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Post strike retribution - Excerpt from Weekly update 2003-23
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
June 09 - June 15, 2003

THE arrest and detention of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai following the opposition organized mass action, was by no means the only form of government’s retribution against perceived opponents during the week. Government officials also threatened to punish farmers, businesses, teachers and even some diplomats for allegedly supporting the MDC protest.

While the government-controlled media unquestioningly regurgitated the authorities’ inflammatory statements, exposing themselves to be the unbridled conduits of hate speech and willing tools of incitement, the private media condemned such threats and analyzed their underlying implications.

When the week opened, ZBC (09/6, 8pm) quoted Information Minister Jonathan Moyo defending Tsvangirai’s arrest and misrepresenting the MDC’s democratic right to demonstrate peacefully by claiming that the opposition wanted to topple the government "through incitement to violence and lawlessness".

No effort was made to clarify this deliberate distortion of the MDC’s agenda, which also rubbed off on the government-controlled Press. For example, The Herald (9/6), which openly mocked and celebrated Tsvangirai’s detention, castigated him for thinking that he was "above the law" by "instigating the overthrow of a legitimately elected Government". It observed that his arrest "will reassure Zimbabweans that the justice system is alive and well in the country". This was hardly surprising as the paper led the campaign for Tsvangirai’s arrest before and during the MDC organized demonstrations.

In fact, Tsvangirai’s lawyer George Bizos referred to this media coverage during Tsvangirai’s bail application when he noted that the State had based its case against the MDC leader on "editorialized allegations from newspaper cuttings", The Daily News (12/6).

Even The Herald (12/6) quoted Bizos as having told the High Court that the paper "purported to give directions to the judiciary as to how it should deal with Tsvangirai".

It was only the private media that viewed the arrest as vindictive and a violation of the opposition’s democratic right to peaceful protest. The Standard (15/6) for example, described the arrest as "callous and cruel" adding that Tsvangirai did not call for " the unconstitutional removal of President Mugabe" as the government and the media it controls claimed.

To demonstrate that Tsvangirai had not called for the violent ouster of government, The Daily News on Sunday carried a transcript of Tsvangirai’s speech upon which the State based their case. Nowhere in the transcript did he call for the "unconstitutional" removal of President Mugabe. Earlier, its sister paper, The Daily News (13/6) reported that Tsvangirai’s lawyers also produced in court video evidence of him calling on his supporters to shun violence during the proposed demonstrations. The Herald of the same day also revealed this, but still continued to give the impression that he was guilty.

In fact, President Mugabe made it abundantly clear while addressing a rally in Nyanga on June 12 that Tsvangirai’s arrest was indeed a fulfillment of his government’s threat, that it would teach the MDC a "lesson". ZBC (12/6, 8pm) quoted Mugabe as saying "We hope they have learnt their lesson. If they haven’t they will learn it the harder way. Harder than it has been so far". He mockingly equated remand prison where Tsvangirai is being detained to State House. Mugabe made similar threats while addressing another rally in Nyamandlovu, ZBC (13/6, 8pm) and The Herald (14/6).

During the Nyanga rally Mugabe also declared that government would crack down on the MDC and its perceived sympathizers, corroborating The Daily News story (9/6), Mugabe cracks whip. ZTV (12/06, 8pm) quoted him accusing British High Commissioner, Sir Brian Donnelly, of supporting the MDC and threatened to "kick him out of this country" if he continued to do so.

As has become the norm in the public media, Mugabe’s accusations against Britain and its High Commissioner were simply taken as fact as illustrated by editorials in The Herald (14/6) and The Sunday News (15/6). The Herald, Writing on the wall for Donnelly, passively agreed with Mugabe, saying the British government believed that "in Donnelly, they have found a man of equal stamina to plot and topple President Mugabe and his government".

No evidence was provided to support these serious allegations and no comment was sought from the High Commission. Its response was only accessed by The Daily News (14/6) and The Standard (15/6).

ZBC (12/6, 8pm) also quoted Mugabe threatening to seize farms still owned by white commercial farmers, whom he accused of supporting the MDC. He singled out MDC MP Roy Bennet as one of the targets: "The likes of Bennett, De Klerk are not deserving cases in regard to allocation of land because they are destabilizing our society, they are for illegality, they are supporting a party in its programme of pursuing an illegal course to power… If they have that land, that land will be taken from them and given to more loyal citizens… They must go from here"

These vindictive and racist outbursts belied Mugabe’s claims at international fora that his land reforms were merely a correction of colonial injustice and that political affiliation had no place in the process. However, this escaped ZBC’s analytical capacity.Neither did the government-controlled Press highlight this contradiction of policy. The Herald and the Chronicle (13/6) simply recorded Mugabe’s speech without any scrutiny.

However, The Standard (15/6) deplored Mugabe’s remarks saying they were tantamount to "gross abuse of power". The paper also observed that such statements vindicate those who "attach a racist" label to Mugabe’s name.

The Daily News on Sunday noted that Mugabe’s remarks would trigger fresh farm invasions and quoted MDC shadow Agriculture Minister Renson Gasela as saying they would further "cripple the agriculture industry".

Besides threats against white farmers, diplomats and the MDC, ZBC (ZTV, 9/6,8pm) also revealed that "six companies risk losing their operating licences for not opening business last week as government takes stern measures against companies that defied a directive to trade". According to Trade and Industry Minister, Samuel Mumbengegwi, government had identified 14 companies that closed during the stayaway and that of these six were "totally uncooperative" in providing reasons why they had done so, while the remaining "eight were very conciliatory".

Without naming the companies, Mumbengegwi said the six businesses would "be taken over either by indigenous entrepreneurs" or by "government through its arm, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC)".

The minister did not elaborate about how such takeovers would take place. ZBC did not seek any legal opinion on the issue, or the implications of taking such measures.

Instead, the broadcaster called for punitive measures against teachers and transport operators. For example, ZTV (11/6,7am) claimed: "Most people said the punitive action should also be applied to schools, transport operators and other essential service providers who supported illegal demonstrations by withdrawing service… Some transport operators were allegedly paid a week’s earnings by the opposition to withdraw their vehicles from service resulting in many workers failing to report for duty…" Not a shred of evidence was provided to support these claims.

The next day, The Daily News (12/6) reported that teachers, who were suspected of supporting the mass action, were already facing the brunt of ZANU PF intolerance. The Daily News, its Sunday sister and the Weekend Tribune carried 12 incidents of physical assaults and intimidation of perceived MDC activists by alleged ZANU-PF supporters. None appeared in the government-controlled media.

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