INTIMIDATION AND ATTEMPTS TO DENT CREDIBILITY: ZANU PF's tactic against democratic actors ahead of elections

Over the last couple of months there has been a series of seemingly unrelated events that have occupied the space of political discourse in the country, which few of us have bothered to tie together.

In spite of the seemingly unrelated nature of the incidents and conversations around them, a clear thread can be pulled through them. At the centre of attacks on Civic Society actors' by for instance The Patriot, or the unrelenting prosecutions for purposes of persecution that Journalists from the Standard and the Daily News are having to endure, is an attempt to damage the credibility, intimidate those that are pursuing a more democratic dispensation in Zimbabwe, and misdirect the public from real issues to carefully planted ruses.


The conundrum that pro-democracy actors have found themselves in has been that, focusing too much on the incidents presents the danger of creating the impression that, while they demand transparency, accountability and good behaviour from the state, they may appear not to be keen on allowing themselves to be subjected to the same scrutiny. So, oftentimes, these calculated attacks meant to create a credibility gap between democratic actors and their strategic audiences, intimidate them and move peoples attention away from pertinent political questions, are left unchallenged. The net effect being that ZANU PF gradually succeeds in its attempts, which more often than not, are based on half truths, calculated misinformation, sting operations, personal attacks and Google journalism.

Credibility is loosely defined as the quality of being trusted or being believed in. Often, this is a character that one gains through time, effort, and a track record in ones' work that turns one into a trusted and credible commentator, actor, advocate or provider of information.

Take for instance the case laid against Nxaba Matshazi of The Standard and his Editor Mr. Nevanji Madanhire. This is not the first time that the Standard or its Editor has been subjected to unjustified police and judicial action. It is clear that in this case, there are two primary cases at the centre of this incident. The first is of misdirection. While credible cases of corruption, rape involving minors ( which seems to have been swept under the judicial carpet) and release of information in the public interest can be laid against the Reserve Bank Advisor, Munyaradzi Kereke, together with a case of Rape - which seems to have been swept under the judicial carpet - people are forced to focus on issues around the sources of information, with Nxaba being portrayed as a thief for having written the story. We all believe in ethical journalism and agree that subjects in stories should be afforded the right of reply. Having said that, we also believe that unwarranted police and judicial action especially around civil defamation, is unwarranted and impedes the greater cause of freedom of expression. Journalists should not be arrested for doing their jobs. If this were the norm and the police and judicial action was not colour blind, journalists and columnists from the herald, Sunday mail and their sister paper the Patriot would have filled up the jails by now.

The foregoing is an example of how we are then suddenly forced to divert from issues of corruption, alleged rape and crumbling medical service to focus on an issue of law and media ethics, which is neither here nor there. It is the same case in Minister Chombo's riches saga, a story which itself was first Brocken by the Herald in 2010, but which Xolisani and Stanley Gama from the Daily News are no w being persecuted for. In both instances, the journalists instead of digging deeper on the issues or working towards producing more information on our public figures, in the public interest, are now having to focus on defending themselves in courts, and trying to see how to beat jail.

The second issue stems from the first. By portraying the Standard and the Daily News as unethical newspapers, their journalists as thieves and gossipers, and the Editors as reckless - there is a clear challenge to the credibility of the papers. The attempt is to create a credibility gap between the Newspapers and their readers, while at the same time intimidating into inaction the journalists in question as well as their peers who are seeing these things happening. All the while misdirecting the broader public from the issues as captured in the stories. In the case of the Daily News, attempts to enforce a credibility gap have also been by way of questioning their sources of resources for their production. Allegations were levelled to the effect that their printing press was bought by an " obscure regime change € organisation and that they get their editorial policy briefs from the Americans.

Civic Society has not been spared, with attempts at enforcing this credibility gaps being along the same lines as the Daily News line of attack. In this respect the charge has been led The Patriot Newspaper, which has spun sensational stories based on a mixture of stolen information, Google journalism, self serving half baked political analysis and misinterpretation of basic information that is in the public domain online. Organisations such as the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, ZimRIghts and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to name a few, have been the targets of the vicious attacks, with the calculated intention being to dent the credibility of these organisations in the work they do based on their receipt of foreign funding, and unfounded allegations that simply because they can attend meetings in London, they are now European Spies.

The Patriot, in whose Editorial of the 2nd of December 2011, pretty much dismissed any pretentions of being an independent Newspaper, has been aptly aided by the captured Public Media, but has gone a step further in propagating hate and putting lives of democratic actors at risks through the release of addresses of so called enemies of the state. The question is the motive behind such actions. It is my hope that Super Mandiwanzira and his editorial team are aware that if any harm of a physical nature occurs to these people based on the private information that they have provided that they will be responsible. Outside this calculated intimidation and misdirection (focusing on people instead of issues), the greater worry is that propagating hate at such levels is reminiscent of the Radio Stations in Rwanda, which played a huge part in sponsoring the genocide there in the 90's, especially now that AB Communications now have a Radio Licence.

On the Political front, the attempt by ZANU PF to counter a self evident truth that they have been at the centre of most cases of political violence in this country, has been effected by way of fluent narrative and painting an image to the region that "all the violence " is perpetrated by the Movement for Democratic Change. The attempt is to ensure that when violence visits innocent citizens or indeed members of parties opposed to ZANU PF they should lack the moral high ground because they too are violent creating a credibility gap between these actors and their audiences.

If it is true that the whole " Marriage or non-marriage € of the Prime Minister is a sting operation, without getting to discuss morals in a political discussion, it can easily fit into this fold of attempting to damage his leadership credentials, parties brand and create a credibility gap between him and the electorate. This, as a strategy has already been proven by commentators in the captured public media and in the private media, who are already making the case that if Tsvangirai can't organise himself and show leadership at the home front, how can he organise and show leadership at a national level. Fair comment, I guess, but clearly, one that is instigated by calculated machinations, and also meant to divert attention from pressing national issues and key events to issues otherwise private and personal.

Now, this line of March on the part of ZANU PF is not necessarily new. What maybe new is the introduction of a few new players to play the same old song. Initially people may appreciate the fact that there is a new energy, but because the beat is the same, sooner rather than later monotony will set in and people will recall why the beat had become boring.

Those under attack are not perfect individuals or institutions, but they should take heart from the fact that people are not the fools that ZANU PF thinks they are, and are not as malleable as they have been ensconced to be. If you are credible you are credible, and it will take much more than this to erode that credibility. Unfortunately for a struggle for Democratisation that is over a decade old, Newspapers that have had Editors tortured before and forced into exile like the Standard, or ones that have been bombed into none existence for a period like the Daily News or indeed activists and organisations that base their work on convictions and have right on their side - it will take more than misdirection and intimidation to derail them. Attempts at intimidation, creating credibility gaps and misdirection, coming from where it is coming from, can actually be a badge of honour and an indication that you are doing something right.

By Mcdonald Lewanika, Director, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition

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