Wrestling with a skeleton

This past week in Parliament has been quite an experience.

MDC tabled two motions which really set the cat amongst the pigeons – the first was a motion to rein in the activities of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe and to reverse its recent decision to award the first radio broadcasting licenses to two groups both linked to Zanu PF. The second motion called for the dismissal of the Clerk of Parliament on various grounds related to his performance and partisan approach to the administration of the affairs of the House of Assembly.

Any casual observer visiting the House and sitting in the gallery would have been astounded at the reaction to these two motions. The Zanu PF side of the House simply erupted and an outsider might well have asked just what all the fuss was about.

The truth is that both motions touched what is at the very core of Zanu’s attempts at survival in the political arena that is Zimbabwe today. The GPA calls for a comprehensive restructuring of the institutions for control and management of the mass media in Zimbabwe. These include the Broad Casting Authority, the Mass Media Trust and other institutions. At stake is Zanu PF control over the state controlled and owned print and electronic media in Zimbabwe: 7 newspapers, four radio stations and the sole television channel.

Not so apparent to an outsider is the insidious influence over the independent media – the Independent, the Standard and the Newsday are all part of the stable of news papers published by a group controlled by Trevor Ncube, a close ally of Welshman Ncube and clearly influenced by elements associated with Zanu PF and South Africa. The group is no friend of the MDC (T) or Morgan Tsvangirai. The influential Financial Gazette is owned by a front for the CIO and is cleverly edited, leaving only the Daily News as a major daily with a mass circulation and some substantive independent credentials.

All the other media players are external, even though they are managed by Zimbabweans, this includes the Voice of the People, Studio 7 (VOA) and SW Radio as well as the Zimbabwean, a paper published in South Africa and edited from London by Wilf Mbanga.

Zanu PF knows full well the power and influence of the mass media and in particular the radio. In my view radio is the most important of the mass media systems in the Zimbabwean political context. Studio 7 is listened to by half the population every day, even though it only broadcasts for a short period each evening – the main reason is that it is broadcast on Medium Wave from a station in Botswana and is difficult to jam. Chinese supplied jamming equipment has made life very difficult for short wave listeners.

So when the BAZ started the process to grant licenses to independent radio stations, the exercise was watched with great interest. The outcome was predictable, if almost laughable. After great fanfare and elaborate and public rhetoric they gave two licenses – one to Zimpapers, the State controlled print media group who spew out a daily avalanche of propaganda against all Zanu PF critics and opponents. The other to one of the main propaganda voices in State controlled radio and TV.

Despite their signature on the GPA and their negotiated presence in the GNU, Zanu PF has steadfastly refused to countenance any reform of the media. Thus, pressure from the MDC in Parliament upped the stakes and pressure for reform. The Zanu PF skeleton in the House fought back with all their remaining strength but knowing (and howling with frustration), that they could not stop the inevitable. The motion was passed and now goes to the Prime Minister for implementation and action.

The next motion was greeted with even more hysteria – what was all this about I could hear the thinking in the strangers gallery. What Zanu PF has done since it became apparent that they would lose significant power to the MDC and have to share government with this hated enemy, it has resorted to a strategy that was used in South Africa during the era when the Afrikaner Nationalists took power in 1949.

The Broederbond, a secret Afrikaner society, infiltrated the Civil Service placing their members in all key positions. In this way they gradually took control of the State and operated as a parallel government. Zanu PF has done the same thing and for much the same reasons. They have established a network of key appointees whom they have rewarded for their service with farms, wealth and privilege.

You can find these key players everywhere but the main ones are well known – the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, the Registrar General in Home Affairs, the Judge President and the Chief Justice, the Attorney General and the Clerk of Parliament. Using these people in key places, the old guard in Zanu PF, having been denied total control of the State, simply created a parallel government staffed by their people.

Without these people in key places Zanu PF would not have been able to fight back effectively or to prosecute their campaign as they have in the past three years. So when one of their key players, in this case the Clerk of Parliament, is attacked, it’s an attack on the whole edifice; hence the uproar in the House on Thursday. They ranted and raved, hurled abuse and threats and in the end walked out rather than stand by and watch as the vote went against them.

Parliament is the only place where the MDC has a clear majority and the Clerk is alone in being vulnerable, under the constitution, to a simple majority vote to remove him from office.

So 2011 ends, for Zanu PF on a disturbing note, their leadership ailing, their camp divided and now the pillars of their grip on the State under attack from a quarter where they have no control. On top of this, there is the steady pressure from the region for the adoption of reforms designed to establish their ultimate nightmare, an election process they no longer control and which would be difficult to manipulate.

For MDC there is the quiet understanding that the transition has begun and that there is no going back for any of the parties in the game. Whatever Zanu PF does, 2012 looks more and more like the year of change and for those who cannot accept change, it’s the end of the world.

Post published in: Opinions

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