watch, and I need to know the time, so I turn on the radio. I could be turning back the clock because the broadcaster is now as biased as it was during the colonial era!

Any of the four Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation stations will do. At 27 minutes past, or three minutes to every hour, Sendekera will play.

This land/soil that you see is what is called Zimbabwe.

The land is now ours.;

We are happy.

It gives us pride.

Let ‘them’ be upset.

‘They’ are mad.

If it rains this year we shall fill our granaries — Sendekera—

Sendekera, son of the soil, our land is our prosperity.

All day long, Sendekera hums in your head. It is played every 30 minutes on all four radio stations. It is mandatory to play it and, by extension, to listen to it.

Two days of going to bed at 8.05pm is enough to drive anyone crazy. What else can one do in Gweru after the news headlines?

Usually nothing important happens, if we don’t count which high- ranking official has died or got married. The past few weeks have been an exception.

First it was the denials and then trashing of the BBC documentary on the Green Bombers. Then it was the arrest of the alleged mercenaries at Harare airport.

For more than two weeks ZBC/TV has been filled with strident denials from government officials and the youths themselves.

One young woman, in an attempt to show that they were not violated during the training, nor taught terror tactics, boldly told the nation: ‘I learnt a lot, [during National Youth Service Training]. Now, when I am told turn left, I can turn left. And when they say turn right, I can turn right.” And we thought people learnt this stuff in Grade 0.

This was on a programme called News Hour, which starts with the supposedly rousing Sendekera jingle.

News content is a mixture of fact, fiction and outright propaganda. There is no pretence at sophistication and everything comes back to that old bogey — colonialism. The state broadcaster’s take on the mercenary drama unfolding in Zimbabwe, for example, goes like this:

‘The mercenaries plotted to topple the government of the sovereign nation of Equatorial Guinea, whose President Obiang has fallen out of favour with the Western imperialist powers, led by America and Britain who are against his stance on his country’s oil, just like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has had a similar problem with these imperialist governments over land.” All of this in one breathless sentence!

Anti-government sentiments are not allowed anywhere near our broadcaster. There is no debate of fundamental issues. The Broadcasting Services Act gives the minister of information and his hand-picked Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe the power to issue licences to other broadcasters.

Nobody has received such a licence to date, and ZBC/TV has a monopoly of the airwaves. Radio content must now be 100% local. On the few occasions when listeners get on to phone-in programmes to criticise the regime, they are switched off.

Gone from the airwaves and from our television screens are programmes that civil society groups (now seen as anti-government) used to produce. These ranged from HIV/Aids awareness to opportunities for the public to participate on national issues.

The regime will argue that 100% local content is about patriotism and it’s about promoting local artists and local values. These values are, of course, only for those who can’t afford alternatives, the poor black majority.

Those of us in a higher income bracket or with the right connections, don’t have to be subjected to Sendekera.

By the flick of our remotes we can watch SABC Africa, BBC or Movie Magic, and we listen to our compact disk collections.

No government official worth his salt will invite friends round to watch soccer on ZBC on Sunday afternoon. It’s English football or South African.

The Third Chimurenga is fought by poor patriots. The fruits are enjoyed by those with political power.