IS it not amazing how parties founded on the platform of democratic reform easily stray from the cause and adopt the methods and psyche of the oppressor?
Events at MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s residence in Harare this week are emblematic.
On Wednesday the party called a press conference at Tsvangirai’s residence in Strathaven at very short notice, only to block journalists at the gate because they did not have accreditation. I am informed that security personnel at the gate pushed and slammed the gates in the faces of journalists who had arrived without the required documentation, a Media and Information Commission card.
The roughs said they had instructions from the top not to let in journalists who did not have a card. The poor hacks, most of whom have been denied accreditation by the MIC because they work for perceived hostile media, pleaded in vain to be admitted into the press conference. Even those accredited journos who could not produce the card were treated the same.
The incident is not only unfortunate but smacks of hypocrisy on the party of the MDC which has advocated media pluralism and has often attacked Zanu PF for closing media space. On Wednesday I spoke to a number of the journalists who had been denied entry to the PM’s residence. These are young men whom I had also met on the road during Tsvangirai’s campaigns prior to the March polls. They were welcome to attend rallies in Masvingo, Mutare and Chipinge.
They were at the time considered useful. Their stories – gathered under very difficult circumstances sometimes – were posted on news sites and weblogs. They highlighted repression and the violence that gripped the nation after the March polls. They told the Zimbabwean story to the world and provided in graphic detail the beating of citizens in the name of national sovereignty. The journalists, albeit unaccredited, were useful to the opposition then. But yesterday’s events cast a pall over the MDC’s democratic credentials.
Lest I am accused of crucifying the MDC on the basis of just one incident, I will also refer to recent events when journalists were reportedly beaten up by suspected party security at the MDC headquarters at Harvest House because they were considered undesirables. But this week’s events are more egregious and inexcusable because they took place at the residence of a party leader who claims to believe in diversity and tolerance.
And also this is a party with an information department staffed by former scribes who know most journalists, including those not accredited by the MIC. In fact during Tsvangirai’s road shows, one or two of the unaccredited journos travelled in official vehicles of executive members of the party.
Is the party also aware that the MIC -– which has continued to operate despite various amendments to Aippa which renders it redundant – does not even have stationery to produce press cards for journalists?
Anyway, since when has the party started to worship the idols of media oppression?
I do not want to believe that this is now the new order in the party or that it is a sign of things to come.
This transitional period, notwithstanding the crippling delays in forming a government, should be an opportunity for the party to demonstrate that it is different from the Zanu PF way. It is only too easy for the party to mimic traits of the oppressor.
Advice to the MDC is that it should not launch its tenure in government on the same discredited rails travelled by Zanu PF which in 1980 quickly adopted instruments of oppression from the Rhodesian regime and used them against the people in an independent Zimbabwe. The use of the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act to deal with dissent in the post-independent Zimbabwe is a case in point.
Currently, I am not convinced that the wording in Article 19 of the agreement between Zanu PF and the MDC formations is enough to ensure that there will be a sea change in the media environment to allow pluralism and greater access to information. The danger is leaving instruments of media repression intact and the new government conveniently forgetting about exorcising the ghost of Zanu PF’s totalitarianism.
But as media, we are watching this ball as closely as we have watched it being miskicked by Zanu PF. Last month, I wrote in this column of the danger of the MDC being invited to Zanu PF’s orgy of debauchery by accepting trinkets and trappings of riches in this impoverished nation.
Elsewhere in this edition we give an update on this unfolding saga. The toys which have been dangled in front of the fascinated party officials are too good to refuse. Did I spot the Speaker in a spanking new Mercedes Benz S class behemoth this week? We cannot wait to see the scramble for motor vehicles by MPs and the new ministers and of course the PM’s motorcade.