THE NGO NETWORK ALLIANCE PROJECT - an online community for Zimbabwean activists  
 View archive by sector


Back to Index

Attacks on civic and religious bodies
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2004-28
Monday July 5th – Sunday July 11th 2004

This week the government media intensified their onslaught on civic bodies and the church in a bid to justify government plans to introduce a controversial law that would enable the authorities to exert their stranglehold on the operations of non-governmental and religious organisations ahead of the March 2005 elections.

The proposed law, the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Bill, would empower the authorities to police the activities of these institutions, which they have accused since the 2000 general election, of advancing foreign interests and supporting the opposition MDC at the expense of their spiritual and humanitarian roles.

Similar repressive laws such as AIPPA and POSA have been enacted under the guise of safeguarding the country’s sovereignty. These have been selectively applied to severely curtail basic rights of those perceived as enemies of the State, including the private media and the opposition MDC.

But instead of viewing the impending law as yet another attempt to further erode the country’s shrinking democratic space, the official media merely colluded with the authorities in justifying government’s stance against NGOs and the church. This was demonstrated by the way the government media unnecessarily politicised church and humanitarian aid issues or shielded government from relevant criticism over its alleged human rights excesses by the clergy. Sadly, there was no counter coverage to their reports, as the private media largely remained noncommittal on the matters.

In fact, the distribution of allegedly ‘poisonous’ sorghum seeds to farmers in Masvingo by private companies contracted by the international humanitarian organisation, CARE International, provided ZBC with a platform to propagate anti-civic organisations sentiments. For example, ZTV (12/07, 6pm) conveniently ignored facts surrounding the story in an effort to malign CARE and use the issue to vindicate government’s claims that NGOs were bent on sabotaging the country’s programmes. Radio Zimbabwe and ZTV (13/7, 6pm) even tried to build a conspiracy theory on the issue alleging that the fact that the seed came from Botswana has "raised speculation…of interference on the part of the Americans and the British, who have made it clear that they were working with neighbouring countries to effect a regime change in Zimbabwe".

While grudgingly acknowledging the role CARE played in providing food assistance in the past, ZTV claimed that the organisation, and indeed other relief agencies, were deliberately inducing food shortages in the country to "undermine the agrarian reforms and justify their stay in the country". No evidence was provided to support this claim.

Rather, selected individuals and farmers’ organisations representatives were quoted calling for "drastic actions against NGOs", adding that a "law to closely monitor the operations of NGOs" should be put in place. Similarly, Radio Zimbabwe (13/7, 8pm) quoted unnamed individuals saying, "the granting of wrong seeds resembles an attempt to poison all Zimbabweans". The Sunday Mail (18/7) echoed similar views despite the fact that CARE published a Press statement in the same issue of the paper explaining the matter.

The church was not spared either. The government media lambasted the local Catholic Church and its Bulawayo archbishop, Pius Ncube, for allegedly causing chaos in the country by misrepresenting the human rights situation in Zimbabwe to the international community. As a result, the Chronicle (12/7) ran an emotionally-charged comment calling on the "Pope (to) discipline Archbishop Ncube" for having allegedly stopped "preaching repentance to the people" but taking "every opportunity afforded him to lie about his own country and President Mugabe". The paper’s comment followed a Sunday News (11/7) report, which reported Ncube as having criticised Mugabe’s leadership qualities and expressing doubts about the fairness of next year’s general elections. The Herald (13/7) followed suit. It quoted ZANU PF’s secretary for information in South Africa, Gadzira Chirumanzu attacking Ncube saying he was agitating for " chaos and insurrection". Said Chirumanzu: "The archbishop has abandoned his flock and seems to have decided to become a full time politician. Surely that is his right, but he must not weep when he is treated as such by other politicians."

The Catholic Church in South Africa was also targeted. The Chronicle (14/7) castigated it for having joined the crusade to lobby its government to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe at the "spirited" instigation of Ncube. So incensed by the activities of the church was government that it reportedly urged the Roman Catholic church to "rein in one of its arms, the Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace (CCJP)" which, the authorities claimed, had been calling on the Australian government to tighten screws on the country, The Daily Mirror (13/7). The paper said the call came in the wake of the resumption of communication between the CCJP and Brisbane’s Justice and Peace Commission, which resulted in the Australians writing a letter to their government on behalf of the CCJP, asking for its continued opposition to Zimbabwe.

The Mirror quoted Department of Information secretary George Charamba describing the CCJP’s actions as electioneering and as a fundraising activity ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. But the CCJP national director, Alouis Munyaradzi Chaumba, defended his organisation’s activities saying, "Government is intolerant to other views and that is destroying our country." He said that the recent African Commission on Human and People’s Rights report, which accused government of excessive human rights abuses, reflected a true "observation that there was harassment of journalists, lawyers and civil society". Reminding readers of the CCJP’s role during the liberation struggle and the Matebeleland and Midlands disturbances in the mid-1980s, the Mirror cited the Catholic Church insisting that contrary to government’s claims, its role as champions of civic liberties had not changed.

Meanwhile, The Herald and Chronicle (12/7) tried to politicise last month’s appointment by Pope John Paul II of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hwange, Robert Ndlovu, as the archbishop for Harare. In their reports, which bordered on tribalism, the papers cited unnamed sources as contesting the appointment, which they described as irregular and "a slap in the face", saying it had created "a rift" in the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe because church members were questioning the "rationale of appointing someone from Matebeleland to head the Harare archdiocese" ahead of "suitable" candidates from Mashonaland. The appointment, highlighted the papers, would mean that Zimbabwe’s archbishops would both come from Matebeleland since archbishop Pius Ncube of the Bulawayo Diocese also hails from the same region.

The papers did not, however, detail how the touted Mashonaland candidates were better suited for the job than Ndlovu. Instead, they merely cited "concerned church members" as being "particularly incensed" by the approval given to Ndlovu’s appointment by vocal government critics such as Mike Auret, the former director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, and Father Nigel Johnson, a cleric based in Bulawayo. Based on the presumption of political machinations in the appointment of Ndlovu, the papers then quoted part of a petition that the "concerned church members" intended to send to the Pope "so that he would rescind his decision". They argued that Ndlovu’s appointment "should have put aside the politics of the day, racism, regionalism, tribalism…"

In fact, the extent to which the government media politicised the issue was further illustrated by the way The Herald (13/7) reluctantly accepted clarification on Ndlovu’s appointment by the Pope’s representative in Zimbabwe, Apostolic Nuncio Father Edward Adam. Though the paper quoted Father Adam as saying the appointment was non-political and was done "through the regular process required by Roman Catholic Church" it still maintained that there were suspicions by some church members that the selection was "unprocedural".

ZBC and the private media ignored the story.

Visit the MMPZ fact sheet

Please credit if you make use of material from this website. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.