Continuing media war in Zimbabwe …the context of Lindiwe Zulu’s rhetoric

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

THE history of the media war against Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans is long and complex, going back to the worst years of the Cold War at the beginning of the armed phase of our Second Chimurenga.

For a long time this war put on the cloak of press freedom, freedom of expression and the protection of journalists sponsored by various agencies of the Government of the United States and their affiliated global NGOs.

However, in the last four years under the administration of US President Donald Trump, this North American cloak of press freedom, freedom of expression and journalists’ rights and protections has revealed the wolf or hyena which has always hidden under it.  

It is in the US itself (especially in the last four years) where journalists, media freedom, science, history, truth and human rights have come under daily assault from the highest level of the US Government.  

The cloak worn by this US Government as the most powerful and consistent defender of press freedom and journalists’ rights in the world has been torn to shreds by the Trump administration.  

And I use the word ‘cloak’ carefully.  

This is so because the intolerance, racism and bigotry ‘openly’ shown by the Trump administration have always been there as a sub-text of US politics and culture.  

Donald Trump has embarrassed everybody in US ruling circles by making a main text out of what had become a sub-text since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Given the historical role of the Rhodesian lobby in the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZIDERA); given the role of the Rhodesian lobby in the creation of the MDC formations against Zimbabwe; and given the role of that same lobby in the creation and funding of the misnamed SADC Tribunal which tried to get SADC courts to declare Zimbabwe’s land revolution (not apartheid) as a crime against humanity – it is not surprising that there are rogue African voices even from within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa itself who see themselves replacing the role of the US Government in the media war against Zimbabwe.  

Even in 2008-2009, there was a question as to whether the US or SADC should play the lead role in mediating the Zimbabwe conflict.  Through the leadership of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, it was SADC which won the day; and it was SADC which sniffed out and rejected the infiltration of the so-called SADC Tribunal by the Rhodesian lobby.

Precisely because the US is in a particularly weak position caused by Donald Trump’s bad relationship with the Press, compounded by the scandal surrounding George Floyd’s murder and the resulting global mobilisation against US racism – I was not surprised to see Ms Lindiwe Zulu on the front page of NewsDay for August 12 2020 with the screaming headline ‘There is crisis in Zimbabwe: ANC’.

The answer is, yes, there is crisis all around the world, there is crisis in South Africa; there is crisis in Africa; there is crisis in North America and Europe.  

Let’s talk about it.

There may be crisis in the ANC because Lindiwe Zulu does not represent the core of that movement.

At least in Zimbabwe’s struggles against the media attacks which led to the imposition of ZIDERA, Lindiwe Zulu is associated with ‘media banditry’.

I use the term ‘media banditry’ to refer to verbal and written attacks launched against legitimate national institutions for the purpose of fomenting public violence and contempt against such institutions.  The media outlets used include those licenced and those not licenced.  In 2013 MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and South African President Jacob Zuma’s international relations advisor Lindiwe Zulu were engaged in media banditry against legitimate Zimbabwean institutions and objectives for the purpose of inciting public violence and contempt which were expected to disrupt and condemn the country’s 2013 harmonised elections.

Readers might have seen Denford Magora’s well-thought-out article in The Chronicle of August 5 2013 titled ‘Tsvangirai’s vote rigging accusations delusional’. 

While Magora correctly demonstrated that Tsvangirai had no case against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and other institutions which he was assaulting, it was however incorrect to call the accusations delusional. 

The accusations were part of an orchestrated plot whose originators had been forced to defer it, leaving Tsvangirai and Zulu exposed.

The bizarre behaviour of Mr Tsvangirai arose from the fact that he was too slow to read the signals from the originators of the ‘lawfare’ plot and from the other key players.  

He was still following a donated script whose owners had set it aside; at least for a while.

In order to show that Tsvangirai’s acts of media banditry were not delusional, it is important to note the following facts and events:

λ In 2007, US Department of Defence (Pentagon) lawyers submitted to the then US President George W. Bush a study on how to effect illegal regime change in Zimbabwe and still make it appear legal, legitimate and welcome to significant numbers of Zimbabweans themselves and to ‘the international community’.

The study was called ‘Operation Shumba’ and the lawyers called the technique being recommended ‘lawfare’, declaring that it was like eating soup with a knife, that is doing something clearly illegal and criminal while making it appear to be the real rule of law.

