The struggle for African journalism

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

THE passing on of Cde Alexander Kanengoni on April 12 2016 is a loss for Zimbabwean and pan-African writers, intellectuals, educators, journalists and freedom fighters.
It is not possible to exhaust Cde Kanengoni’s unique legacy in one instalment.
I have therefore decided to start looking only at Cde Kanengoni’s contribution to the struggle for a well-grounded African journalism, because Cde Kanengoni was one of those intellectuals and writers who foresaw the impending consequences on journalism of the Western-sponsored regime change agenda in Zimbabwe.
Even in terms of the conventional Western-style journalism, Cde Kanengoni was unique because he had a full grasp of the effective popular communication theories and practices of the African liberation movement in Zimbabwe to which Julie Fredrikse in 1976 responded with her book None But Ourselves: Masses Versus Mass Media in the Struggle for Zimbabwe; he had a full grasp of conventional Western-style journalism, its strength and weakness.
He was an educator with a full grasp of the public education role of press and media; he had full command of Shona and English.
He was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction and therefore a complete journalist in the classical sense, whereas the training of most journalists today limits them to so-called ‘reporting’.
As one of those who witnessed the victory of indigenous African communication strategies against the colonial and imperialist propaganda machinery during the liberation struggle, Cde Kanengoni appreciated on-going efforts to define Zimbabwean and pan-African journalism which did not imitate Euro-American approaches.
This quest for an African journalism was clear in the way Cde Kanengoni edited The Patriot and it can be summarised by posing several questions which should guide both research and teaching:
l First, in every sovereign nation the study of journalism, literature, law, ethics and history, is founded upon the language, philosophy and religion of the people who constitute the majority of that nation. Why is this not the case in Zimbabwe 36 years after independence? How can we start to make it the case? What is, what was, the basic African philosophy which underpinned the First Chimurenga and eventually made the Second Chimurenga successful?
l Second, Chimurenga and hunhu/ubuntu are the twin pillars of African philosophy in Zimbabwe and diametrically opposed to the linear philosophies of Euro-American individualism, hedonism and narcissism which underpin Western journalism and its Roman Dutch law, English Common Law and the so-called human rights doctrine used to sanitise the practices of contemporary neo-liberal imperialism which Naomi Klein called Disaster Capitalism in a book by that title. How is this reality reflected in our schools, colleges, universities and media houses?
To understand this question, our readers should contrast the gross tabloidisation which characterises H-Metro and B-Metro papers with the focus of The Patriot.
Cde Kanengoni and others foresaw the neo-liberal direction which Zimbabwe Newspapers and the ZBC were likely to take after 2008 and decided to found The Patriot and other efforts to grow the legacy of the liberation movement and to gather the practices and insights learned from the pungwe and relevant to education and journalism.
l Third, is it not now feasible and strategic to merge or converge the communication strengths of the pungwe and dariro with the versatility, speed and flexibility of digital technology and to optimise the ancient mediation functions of the dariro which also produced the pungwe of the Second Chimurenga?
Why can’t PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones be hooked and arranged in a daririo to serve the dare, nhimbe and pungwe?
Cde Kanengoni was one of the few people who anticipated the challenges which the nation was going to face after 2008, including the following:
After 2008, Zimbabwe faced new challenges in a new strategic communication environment which was poorly understood because it had not been systematically examined.
Some of these challenges were immediate and required urgent attention; others were more long-term and required study in preparation for action at a later stage.
Immediate Challenges
The identity and fortunes of the nation since 1980 had been associated with the liberation movement in government represented by the united Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU PF).
1980, ZANU PF had gradually demobilised its mass base and neglected to recruit young cadres.
Until March 2008, ZANU PF had compensated for its weakening mass base by using the state as if it were a permanent instrument of the party.
The March 2008 harmonised elections, however, brought this ZANU PF reliance on the state to an end by producing indecisive election results and creating a hung parliament which made a power-sharing deal necessary and led to the so-called Global Political Agreement (GPA) between ZANU PF and its opposition made up of MDC-T and MDC-M.
From the point of view of the national liberation movement and national interest, the following strategic communication challenges confronted the nation in mid-2009.
Before the GPA and the Inclusive Government (IG), the liberation movement in Government was targeted by more than 100 hostile media outlets, including foreign-sponsored radio stations, foreign sponsored newspapers and websites.
These would continue to increase.
On its side the liberation movement in government had one national broadcaster with one television station and four radio stations, as well as one main newspaper publisher running just two dailies and three weeklies. In other words, even before the IG the liberation movement in government was already at a great disadvantage in relation to hostile regime change media based inside and outside the country.
In addition, by allowing a free-lance approach to government publicity, the IG created a situation whereby ministers from the MDC formations got more than three times the media attention obtained by those from ZANU PF.
This was because the ministers from the MDC formations could now obtain favourable coverage from the state affiliated media as well as from the local opposition and foreign (regime change) media.
On one hand, ZANU PF ministers in the IG appeared to be totally stunned and silent in the state-affiliated media; they rarely appeared in positive light in the internal opposition media; and they were still being vilified in the external regime change media.
In contrast, ministers from the two MDC formations received generous and accommodating coverage in state-affiliated media; they were given the benefit of the doubt in the local opposition press; and yet they contributed to the continuing demonisation of the country by feeding hostile foreign media and internet channels with distorted information on Zimbabwe.
The end result was that the nation continued to suffer demonisation abroad, which was fed by opposition officials and supporters at home who also contributed to a terrible incoherence in national public affairs at home.
The IG incoherence was likely to become national and permanent, that is, to disorient the liberation movement itself via the MDC formations.
This state of affairs was unbelievable and unacceptable in a nation which expected to conduct a constitutional referendum within a year and general elections within two years.
Cde Kanengoni and those who sat with him to ponder the post-2008 media situation concluded that there was need to strengthen elements of the African journalism which had emerged, especially with the organisation for African unity and had been put in practice to win the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe therefore needed to provide leadership for the region and the continent in this regard because its independence included a thorough land revolution.

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