ON Friday Foreign Affairs minister Frederick Shava met with the country’s media managers and editors under the aegis of the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum (Zinef) at the Rainbow Towers in Harare.
The meeting was at the request of the minister. It had been postponed a couple of times as he was either engaged or still trying to settle down after he had to abandon his tour of duty at the United Nations in New York to take over his new position as the country’s Foreign minister after the recent death of Sibusiso Moyo.
Shava came with his deputy David Musabayana, ministry officials and staff. Unlike some ministers who keep journalists waiting for ages until ZBC cameras arrive, Shava arrived early and had to wait until we pitched. Very unusual with Zimbabwe’s arrogant fat cat ministers who, of course, can’t justify their pride with delivery.
Zinef, which I chair, was there in full force; with its young generation senior journalists, editors and veterans like Tommy Sithole, chairman of Zimpapers, and Cris Chinaka.
Editors, from the public and private media, as well as digital platforms, are now working together and pulling in the same direction broadly, which has helped lesson tensions, polarisation and toxicity.
In a country where relations between the media, especially private media organisations, and government have largely been hostile and even acrimonious, such meetings are always welcome with curiosity, anxiety and sometimes tension.
Orwellian control and media tyranny have been prevalent in Zimbabwe for a long time. This has kept relations between government and media uneasy, indeed openly hostile at times.
Shava, who was appointed amid a storm of fierce media criticism over his sullied past, was welcoming and friendly. He sounded and appeared genuine. It was a good show.
His message was also on point. It was a departure from the recriminatory, rancorous and venomous deliveries by some of his colleagues who are still stuck in the Mugabeist mindset and warped paradigm.
In short, Shava spoke about the need for Zimbabwe to work to end its damaging isolation and rejoin the community of nations.
He also highlighted the need to prioritise economic diplomacy to facilitate business and commercial exchanges between Zimbabwe and strategic partners; increasing exports to a diversity of markets, attracting sustainable investment including FDI and promoting trade as well as infrastructure development and tourism.
“The ministry will strive to end the country’s isolation through continued engagement and re-engagement with all members of the international community,” he said.
“Rebranding our country’s battered image, consolidating old friendships and opening new economic frontiers of mutually beneficial co-operation will thus remain a critical foreign policy objective.”
In so doing, he stayed away from politics, especially needless hostile rhetoric, while keeping the discussion constructive.
But for government to improve its relations with the media, there is need for frank engagement. Talking about uncomfortable issues, while ensuring the discussions are productive. Sustainable relations can’t be built on fake dialogue and self-censorship.
Yet we could not miss the opportunity to raise important issues: the need for government to address critical issues of good governance, economic reform and tackling the problems which in the first place led to Zimbabwe’s isolation.
These include leadership, policy and governance failures, as well as authoritarian repression, human rights abuses and economic mismanagement.
Of course, criminalisation of media was an issue.
These issues filtered through the diplomatic tone and spirit of the meeting. I raised some of these issues with a measured approach. Chinaka also did in a balanced way.
What is important is that government should address issues affecting the majority: economic and social matters. These revolve around governance. If authorities do their job properly, journalists won’t have issues with them.
Journalists are not a threat to the state, government or ministers. They are a threat to corrupt officials and perpetrators of human rights abuses.
Government’s energy, time and resources must be deployed on delivery, not on trampling on political and civil liberties, human rights abuses and tearing apart the constitution.
There is no need to spend so much time amending the constitution to take the nation back to the Mugabe era, or arresting journalists. Journalism is not a crime.
But then again, engagement is important, especially in a divided society like Zimbabwe.
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