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


Back to Index

Political violence, torture and beatings
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Weekly Media Update 2007-10
Monday March 12th 2007 - Sunday March 18th 2007

Censorship, distortions and conspiracies characterized government media's coverage of the violence that erupted following the crushing of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign's Highfield prayer meeting and the subsequent world reaction to the matter. For instance, they continued to reproduce distorted police accounts of the circumstances leading to the violence, which dishonestly depicted the law enforcement agents and civilians as targets of mindless opposition violence.

It is against this background that ZBC and the official Press gave prominence to police victims of the alleged MDC violence while simultaneously suffocating the brutal beatings of opposition leaders at police stations and the extent of the injuries they sustained. For example, during the week The Herald carried nine front-page stories portraying the MDC as the instigators of the violence. Pictures of the police victims of the alleged violence accompanied some of the stories. These included those of two badly burnt policewomen whose house at Marimba Police Station was allegedly petrol bombed by "suspected MDC supporters".

Without verifying some of the police claims on incidents of alleged MDC violence - which The Herald (15/3) catalogued - the official papers carried 21 opinion pieces and nine cartoons that reinforced the authorities' vilification of the opposition as inherently violent. Notably, all the official media reports on the alleged "orgy of violence" by the MDC only relied on police accounts of the events and ignored opposition and independent observations.

But while the government Press amplified officials' accusations against the MDC, they censored the scale of police brutality against opposition and civic leaders as well as general members of the public. The Herald (14/3), for example, drowned the fact that the opposition leaders were badly beaten while in police detention in a small story on their first court appearance. Even then, it cursorily referred to the matter in the context of the State's concession that the injured leaders required medical attention. Although it carried a big picture of the detained opposition activists, it depicted them in good health. The picture was juxtaposed to the paper's lead story that presented the alleged MDC's "escalating violent campaign" as part of a "desperate" effort by Britain and the US to "bring Zimbabwe before the UN".

The Herald's determination to project the MDC as violent resulted in it maintaining (17/3) that a pregnant woman had suffered a "miscarriage" after MDC youths attacked a bus in which she was travelling. This was despite the fact that the woman had earlier appeared on ZTV (13/3, 8pm) denying this, saying a doctor had in fact certified "the (unborn) child" as "okay".

ZBC also drowned the severe beating of the opposition leaders in police detention in stories that portrayed the MDC as unruly. For example, it was only three days after the beatings that ZTV (14/3, 8pm) carried brief footage of the so-called "deemed injured" opposition leaders alighting from a police truck during their first court appearance.

Instead of explaining how the leaders got injured, the station sought to cover up for the police by vaguely claiming that the injuries were a result of the leaders' "heavy brush with the law enforcement agents after resisting arrest". The broadcaster, and indeed the government Press, then swamped their audiences with official justification of the police brutality.

For example, The Herald (13/3) reported Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi saying the opposition had violated a government ban on rallies therefore "provoking" the authorities. Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena expressed similar sentiments, saying the police will take "proportionate" measures against the MDC's "militia-style attacks" (The Herald 15/3).

In addition, the government media suffocated regional and international community's outrage over the beatings. They only reported them in the form of official conspiracies in which they accused the West of colluding with the opposition to oust the government.

It was in this context that ZBC (15/3, 8pm), The Herald and Chronicle (16/3) suffocated the purpose of the visit by Tanzanian leader and SADC chairman on politics, defence and security, Jikaya Kikwete, with President Mugabe telling members of the international community who raised concerns over the police's heavy-handedness to "go hang".

Neither did ZTV (16/3, 8pm) and the official dailies (17/3) question the implications of Mugabe's threats to "arrest and bash" opposition protesters and "kick out" Western diplomats critical of his rule. Nor did they question his claims that "the police have a right to bash" protesters or discuss the implications of his calls to ensure the police are "well armed" to counter "threats (of violence by the opposition)".

Instead, they simply presented his statements as normal.

Only the private media captured the circumstances that sparked the Harare violence and the extent of the police brutality against the opposition and civic activists through graphic pictures, victims' testimonies and doctors' assessment of the injuries. They also reported extensively on the ill- treatment the victims of the police brutality received after the beatings, which included being denied food and medical attention during their two-day detention in police cells. For example, these media exposed how the victims' lawyers were prevented from accessing their clients and only managed to have them released for a remand court hearing through an urgent High Court application.

They also reported on the widespread police purge of civic activists in various urban centres. The Zimbabwe Independent (16/3), for example, carried a round-up of these abuses and recorded six incidents of police arrests and harassment of opposition, labour and student activists in Harare, Gweru, Kwekwe and Mutare. Notably, although the official media only mentioned the killing of MDC activist Gift Tandare by the police during clashes in Highfield, Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa (14/3) revealed the further beating and shooting of mourners at the activist's funeral wake by suspected state security agents. Studio 7 reported the injured as five, while SW Radio Africa put them at two.

In fact, the private media reported commentators contradicting the projection by government officials that the assaults on MDC and civic leaders were justified by citing international conventions outlawing the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. SW Radio Africa, (12/3) for instance, reported retired Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Jonathan Chawara alleging the police were not following the "three golden rules" in the use of deadly weapons against "unarmed civilians". The rules, he said, stipulated that police should not use firearms if they can achieve the objectives through other means; should not use firearms when in doubt; and should never use a firearm once an objective has been achieved.

Not only did the private media highlight police violence against the MDC and civilians, they also reported on the alleged petrol bomb attacks by suspected MDC activists on a police station in Gweru and a Marimba Police camp house (New Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Times 16/3). They also gave publicity to regional and worldwide condemnation of the police brutality and government's reaction to the criticism. However, none of the media adequately covered the Save Zimbabwe Campaign's Press conference in which the MDC factions pledged to contest the 2008 elections as a united front.

Online agencies briefly referred to the matter (16 & 17/3) while The Sunday Mail mentioned it in the context of its attempts to project the MDC and its "Western backers" as having been "thrown into panic mode" by Mugabe's announcement that he was ready to stand in the 2008 elections.

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.