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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Review of SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections - Opinion and Analysis

  • Electoral Issues
    Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
    Extracted from Weekly Media Update 2004-42
    Monday October 18th - Sunday October 24th 2004

    THE government-controlled media’s role as slavish defenders of government policies further found expression in the way they passively allowed authorities to misrepresent the spirit of the SADC Charter on democratic elections in a bid to justify their cosmetic electoral reforms ahead of the 2005 parliamentary polls.

    While they propagated every excuse the authorities offered for not fully subscribing to the regional electoral guidelines, they simultaneously dismissed all other voices that dared question government’s stance as being unpatriotic and fronts of foreign interests.

    These media continued to allow government officials free rein to extol the supposed virtues of repressive laws such as AIPPA and POSA as consistent with the SADC principles and guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections, despite the fact that these laws are anathema to elementary standards of democracy.

    Only the private media exposed this fallacy by measuring the government claims against the SADC Charter.

    For example, while The Daily Mirror (22/10) highlighted worries by the Zimbabwe Liberators’ Peace Initiative (ZLPI) over government’s reluctance to fully implement SADC’s electoral guides, ZTV (21/10, 6pm), Radio Zimbabwe & Power FM (21/10, 8pm) and The Herald (22/10) were busy diverting attention from government’s non-reformist attitude by counter-accusing the West of trying to discredit the country’s pending polls.

    For example, The Herald quoted Foreign Affairs Minister Stan Mudenge alleging that "some western countries and organisations" had not only begun producing documents intended to tarnish the Zimbabwe polls, but were also scheming to influence "the composition of the African Union and SADC observer teams for the elections so that the teams’ reports could reflect their preconceived opinions and not the actual facts."

    Thus, added Mudenge, "they were now devising a scheme to measure Zimbabwean elections using the SADC ambassadors", a development that he said would compel Zimbabwe to "bar" these diplomats from observing the election "despite the fact that they are already accredited in the country". But instead of challenging Mudenge to substantiate his claims, ZTV (21/10, 6 & 8pm) simply sided with him and gave the impression that there would be nothing unusual in Zimbabwe barring foreign observers because the US too, had not invited observers for its forthcoming elections.

    ZANU PF apologists Tafataona Mahoso and William Nhara, who were presented masquerading as analysts, were quoted saying "the refusal by the Republican Party to allow foreign observers for the forthcoming elections is hypocritical", adding that this "has characterised (US President George W) Bush’s domestic and foreign policies".

    The station then used the controversy surrounding the US 2000 election to discredit that country’s electoral conduct as flawed and not worth drawing lessons from.

    One of ZTV’s favourite analysts, Claude Maredza, contended: "America is ruled by wasps (White Anglo Saxon Protestants). Basically, these are satanic freemasonic white people who hegemonically rule America… As Zimbabweans we are wasting our time trying to explain ourselves to America and the West. Let’s forget about America."

    Similarly, the Chronicle (23/10) comment, Of the West and its double standards, lambasted the West for its alleged hypocritical approach to the Zimbabwean elections. But like its counterparts, the paper did not provide any evidence to support its claims let alone carry comparative analyses of the set of electoral rules the West wanted to evaluate Zimbabwe’s elections with against those by SADC.

    However, the private media challenged the government media’s notion that Zimbabwe’s electoral problems emanated solely from Western interference in the country’s affairs. They argued that these were largely self-inflicted.

    For example, The Standard (24/10) columnist Pius Wakatama blamed the ruling ZANU PF for tarnishing the image of Zimbabwe beyond "recognition" because of its dislike for the truth.

    Said Wakatama: "Even in Africa our real friends are now few and far between. We can’t stand them because they tell us the truth, which we don’t like to hear…we see them as agents of imperialist Western countries who want to ‘take away the gains of our independence.’"

    In fact, despite the Chronicle’s (23/10) observations that the country had a "stated position of respecting the SADC guidelines", The Zimbabwe Independent (22/10) contradicted these assertions when it quoted MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai raising fears that the ruling ZANU PF may have already started "rigging" next year’s elections using the latest "fictitious" voters roll.

