By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
IN the last instalment I suggested that the old foreign-sponsored media war, supposedly for media space, did not end with the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the licencing of new broadcasters; but it has rather been renamed as a civil societies’ fight for shrinking ‘civic space,’ which is presumed to be a cause separate from the former fight ‘media space.’
To delve into the question we may need to make four related observations:
First, the demonisation discourses (between the West and Zimbabwe) analysed by Professor Blessing Miles-Tendi did not begin and end with the promulgation of the AIPPA.
Second, as Baffour Ankoma, Pan-Africanist journalist and editor of New African, amply documented, that AIPPA was actually milder than draconian British laws regulating the media at the time.
The real difference was that British laws were older and perceived as part of the established constitutional order to be obeyed.
In contrast, white people and Africans they sponsored wished to define our constitutional order as a ‘transitional society’ whose systems still lacked legitimacy and were therefore free for all to denigrate and to defy.
And now that the media war against Zimbabwe has been renamed a war for ‘civic’ space, research similar to Ankoma’s is sorely needed on CSO regulations in other countries.
What we are likely to find is that those sponsoring attacks on Zimbabwe’s CSO Bill come from countries with even stricter regulations governing CSOs.
Third, in the real experience of foreign-sponsored destabilisation here, the CSO ‘space’ is only one side of the destabilisation coin; ‘media space’ being the other side.
CSOs often set the agenda by organising events, even fake ones, which the media cannot ignore. Often CSOs organise demonstrations against targeted local policies and politicians while journalists allied to them hound the policy-makers or other leaders to comment on the same events or demonstrations.
This moves the agenda from what our leaders outlined to what foreign powers set via those they sponsor in media, in NGOs and in political parties.
In the fourth place, genuine indigenous organisations such as the once landless and land-hungry peasants of Svosve and Nyamandlovu (who were in the fore-front of the fast-track African land reclamation and resettlement movement) have never been referred to as ‘civic’ organisations occupying ‘civic space’.
Why? Neither NGOs nor media refer to peasant movements for resettlement as civil society. Yet the contributions these peasants have made to society are clearly demonstrated in literature such as Julie Frederikse’s “None but Ourselves: Masses versus Media in the Making of Zimbabwe.”
In the late 1950s and mid-1960s there was a movement of ‘choirs’ who organised all-night singing festivals called Makisimiso, because they happened during Christmas holidays.
They were the unarmed fore-runners of the Pungwe of the liberated zones of the 1970s.
Their purpose was to mobilise peasants against forced removals and Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI, 1965).
They helped to prepare the rural population for guerrilla war which was still far away.
It was at these Makisimiso or Makwaya that the call was first made for armed struggle as the only remaining option for freeing Zimbabwe from Rhodesia.
News and political ideology moved through these all-night choir competitions because radical papers, pamphlets and books were banned.
In other words, there was no ‘civic space’ separate from ‘media space’ for the early liberation movement. The body occupying physical space was also the communication instrument.
But the point I make is that these peasant forms of self-organising came close to the original Gramscian essence of civil society. But they have never been treated as civil society fighting for ‘civic space’. Why?
History: what is ‘civic space’ and what are civil society organisations today?
The original sense of civil society organisation is borrowed from Antonio Gramsci.
In its original sense it meant independent, self-organising groups occupying social space not controlled by the state or by capital.
The current so-called ‘civil society organisations’ are best called either state-sponsored or corporate- sponsored.
They are no longer civil in the original sense.
In fact the idea would not be exportable to the South via capital or via the imperial state if it were truly civil in the Gramscian sense. That would be a contradiction.
Zimbabwe’s own academic and historian, the late Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr S I G Mudenge, for instance, told the April 2004 Conference of Former Liberation Movements held in Harare that political control of the affairs of other nations was the real motivation for the West’s sponsorship of contemporary NGOs. Dr Mudenge said:
“The British Labour Party (of Tony Blair), like other European socialist oriented parties that strongly believe in control politics, figured out that they could exert their policies over African trade union leaders but not on leaders of liberation movements, who were deemed to be too independent [ to be sponsored and manipulated]”.
A different scholar also stated categorically that civic space and civil society organisations no longer exist under 21st Century capitalism and imperialism.
In “Jihad versus Mcworld,” James Barber wrote that the civil society concept became safe for capitalism and the imperialist state to export from the North Atlantic to the South at that point where it had already ceased to be civil or independent, that is, at that point where it became dependent for funding ( via donations and grants) upon the state or the corporation:
“Squeezed between the warring worlds of the two expanding monopolies, statist and corporate, civil society lost its prominent place in [North] American life. By the time of the two Roosevelts it had nearly vanished and its civic denizens had been compelled to find sanctuary under the feudal tutelage of either big government… or the private [corporate] sector.”
To make matters worse, the now so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began to copy the structure and governance habits of the company or the state with adoptions of Presidents, Chairmen, CEOs, directors, annual meetings, hefty perks and so on.
NGOs and the chema economy
African organisers of pungwes (called Makisimiso or Makwaya in the 1950s and 1960s), together with organisers of the liberation war time Pungwes (of 1970s) and the land-hungry peasants of Svosve and Nyamandlovu in 2000, were fighting for “Zimbabwe neupfumi hwayo hwose,” fighting to end poverty and marginalisation.
That is why those of the 1950s and 1960s, were banned by Ian Smith while those of 2000 were placed under illegal sanctions by George Bush and Tony Blair.
That is why sponsored and mis-educated journalists won’t call them civil society.
Civil refers to ‘civilised’ and ‘civilisation’.
So our indigenous radicals are considered uncivil or primitive. That is the frame and the silent meaning.
Current so-called civil society organisations are programme officers for the foreign-funded Chema (charity) economy which is meant to maintain poverty by making it bearable.
The phrase NGOs use is “alleviating poverty,” so that those exploiting the povo can do so in peace.
But the operating mechanism is like that of revolving doors.
To by-pass the Political Parties Finance Act, which prohibits foreign funding for local political parties, funds can be laundered by having them go to sponsored media organisations for transfer to political outfits; or they can be given first to NGOs who later pass them to political parties; or the NGOs can organise expensive activities for a political party and meet the cost without funds being transferred.
The late Ambassador Trudy Stevenson, when she was a member of one sponsored party , described this as an incestuous system with inter-linkages between sponsored political parties and sponsored NGOs.
One person held dozens of positions throughout the system in order to collect allowances from the foreign grants.
And that was one reason why there were frequent factional conflicts and splits.
In short, there is need for on-going and thorough research on media and society issues and how they relate to politics.