In 1992 I travelled with my old friend Paul Staal (with whom I worked first in Zimbabwe in 1980) to Angola, just after the Bicesse accords ("The small period of peace", as they used to call it in Angola). We made an exhibit on the then actual state of affairs that was shown in many diferent countries (USA, Canada, Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Portugal, Angola, etc.). The Portuguese version is larger and more updated.
1998: 'Freedom is a bomb that explodes in your head'
This booklet (Published by the Netherlands Institute on Southern Africa) is the result of cooperation with Stephan Sanders: with a group of media freedom activists we travelled through Southern Africa for a snapshot of the state of the media in 1998.
"We need to clear the ruins in the minds of people", says Fernando Pacheco in Angola.
"We have the infrastructure and the conditions ... to conduct a real public debate, but the mentality is not the right one", Es'kia Mphahlele from South Africa points out.
"After so many years where everything was prohibited", Pushpa Jamieson from Malawi observes, "Freedom is a bomb that explodes in your head".
Freedom of expression is not easily achieved, especially not if a country has a history of violence, repression, dictatorship or war. To what extent are press freedom and freedom of speech and expression embedded in the newly found democracies in Southern Africa? The countries selected provide a good overview of the current state of affairs in Southern Africa: South Africa is still in the euphoric phase after having freed itself from apartheid, but, partly due to the increasing pressure brought to bear on a critical independent press, some cynicism about the future is becoming apparent. In Malawi it was only five years ago that the dictatorship under Banda made way for a hesitant democracy. Zimbabwe freed itself from colonialism eighteen years ago but still does not have a fully guaranteed freedom of expression. Angola, finally, which is one of the two Portuguese-language countries, is coping with a lengthy war, which has still not ended.
SouthAfrica South Africa occupies a special place in the Southern African media landscape. Printed mass media have a much larger circulation than they have in the rest of the region. The Sowetan alone has a circulation of 1 million, which is more than the combined circulation of all newspapers in all the other SADC countries.
Malawi Stephan Sanders ('Drink and write') sketches the current situation in the country, concentrating on the media. In Malawi the delegation was made to face the fact that a genuine culture of pluralism and exchange of opinions cannot be expected to take root easily after centuries of colonialism and repression. This led to one of the main conclusions of our mission, that support to the media will not suffice: the whole process of developing opinions and the fight for real freedom should be supported.
Zimbabwe Stephan Sanders ('Freedom and opinion') depicts the limited access to the media which people in rural areas and gays and lesbians have in Zimbabwe. No newspapers appear in the rural areas and people cannot afford a radio or batteries. Bob van der Winden ('Bubbling Zimbabwe') describes new developments in the press that hopefully will lead to increased pluralism and an improved accessibility.
Angola What is the impact on the freedom of thought of almost 40 years of war and a barely functioning society? The answer can be found in 'Angola, mon amour' by Stephan Sanders: self-censorship and a manipulated rosy image of the reality dominate most minds, also in journalism. Jennifer Mufune ('Independent media need support') and Bob van der Winden ('Media for millionaires') provide overviews of the most important problem facing the press and the broadcasting media: the prevalent polarisation of the media by the warring parties.
The conclusions and recommendations of the delegation mainly aim at stimulating the exchange of ideas on new initiatives in this area.
Our first and foremost conclusion is that in this post-colonial, still unstable situation, there is a great need for large communities to inform each other and to be informed. The role of pluralistic, independent media in the widest sense is therefore crucial. Without media serving as the watchdog of the democratic process in Southern Africa, there is little hope for structural change.
There are no quick and easy solutions. A proactive and comprehensive policy is needed to stimulate free communication and accessible and independent media. This policy will have to be carried and initiated by the media themselves.
Naturally the media need support to acquire a free and independent communication. If the respective governments do not want freedom of expression and efforts to establish a greater freedom are systematically met with persecution, threats or imprisonment, international support is of vital importance.
If one wants to establish a free and critical press, the issue of self-censorship will need to be discussed. The lack of freedom is not only determined by legal impediments, but is also entrenched in the minds of people. If the press is not convinced of the absolute necessity for open communication and critical analyses, it will fall prey to the whims of governments.
Free media and democratisation are partners. The one cannot go without the other. An independent press is the necessary ground on which democratic developments can build. Moreover, an independent press can counterbalance the war propaganda that is poured out over communities in some parts of the region. The delegation travelled in Southern Africa at a time when local conflicts were spreading to a large regional conflict with an amazing speed. We are convinced that support for local media and peace initiatives will be badly needed over the decades to come.
A free and independent press needs free and independent citizens who are not scared to vent their opinions, have their own views and be critical if necessary. People can only be formed by opinions and views if they have access to a variety of sources of information. Currently a majority of the population in Southern Africa do not have such access to information.
Morgan Tsvangirai and Gibson Sibanda, general secreatary and president of ZCTU, 1998.
Bubbling Zimbabwe - 1998
The bar in Chitungwiza, about 20 kilometers from Harare, is the temporary headquarters of the Associated newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), an initiative of two old hands in journalism, Geoff Nyarota and Wilf Mbanga. There are only a few days to go before the computers will be installed in the new office of the Chitungwiza express in the centre of town. It is their first weekly and it will be launched in a couple of weeks.
'I have been working on this plan for years’ says Geoff Nyarota, sitting at the bar with six of his staff. ‘Finally I have the opportunity to make my dreams come true. We will start four other local newspapers this year, in Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Masvingo. In February next year we will start a daily, the Daily News. Ten years ago, at the time of the Willowgate-scandal , the first big case of corruption in Zimbabwe, I was editor-in-chief of the Bulawayo Chronicle. WhenI exposed the scandal in my paper, I still had the illusion that the government, my old friends from the freedom struggle, would respect editorial freedom. We were still naïve and thought that the government had secured a controlling share in all daily newspapers in order to give black journalism a chance. It turned out otherwise. I was kicked upstairs immediately and deprived of any editorial responsibility; I got a manager’s title and a nice salary, but for the rest was kept out of everything. The same happened to my colleagues and successors at Zimbabwe Newspapers: Willy Musarurwa, Henry Muradzikwa and Bill saidi. It dawned on me that this government did not want a critical press.’
Wilf Mbanga, former manager of Zimbabwe Community Newspapers, another government-owned group interrupts him: ‘We could have done this a long time ago, if we wouldn’t have been chasing foreign donors for support for over a year. We approached them all. MISA, CAF, Novib, Cida, OSI and everywhere we would come away empty-handed. In the end OSI offered us a small amount of money. When we developed the idea of going commercial we went to London to talk with the big investors in the banking community; the Bank of Scotland, Independent Newspapers, Allied Press, Commonwealth publishing, etcetera. An international consortium was established which – in accordance with the Zimbabwean investment code – was given a license to set up a joint venture. Zimbabwean investors have brought in 40% and the consortium 60% of the total capital of US$ 4 million. At the moment, the government is getting scared and is trying to rouse popular feeling against us through their straws in the local Herald and Chronicle. It won’t help them. To destroy us they will have to draft new legislation, which forbids a controlling share of foreign investors in newspapers. They are like evil doers who are evil dreaders: they still don’t understand that in the Western media journalistic independence is guaranteed!
Article written 1998 for the publication: Freedom is a bomb that explodes in your head – Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa, NiZA Cahier 3.
Geoff is nowadays (2008) based in the USA, but trying to revive the Daily News, which was a direct product of ANZ only two years after we met. As you probably know the Daily News was bombed away by the Mugabe government, and never managed to get a license again. The waiting is for Mugabe to step down, or being forced to do so…
Wilf is nowadays editor in chief of the Zimbabwean, the most successful paper in Zimbabwe, written and distributed from abroad.