Page not yet turned on Mugabe era
Installed as president in November 2017 and then elected to the position in July 2018, Emmerson Mnangagwa, Robert Mugabe’s former vice-president, pledged to reinforce the pillars of democracy including the media, which were harassed and gagged for 37 years under his dictatorial predecessor. However, Mnangagwa was notorious for suppressing dissent when he was national security minister and his first steps with regard to press freedom have been marked more by promises than anything like the concrete progress for which that journalists had hoped. Access to information has improved and self-censorship has declined, but journalists are still often attacked or arrested. The blocking of social media at the start of 2019, when major protests against a fuel price hike were being organised, shows that the regime has not renounced the use of cyber-censorship to prevent information from circulating. Hopes of journalistic renewal were further dampened in 2020 when Zimbabwe positioned itself between Nigeria and Uganda on the podium of Africa’s most repressive countries with regard to the coverage of the coronavirus crisis. After helping to expose a case of overbilling for medical supplies to combat the pandemic, investigative reporter Hopewell Chin’ono spent most of the second half of the year in prison. His arbitrary detention was a glaring symbol of the government’s failure to turn the page on the years-long predatory behaviour towards press freedom. The security apparatus has not yet lost the habit of harassing journalists and acts of intimidation, verbal attacks and confiscation of equipment are all still standard practice. The end of the broadcast monopoly long held by the state radio and TV broadcaster ZBC began to seem illusory when licences were granted to TV channels and community radio stations linked to military officers and the ruling party. Extremely harsh media laws are still in effect and, when new laws have been adopted, their provisions are just as draconian as those they replaced. Journalists are worried about a cyber-crime bill that is being drafted because it would allow the security apparatus to legally spy on private conversations. The army chief’s reference to social media as a “threat to national security” has reinforced their fears.
126 in 2020
40.95 in 2020