Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
The free flow of information in Zimbabwe has long been dammed by the government, preventing the media from flooding the country with uncomfortable or inconvenient ‘truths’. In both pre- and post- colonial eras, Zimbabweans have enjoyed neither total freedom of expression nor free access to information. However, since 2000, laws enacted by the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government have tightened its already-considerable control over the flow of information and given it even greater power to determine what information is fit for citizen consumption.
The right to know is seemingly guaranteed in the Constitution but there are numer- ous qualifications and loopholes. These have permitted the authorities to pass a raft of repressive laws, which have blocked access to information and simultaneously criminalised critical journalism. The most notorious law of all is the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which was promoted by the former Minister of Information, Jonathan Moyo. This dreadful law made it illegal for anyone to practice journalism without being accredited by the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC).
Only citizens and permanent residents were eligible to be accredited and the MIC could refuse to accredit anyone who did not possess ‘the prescribed qualifications’ according to a report by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) entitled 'AIPPA five years on: A trail of destruction'. Accreditation lasted for a year and the MIC could revoke this at any time. The MIC has been replaced by the Zimbabwe Media Commission - but very little has changed in practice.
slowed in other ways, including through the enactment of the Broadcasting Services Act (2001), which facilitated strict political control over broadcasting. In addition, the draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA) of 2002 imposed severe restrictions on content in the media as well as on demonstrations and public gatherings.
Finally, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Laws Amendment Act further obstructed the flow of information and the ability of Zimbabweans to express themselves freely.
While it might seem a trifle boring to wade through this long list of laws, they illustrate a crucial point – these laws were all enacted in recent history as President Mugabe came under increasing criticism for his dictatorial rule. As the pressure grew and as he became more insecure, his government passed a series of laws which gradually narrowed the democratic space and stemmed the flow of information to the people.
Sadly, the current coalition government has not succeeded in dismantling many of the obstacles to the free flow of information, leaving the people still thirsting for greater access to information – access that they had hoped would be forthcoming following the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in 2008....
Read the rest of the article here to find out what is happening in South Africa and across the region - and then join this critical debate