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Media Law Handbook for Southern Africa – Zimbabwe chapter
Justine Limpitlaw, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung
August 25, 2013

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Zimbabwe became the then British colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1923. In 1965, the leader, Ian Smith, made a unilateral declaration of independence as Rhodesia, which was immediately declared illegal by Great Britain. In the late 1960s and during the 1970s, armed liberation movements launched an internal guerrilla war of liberation. In 1979, Ian Smith’s government was forced to the negotiating table at Lancaster House, where agreement was reached on a democratic constitution.

Robert Mugabe was the first democratically elected leader of Zimbabwe, which has a population of approximately 12 million people. Some 30 years down the line, however, the United States State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report on Zimbabwe believes that the past four elections in 2002, 2005, 2008 and the presidential run-off elections also in 2008 were ‘not free and fair’. Zimbabwe’s declining gross domestic product, inflation woes, declining life expectancy rates, political violence and generally low levels of political freedom, including freedom of the press and other media, are well documented.

In 2008, the so-called Global Political Agreement, a power-sharing agreement was entered into between the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriot Front (Zanu-PF), and both factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). This power-sharing arrangement resulted in a new Constitution being negotiated and endorsed in a national referendum in March 2013. At the time of writing, the date for the proposed elections remains to be finalised. In addition, there are still worrying examples of political violence and widespread doubts as to whether there is a genuine commitment to free and fair elections on the part of Zimbabwe’s ruling party.

This chapter introduces working journalists and other media practitioners to the legal environment governing media operations in Zimbabwe. The chapter is divided into five sections:

  • Media and the constitution
  • Media-related legislation
  • Media-related regulations
  • Media self-regulation
  • Media-related common law based on decided cases

The aim of this chapter is to equip the reader with an understanding of the main laws governing the media in Zimbabwe. Key weaknesses and deficiencies in these laws will also be identified. The hope is to encourage media law reform in Zimbabwe, to better enable the media to fulfil its role of providing the public with relevant news and information, and to serve as a vehicle for government - citizen debate and discussion.

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