λ Lawfare referred to a strategy by which foreign forces could overthrow the existing constitutional authority in Zimbabwe by assaulting the legitimacy of national institutions, thereby making the foreign aggressor and its internal collaborators appear to be the ones who were on the side of the law and trying to enforce institutional compliance and the correct interpretation of law.

λ In order for this US-sponsored illegal regime change to succeed in Zimbabwe, four conditions or pre-requisites were needed first: 

the death or elimination of the founder President R G Mugabe; implosion or division of ZANU PF into a revolutionary faction resisting the forces of regime change, on one hand, and a reactionary and neoliberal faction collaborating with the external forces and with the MDC, on the other hand; successful incitement of an internal uprising against the revolutionary nationalists in which the reactionary faction of ZANU PF would combine forces with the MDC and welcome the external aggressor.

λ Indeed, in the period leading to US President Barack Obama’s visit to South Africa (29 June 2013), Tsvangirai sought to assure both followers and sponsors that ZANU-PF had indeed imploded. Consider the following headlines based mostly on Tsvangirai’s announcements: ‘ZANU PF is finished, haiko, it no longer exists’, Daily News, May 18 2013; ‘Fresh fears of blood on the floor in ZANU PF’ Zimbabwe Independent, April 12 2013; ‘Mugabe loses grip: Party heavy weights ignore his peace calls’, NewsDay, April 20 2013; ‘Panic grips Mugabe’, NewsDay, May 3 2013; ‘All-out war in ZANU PF’, Daily News, May 7 2013.

λ So, when Barack Obama, as George W Bush’s successor, came to South Africa three pre-requisites for the successful implementation of ‘Operation Shumba’ 

were still missing: President Mugabe was alive and appearing to be getting healthier and more robust than before; ZANU PF had not imploded and it seemed to be getting more cohesive around President Mugabe’s pre-election mobilisation; and the only military force remotely resembling an invasion army were those US forces coming to mount joint military exercises with the South African National Defence Force in July 2013 in Western Cape and Port Elizabeth areas. There was no local African force willing to invade Zimbabwe at the behest of the USA especially because there were no adequate pretexts for such aggression.

λ Instead of a region ready to accept the western invasion of Zimbabwe, both Barack Obama and the US forces in joint military exercises with South Africans were faced with demonstrations mounted by Pan-African youths and students in South Africa itself. And Obama’s visit to Africa was received indifferently, with the Kenyan Government staying away altogether.

λ So by the time of the 2013 elections in Zimbabwe, the only way left to trigger a crisis in Zimbabwe was to provoke an uprising leading to violence in Zimbabwe itself.

λ Nevertheless, Barack Obama made an attempt to launch a scaled-down version of ‘Operation Shumba’ and his host, President Jacob Zuma, seemed to go along. Knowing very well that Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court had already ruled twice on the urgency of holding harmonised elections, Obama still made the same outrageous MDC demand that Zimbabwe should not hold elections until so-called reforms demanded by the MDC had been implemented. 

This call amounted to a direct assault on the New Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe which in fact was the framework for any future reforms that would follow and not precede harmonized elections; this was an attack on the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe which had ruled twice that elections be held by July 31 2013; this was a direct attack on the people of Zimbabwe who had voted in the referendum on the New Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe in order to pave the way for elections; this was an attack on Zimbabweans who had approached the Constitutional Court to put a limit to the further postponement of elections; this was an attack on the SADC Summit and the African Union who had urged all political parties in Zimbabwe to respect the judgements of the Constitutional Court; this was, indeed, lawfare on a grand scale.  Therefore The Sunday Mail for July 6 reported that ‘Obama pokes his nose into Zim affairs’. 

λ MaDzimbahwe then began to wonder aloud why Obama’s host, South African President Jacob Zuma, remained silent and failed to correct his visitor the way Zuma’s predecessor, former South African President Thabo Mbeki restrained George W. Bush during a similar visit in 2002?

λ Zuma’s failure to make Obama respect the position of the AU and SADC on Zimbabwe at the end of June 2013 became even more significant in July 2013, when his supposed advisor on international relations Lindiwe Zulu embarked on a personal crusade to amplify the Obama position on Zimbabwe against SADC and AU diplomacy and in direct violation of Zuma’s role as SADC mediator in Zimbabwe.

