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The complicity of our neighbour
Briggs Bomba
October 26, 2006

For a long time now, ordinary Zimbabweans have had a legitimate expectation that South Africa will use its leverage as the biggest political and economic power in Sub Saharan Africa to support the realization of the democratic ideals of the people of Zimbabwe and help resolve the crippling poverty and socio-economic breakdown gripping the nation.

While Pretoria has played a direct role in places like Lesotho and others as far as DRC, Ivory Cost, Sudan and so on, South Africa’s attitude towards the crisis gripping its northern neighbor has been characterized more by an unintelligible stance, officially defined as ‘quite diplomacy’ which in practice camouflages the reality of Pretoria’s subtle support for the Mugabe regime.

For the role played by, not just the South African government and its public institutions but also South African private capital can not be described as anything less than a complicity relationship with the regime of Robert Mugabe.

The people of Zimbabwe thus feel understandably let down by their one key neighbour who could have the greatest influence on the present crisis. Details coming out of the recent Sisulu Commission of enquiry into the SABC only add on to this feeling of great betrayal. It has emerged from the Sisulu Commission that the SABC, acting on the instructions of its managing director, Dr Snuki Zikala, blacklisted certain civil society voices on Zimbabwe because of particular views they hold on the crisis. Zikalala is the Managing Director, SABC News and Current Affairs and a former ANC political commissar.

Among those banned from the station is Arch Bishop Pius Ncube of the Roman Catholic Church, Mail and Guardian Publisher Trevor Ncube, Elinor Sisulu, the Media manager for the Crisis Coalition South Africa office and political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki, young brother to Thabo, who is a strong critic of Mugabe’s policies.

This is a serious scandal if one considers the fact that the SABC as a public broadcaster has an obligation to provide the public with a balanced view on the crisis in Zimbabwe. Zikalala justifies banning Ncube by saying, ‘Trevor Ncube has his newspapers which he uses to attack Mugabe everyday and why should I give him space on my broadcaster’.

He thinks Elinor and Moeletsi Mbeki are removed and misinformed on Zimbabwe. And he hasn’t had the courage to tell anyone why Pius Ncube should not be allowed to comment on Zimbabwe. Whatever Zikalala says it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to see that his agenda is to systematically marginalize voices critical of Mugabe’s policies from the SABC.

This becomes the latest in a series of evidence confirming how the SABC is violating journalism’s cardinal principle of giving professional and unbiased coverage and instead acting as a ‘solidarity broadcaster’ for Mugabe’s regime. The SABC’s coverage of Zimbabwe’s 2005 parliamentary elections immediately springs back to mind.

The broadcaster had a team of 59 journalists in the country whose coverage of the elections was nothing less than a public relations mission for Mugabe and his regime. When Zimbabweans were dismissing the elections as predetermined citing serious distortions of the playing field in favour of the ruling party, the SABC’s main anchor Hope Zinde shocked Zimbabweans by declaring, within a matter of a few hours of checking into Harare’s Sheraton Hotel, that the conditions were conducive for free and fair elections.

"The first thing that I have to say", she said in her report, " is that this is a very peaceful country, contrary to many reports out there, especially in South Africa and some western media…’

Zinde was saying all this after being in the country for just a few hours and in the face of records of serious intimidation and violations recorded by local and international monitors.

People also remember Zikalala’s interview with Mugabe just after the elections where he proved to be a fan of the despised dictator. It was an embarrassing show. Zikalala behaved like a shy schoolboy and helpfully avoided confronting Mugabe with any difficulty questions. No questions were asked on the serious violations of the SADC Protocol on elections recorded by various local and international observers. Issues of equal opportunities for all parties to access state media, independence of the Judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions, the draconian acts that seriuously curtailed political space, violence and intimidation, politicization of food distribution, banning and disruption of opposition meetings, attack and forced closure of independent press and so on. None of this was important to Zikalala. At the end of the interview, Zikalala even compliments Mugabe saying, ‘it’s a very peaceful country and we have seen the economic turnaround ourselves’. What peace was that and which economic turnaround?

For the SABC to take such a partisan stance is the most disgraceful thing a public broadcaster that holds itself in high regard can ever do. To have on this very late hour, the likes of the SABC being part of the band wagon playing smoke and mirrors and deceiving the world on the reality of the situation in Zimbabwe today is not just extremely unfortunate but also the most dishonorable thing. If the matter at stake were a sporting match this maybe would have been just silly. However in this case this shameful conduct cannot be anything less than tragic because the crisis in Zimbabwe is now a humanitarian emergency in which millions of innocent lives are at stake and .

