No benefits of 'reforms'

HARARE - With elections expected mid-year, Zanu PF and its agents have already stepped up the campaign of harassment.

The signs are ominous. The current onslaught on civil society casts doubt on the prospect of free and fair elections.

But generally worrisome is that four years of so-called reforms do not appear to have changed much.

The ongoing crackdown on NGOs, the seizure of radio receivers and threats of arrest for possessing them, portend to a restricted public sphere that has always characterised elections.

It is difficult to speak of any substantive reforms when citizens are restricted access to a variety of information sources.

Because Zanu PF has failed to block the signals or exact retribution on the external broadcasters, it has resorted to confiscating radio receivers from poor citizens.  

Zimbabweans have resorted to external media sources for known reasons; the local broadcast media is outrageously biased towards Zanu PF.

The raids on NGOs and threats are perhaps testament to Zanu PF’s realisation that its now-shunned media no longer holds the capacity to influence the electorate.

For how else can one explain the stifling of alternative media sources by a party that has total control of the local broadcast media?

In order to justify the ongoing raids, Zanu PF ascribes subversive intent on the part of NGOs. But we have gone down this path before.

Opposition and civic society leaders like Ndabaningi Sithole, Morgan Tsvangirai and Jestina Mukoko have all been subjects of baseless allegations of treason and subversion. Any opponent of Zanu PF is a criminal.

The real objective of the NGOs crackdown was announced by Charity Charamba, the police spokesperson, who, frankly speaking, sounded like a Zanu PF political commissar, with the usual pretensions of professional policing.

She says the NGOs activities are putting Zanu PF and President Mugabe at electoral disadvantage.

In other words, the police are acting primarily to protect the political interests of Zanu PF.

However, the police do not act to safeguard the political interests of other parties, routinely arresting MDC supporters for spurious reasons and banning the party’s rallies instead.

Because of Zanu PF’s disdain towards messages other than its own, the current crackdown on alternative media sources may mean the MDC will not enjoy access to the local broadcast media during the elections.

The MDC should be aware that the current onslaught could also presage arrests of its supporters in the coming months.

But it appears Mugabe’s tea has softened Tsvangirai.

It came as a surprise the MDC leader endorsed the appointment of Jacob Mudenda as chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC); a dyed-in-the-wool Zanu PF man.

After years of human rights abuses and murders of MDC supporters at the hands of Zanu PF, Tsvangirai went on to “defend” the appointment of Mudenda.

The ZHRC should, among other roles, check on the current excesses of the police.

Mudenda may not be in Zanu PF structures. But does Tsvangirai really believe that he will challenge the police? It beggars belief.

When a constitution has been agreed on you expect people to at least abide by its principles; you do not have to wait for it to come into force because the process of making it should entail a change of political culture. Clearly, constitutional reform has not occasioned that transformation.

The latest crackdown on civil society demonstrates the importance of other reforms that, probably, would have made more immediate impact.

A change of leadership at the police would have given a chance for a free pre-election environment.
Already, an atmosphere of fear, synonymous with one prior to the 2008 runoff when many were killed, is being created.   

Citizens are threatened with arrest for owning a mere radio receiver.

Who will stand up for the fundamental right of these poor people to receive and impart information?

Jacob Mudenda and ZHRC? - Conrad Nyamutata

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