Friday, February 02, 2007

Zimbabwe: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

On January 25th, the BBC reported a rare bit of good news from Zimbabwe: the country's High Court ordered the Mugabe regime to restore the passport of independent newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube:

His passport was seized last year under new laws tightening rules on those with foreign parents gaining citizenship.

Mr Ncube was born in Zimbabwe but his father was Zambian. He owns two weekly papers in Zimbabwe and South Africa's weekly Mail and Guardian.

"My faith in the Zimbabwean judiciary has been vindicated," Mr Ncube said.

Unfortunately, for every step forward in Zimbabwe, there are at least two steps backward. As the BBC again reports, the editor of one of Mr. Ncube's newspapers, the Zimbabwe Standard, has found this out the hard way:

Zimbabwean newspaper editor Bill Saidi has been sent a bullet in the post with a note warning: "Watch Your Step".

Enclosed with the bullet was a copy of a cartoon from last Sunday's edition of The Standard showing three baboons laughing over an army salary slip.

The week before a story claimed that many soldiers are deserting the army and moving to South Africa to work as security guards for better pay.

Meanwhile, an effort designed to reduce the Mugabe regime's control over the media has been halted. The IWPR provides the details:

Zimbabwe’s embattled ZANU PF regime has demonstrated once again that it is in no hurry to loosen its iron grip on the media.

Just when a major reform was scheduled with the launch of an independent media regulator, comprising journalists and civil society representatives, Information Minister Paul Mangwana moved to wreck the initiative.

The official launch of the self-regulating Media Council of Zimbabwe, MCZ, was scheduled for January 26, but at the last minute Mangwana, who had said he would support such a body, performed a u-turn.

The minister told executive members of MAZ, the Media Association of Zimbabwe, that final approval of the MAZ-designed media council, would only be approved by President Robert Mugabe’s government once amendments had been made to the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Aippa, to incorporate a voluntary and independent media council. This amounts to a near-permanent postponement since there are no current moves in government to amend Aippa.

Considering that silencing free expression has been essential in allowing Robert Mugabe to establish his autocratic rule, I doubt these circumstances will change anytime soon.


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