Under Mugabe’s dictatorship people have been reduced to a nation of foraging paupers stripped of any dignity. Mothers have to endure the pain of seeing their children wailing of hunger and not knowing what to do. Workers can barely go through a week on a minimum wage. Communities have to cope without basics like water and electricity. The sick can not get drugs. The vast majority of the population is now destitute and just waiting for god. And what is revolting is that people have all this piled on them and are told not to complain. At gunpoint!

Recently the world saw shocking images of Mugabe’s police brutalizing workers who dared to raise their voices. For simply exercising their democratic right to peacefully march in protest against unbearable levels of poverty, demanding an end to harassment of informal traders and calling for access to ARVs, ZCTU workers were brutalized by Mugabe’s running dogs. Footage from the march shows Zimbabwe Republic Police details mercilessly pounding arrested workers with baton sticks like donkeys. The images are so barbaric that they invoke memories of colonial era state barbarism. Testimonies from the arrested workers tell of unrelenting beatings and torture within cells. The ZCTU secretary general Wellington Chibhebhe was beaten until he lost consciousness. The Vice President Lucia Matibenga burst an eardrum from repeated clapping and pictures show her whole body bruised and blackened from beatings. Many others including the ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo got broken limbs. If the thuggish behavior of the police was shocking, even more outrageous was to hear Mugabe audaciously condoning these callous acts.

This is the point history must record; the impunity and well-documented cruelty of the Zimbabwe Republic Police has blessings from Mugabe himself. This just goes to show that Mugabe’s exhausted regime owes its survival to force and coercion. Violence has become the regime’s first instinct and in its exhausted mentality, the regime stupidly believes that torturing the messengers will somehow destroy the message.

This is the reality that Zikalala and his ilk do not want the world to see. It has become the habit of the regime to brutally thwart any protest. Mothers have been beaten and locked up for handing out roses on the streets and peacefully demanding justice. Student activists have been detained and tortured at maximum prisons for defending the right to education. Civil society activists are harassed and frustrated left right and center. Whatever doctoring people like Zikalala can do, the truth of the matter is that the voices of protest as recently expressed by the ZCTU and other brave activists resonate deep within the hearts of millions of Zimbabweans. The peace that Zikalala and the likes of Hope Zinde preach to the world is in reality a tense silence maintained through guns, baton sticks and the threat of things worse.

The SABC’s shameful stance on Zimbabwe must be understood as consistent to Pretoria’s own deplorable foreign policy on Zimbabwe. The South African government observer missions to Zimbabwe’s disputed elections since 2000 have been the quickest to declare a free and fair verdict and dismiss irregularities raised by other local and international observers. To this day the South African government has failed to live up to its international responsibility on Zimbabwe refusing to acknowledge the full extent of the crisis in Zimbabwe. At the same time, South Africa has been the first to frustrate efforts to bring Zimbabwe on the agenda of multi-lateral foras. Recently Mbeki deflected responsibilities from his shoulders and misled the world by alleging that Mkapa was facilitating a dialogue initiative which turned out to be fictitious.

What one does not understand is why Mbeki fails to act positively on Zimbabwe when it is clear that the degeneration of Zimbabwe has an adverse social impact on South Africa and will ultimately have severe consequences for regional stability. Already South Africa is seriously inundated with thousands of Zimbabwean political and economic refugees escaping the crisis. These poor victims of the Zimbabwe crisis are not even regard as refugees who deserve protection under international law but just as illegal immigrants, who are hunted down like criminals, detained in the most deplorable conditions and deported back to Zimbabwe.

In the face of such shameful conduct from Pretoria, an urgent task therefore lies on the shoulders of progressive minded South Africans to extend a hand of solidarity to the people of Zimbabwe. Unequivocal positions taken so far by COSATU, South African Social Movements and recently the Progressive Youth Alliance in support of the democratic struggle in Zimbabwe need the support of the wider South African population. With ruling elites extending unprincipled solidarity to each other the only hope and effective counter is principled people to people solidarity. The South African public must call their government and public institutions like the SABC to account for their disgraceful collusion with oppression in Zimbabwe.

At this hour of greatest need there is nothing more unhelpful to the cause of democracy and social justice in Zimbabwe than this connivance from South Africa. Despite all these odds, Zimbabweans retain the deepest conviction that justice will ultimately prevail over brutal repression because history itself is always on the side of justice. Always. And at the end, Zimbabweans will remember not just the deeds of their oppressors but also the complicity of their neighbours.

Uhuru! Freedom! Rusununguko! Nkululeko!

Onward with the struggle comrades! We shall overcome!

*Briggs Bomba is a Zimbabwean activist; he can be reached on

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