    The paper cited Tsvangirai alleging that an analysis of the hard copy of the new voters’ roll recently availed to his party by the Registrar General’s office showed that hundreds of thousands of voters had been removed from his party’s strongholds while massively boosting numbers in rural areas, support bases for the ruling ZANU PF. This was surprising, said Tsvangirai, considering that the 2002 population census depicted population increases in urban centres than in rural areas. Consequently, added the MDC leader, urban areas were likely to lose some seats during the ongoing delimitation exercise.

    Studio 7 carried a similar report the following day.

    Government’s electoral reforms further suffered more credibility problems as the private media continued to expose the fallacy behind the authorities’ drive to democratise the conduct of the country’s elections. For instance, The Standard and Sunday Mirror (24/10) carried critical reports on government plans to deny at least two million Zimbabweans working abroad from voting in next year’s polls, at a time when countries such as Mozambique had registered their citizens living in Zimbabwe to vote.

    Moreover, The Daily Mirror (19 & 21/10), The Standard and SW Radio Africa carried nine reports of fresh incidents of rights abuses perpetrated against MDC supporters, independent journalists and members of civic society by ZANU PF activists and state security agents.

    The government media censored such incidents. Instead, ZTV (20/10, 6 and 8pm) tried to present the opposition as the instigator of the violence saying the MDC has recently "been urging people to be violent and then blame ZANU- PF for violence". However, there were no concrete examples cited to substantiate the claims.

    While the official media tried to gloss over the country’s electoral problems by giving the impression that government was fully complying with the regional charter on elections, The Daily Mirror on Saturday (23/10) revealed that SADC was not impressed by the situation in the country. The paper reported that a SADC troika, led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, would soon be in the country to help resolve the political impasse between ZANU PF and the MDC by urging the ruling party government to implement the region’s electoral norms.

    The government media ignored these developments.

    Rather, The Sunday Mail (24/10) columnist, Lowani Ndlovu, deliberately obliterated the crux of the Saturday Mirror’s "diabolic" revelations by carrying personal vitriolic attacks on the author of the story, including its sources. The columnist even added more confusion to the matter by suffocating his audiences with semantics over the difference between the SADC electoral "norms" as reported by the Mirror as compared to the SADC "guidelines and principles", which he contended were not "binding" because they had "no force of law".

    And contrary to previous government claims that Zimbabwe was instituting its electoral reforms in the "spirit and letter" of the SADC Charter, Ndlovu revealed that Zimbabwe had "in fact, adopted its own principles well ahead of the SADC Summit in Mauritius", which gave birth to the electoral agreement.

    Meanwhile, fears that the country’s state security agencies would not handle election related cases professionally because of their inclination towards ZANU PF were given credibility by reports in The Herald (21/10) and on Radio Zimbabwe (21/10, 6am), ZTV (21/10, 7am) and Power FM (21/10, 1pm), which unwittingly exposed the agencies’ partisanship. The Herald quoted Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri almost echoing the bigoted language of the ruling party when he allegedly noted that, "the elections posed a challenge to all police officers and beckons the need for well thought out tactical plans to counter enemies of the state, whose fortunes thrive on bashing the image of the country".

    Not to be outdone, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander, Constantine Chiwenga, was quoted on ZBC telling his visiting Malawian counterpart that "ZDF supports Mugabe" adding that, "the current challenges being faced by the country are a passing phase."

    Echoing ZANU PF’s rhetoric he further contended: "Zimbabwe will not apologise for reclaiming its heritage, land, from colonial masters" and told the Malawian commander that he "will be better informed after his visit and clear misrepresentations and onslaught of our country to the international community by detractors".

    The Daily Mirror (18/10) reported MDC MP Willias Madzimure objecting to such partisanship when moving a motion in Parliament on how the law enforcement agencies were discharging their duties. Madzimure accused the State of "interfering" and "usurping" the powers granted to the police by the Police Act, a situation he said had resulted in the force dropping its ranking from Africa’s best police force to one that "is repressive and driven by partisanship".

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