Ms Zulu had been trying for years to style herself as the Condoleezza Rice of South African diplomacy and this time she came across as no different from the bitter and angry former Rhodesians resident in South Africa.  To make matters worse, MDC-T and the white sponsored press inside Zimbabwe praised Ms Zulu for her attacks on SADC and AU diplomacy, for her contempt of the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe and the decisions of Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court regarding elections.  The Zimbabwe Independent, (a Rhodesian leftover) commented on 26 July 2013: 

“What a breath of fresh air Lindiwe Zulu has been. She is the sort of person we (who?) need now.”

NewsDay, confirmed the suspicions of most Zimbabweans when its top headline on July 28 declared: ‘Zuma angry’, meaning that Ms Zulu was speaking as Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa.  So, what we saw on the cover page of NewsDay for August 12 2020 was a replay of 28 July 2013.  

The link is the probability that the MDC formations will lose the 2023 elections the same way they lost in 2013.

It was not surprising that, the Obama position uttered in South Africa on June 29 2013 quickly became Lindiwe Zulu’s position before it was reported in Zimbabwe as Zuma’s position; and it brought back memories of a letter written to Obama by Morgan Tsvangirai in December 2009. 

In that letter Tsvangirai thanked Obama for influencing the then new SADC mediator Jacob Zuma against ZANU PF and in favour of MDC-T. The Sunday Mail for September 3 2011 did a story based on that letter titled ‘PM (Tsvangirai) Exposes Zuma’. 

λ Lindiwe Zulu became so reckless in her attacks on Zimbabwe that on 21 July 2013 SADC and the AU forced President Zuma to censure her, revealing in his statement that Ms Zulu even included lies in her statements on Zimbabwe on behalf of the SADC mediator. 

λ Finally, the 2013 elections took place, ZANU PF won by more than a two-thirds majority; President Mugabe won 61 percent of the presidential vote in a four-way race; and the international and local observers declared the poll free, fair, transparent and reflective of the true will of the people.

It is important for MaDzimbahwe to understand the imperialist plot which failed but which Tsvangirai and Roy Bennett kept hoping to realize.  In order for Zimbabwe to continue resisting imperialism, it is important to know what was planned but later abandoned. 

In this case, the following newspaper headlines were significant pointers to the plot or scenario which the western powers had wanted, the plot which Morgan Tsvangirai expected, but which could not happen because certain critical factors did not come together.  

These are some of the headlines in response to the results of elections:

‘Tsvangirai rejects polls’, NewsDay, August 2 2013; ‘Social media networks defy the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’, NewsDay, August 2 2013; ‘750 000 urban voters turned away: ZESN’, NewsDay, August 2 2013; ‘Outrage! : Shocking Poll Results’, Southern Eye, August 2 2013; ‘Outrage!: Tsvangirai Rejects Outcome’, Southern Eye, August 2 2013; ‘Voters’ roll undermined poll’, Southern Eye, August 2 2013; ‘NGOs closed (voluntarily) as disaster preparation measures’, The Patriot, August 2 2013; ‘MDC-T considers mass protests’, Daily News, August 3 2013; ‘ZANU PF rigged’, Daily News, August 3 2013; ‘Tension high in Zimbabwe’, Daily News, August 3 2013; ‘Resist ZANU PF: Bennett,’ Southern Eye, August 4 2013; ‘Disputed poll: Ballot paper type causes storm’, Daily News, August 5 2013; ‘Palpable sense of dismay, dejection (in opposition ranks)’, Daily News August 5 2013; ‘Africa, West: At odds over Zim elections’, Daily News, August 5 2013; ‘Resignations (of commissioners) expose ZEC: Commission was never in charge of polls’, NewsDay, August 7 2013.

These stories can be connected to those published at the time of Obama’s visit to South Africa: ‘Polls: Obama turns heat on Mugabe’, Southern Eye, June 30 2013, and ‘Zuma, Mugabe collide: South Africa wants month-long poll delay’, Southern Eye, July 1 2013.

The headlines we are seeing now in August 2020 sound like echoes of those of 2013.  

The 2023 election campaign has already begun in the media.

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