By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
AT the end of the so-called Government of National Unity and the national referendum on the new Constitution in 2013, one politician who is also an academic in his own right, put forward a curious hypothesis concerning what he thought would be the ideal national media governance model for the immediate future.
He said people were tired of the struggle and mobilisation mode. They wanted media which would enable them to relax, have fun and make money.
So, the dominant thrust of media in the future would be tolerance, pluralism, diversity and universal access to information.
It was true that Zimbabwe was born in struggle and has not been spared of struggles for over 40 years of its existence.
Its independence was achieved in the middle of the anti-apartheid struggle which was soon characterised by State-sponsored terrorism and destabilisation which overlapped with the global aids pandemic.
Indeed, in 2013, Africa was in the second year of the unprecedented NATO destruction of Libya which had unleashed waves of terror and terrorism, not just in Libya but all over Africa: Mali, Central African Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria.
The old role of the apartheid State in terrorism had now apparently been repatriated back to its European roots and could now be exercised openly by 20 or more neo-apartheid States calling themselves NATO and freed of their post-1945 defensive North Atlantic Charter which had been amended in 1999 to allow expansionism and open aggression.
There was no need even to remind the academic/politician that basically the same aggressors unleashing terror in Africa through the destruction of Libya were enforcing a sanctions regime on Zimbabwe against the supposed wish of the people to abandon struggles and mobilisations and, instead, to relax, have fun and make money.
History of popular mobilisations in Zimbabwe
It was not long after my 2013 conversation with the academic-cum politician that Zimbabwe, with all other nations of the world, was forced to confront a long-lasting emergency which unleashed other crises.
This was the COVID-19 emergency which broke out in 2020.
The national mobilisation which followed raises profound research questions the answers to which would help the nation understand better its successes and failures to mobilise in similarly important but differently perceived national emergencies.
Some features of the anti-COVID-19 mobilisation include:
- Much of the content needed was being developed globally but it needed a national framework and diligent localisation
- In the localisation process every local language, where possible, had to be taken into account
- State intervention and leadership were not politicised or made controversial, unlike in other attempts at national mobilisation; so State institutions took a clear leadership role when in other campaigns they would have hesitated
- The media were placed in the class of essential services which were exempted from observing lockdown rules, including curfews
- Partly because content research and production were being sponsored globally and partly because of the correct framing of the emergency locally, national companies and organisations not in media business had to turn themselves into media and communication services for their clients and employees for the purpose of fighting the pandemic
- Awareness of the emergency spread quickly and the national mindset adjusted accordingly.
Other cases of national mobilisation
The Second Chimurenga:
The Second Chimurenga is the primary national mobilisation case study
l It was so bitterly contested at first that polarisation expressed itself as civil war
- Media content for liberation struggle was banned and scarce, just as outlets for it were also banned and scarce, as documented by Julie Fredrikse in None But Ourselves: Masses versus Media in the Making of Zimbabwe
- But from the time of the 1973 UN International Convention on the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid, settlerism and apartheid were officially framed a scourge to be fought on a global scale. This was a result mainly of South-to-South co-operation supported by Eastern bloc countries
- Global recognition and legitimation of liberation struggles opened space for developing and producing the printed, audio and visual content needed to conscientise the masses and create a basis for almost universal mobilisation of the people by 1980, thereby creating a basis for settling the initial civil war
- An African national liberation mindset had been built up slowly and it was anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-sexist and fiercely internationalist and organic (that is, for autonomy)
National mobilisation for the Frontline States against apartheid terrorism and destabilisation:
Apartheid did not end, officially speaking, until 1994.
So, the people of Zimbabwe and their new national institutions remained on high alert, so to speak.
This was demonstrated through Zimbabwe’s contribution to Mozambique’s fight against RENAMO.
The Third Chimurenga or national mobilisation for African land reclamation and revolution in land tenure, otherwise known as land reform:
This national mobilisation was unlike the others in several respects:
- First, the national popular mindset for it had been developed during the Second Chimurenga
- Second, the foreign-sponsored demobilisation campaign known as Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) had been imposed on the country in1990 partly to pre-empt this land reclamation
- The failure of ESAP and its aftermath partly explains the class polarisation over land reform which also revived fireign-sponsored media polarisation
- But the media content developed to support and defend land reclamation had deep roots in the society and in history. It was the most organic and original, going as far back as the Second Chimurenga. For these reasons, the campaign succeeded despite the heavily sponsored opposition against it and clear threat of debilitating economic sanctions which remain in place to this day
- But the overwhelming success of the campaign has not ended threats against the land revolution.
Because the opposing forces are class-based and heavily entrenched within imperialism, there is a steady campaign to change perceptions of the purpose of land revolution from a focus on reclamation of nhaka to agribusiness.
The cultivation of this mindset is meant to make African youths forget that successful agribusinesses were there in Rhodesia, South Africa and Namibia even at the height of our anti-apartheid struggles. So, just establishing prosperous agribusinesses could not have been the purpose of the African land revolution since that sort of business was already embedded among the land thieves and today partly explains the failure of African land repossession in South Africa and Namibia.
ESAP as a negative national (mobilisation/demobilisation)
On the surface, ESAP can be viewed as a sort of counterfeit national mobilisation.
- It succeeded in harnessing elites in national institutions to suport its ‘reforms’
Using sponsorship funds, it lured all local media to promote it, with the local ZBC ending up baptising ESAP as ‘Chirongwa chokuwandudza upfumi’
- Universities became particularly vulnerable to ESAP-related grants to produce position papers consistent with the ESAP framework
l In terms spread, ESAP qualifies as a national campaign with no organic resonance.
Remaining questions requiring rerearch
The broad question is why some of the mobilisations reviewed here failed both in terms of effective media participation and in terms of resonating with a national media mindset or creating or adjusting such a mindset?
The urgent question has to do with attempts at a national anti-sanctions mobilisation and campaigns to reboot and entrench the Zimbabwe dollar as popular liquidity.
The anti-sanctions mobilisation was tried in 2010, 2019, and 2021 with supposed official support of SADC and the AU.
The campaign to reboot and entrench the national currency also took place in two phases: the Bond notes phase in 2016 and the Zimbabwe dollar phase in 2019.
Whether or not the campaigns are regarded as successes by those directly involved, it seems obvious that they did not succeed in terms of national mindset, national institutional support (participation) and sustained media saturation.
What are the reasons?
And since sanctions and popular liquidity are bread-and-butter issues, what efforts, where, would be needed to overcome media polarisation and lack of national institutional participation across the board as happened in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic?