A CONFERENCE on journalism, political tolerance and phobias at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) was cut short after the Dean of Students, Dr Munyaradzi Madambi, summoned presenters to a private room an hour into the second day and informed them he was under instruction to stop the programme.
The conference was scheduled to last two days, with presenters from across the globe set to deliver papers.
Dr Admore Tshuma (pictured), from Bristol University in the United Kingdom, was the one who was preparing to present when Madambi stormed the venue.
Madambi supervised the evacuation of the the conference room while Tshuma’s slide l presentation was being beamed to students and all attendants. Tshuma is a social psychology lecturer at the University of Bristol. The university is ranked as a top-five UK institution for research in the Research Excellence (REF) analysis of 2021. The analysis found 94% of the university’s research to be “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”.
Tshuma said the disruption of the conference puts a dent on the country’s image and negatively affects economic development.
“The implications are that after the Geneva Convention of 1948, the idea of freedom of speech is a human right. Human rights are intertwined with economic development. If you tend to suppress freedom of speech whether those people agree with you or disagree with you, in a way you are negatively affecting the economic development of your country,” he said, adding that the ban is regrettable and infringes on civil liberties.
“Where is social justice when a burning issue in our country cannot be debated on public platform? This is exactly what Ian Douglas Smith was doing,” he added.
Tshuma said academic symposiums can only help in the betterment of the nation if all ideas are incorporated.
“What you (government) need to do, you need to know the proponent and the opponents and in all these ideas, you take all of them to construct your country, then Zimbabwe will be open for business,” he added.
The conference viciously tore into the ruling Zanu PF’s growing authoritarian rule and political repression, as well its well-documented history of intolerance and ruthlessly crushing dissent.
Zanu PF is now targeting critical voices, including suppressing academics and academic freedom at universities, opposition parties and civil society ahead of elections in August.
Following the stinging criticisms which cut President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime deep to the bone, the government moved in to halt proceedings.
The conference programme was loaded with powerful critical voices which took no prisoners, lambasting Zanu PF’s political violence and brutality despite that the constitution recognises and protects diversity, hence tolerance.
University of Zimbabwe Professor Fainos Mangena, Dean for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, set the ball rolling presenting his introductory remarks, followed by the Department of Creative Media and Communication chair Dr Ngonidzashe Muwonwa, constitutional law expert Professor Lovemore Madhuku and Dr Alexander Rusero, a university lecturer of politics, international relations and media studies.
Rusero’s in his observations was enlightening and withering, saying Zimbabwe is not yet free.
There were also deliveries by Dr Pedzisai Maedza, an intercultural performance scholar and playwright.
Local media practitioner Zenzele Ndebele rocked the boat and fuelled official hostility when he zeroed in on the Gukurahundi genocide to show the dynamics between political intolerance, phobias and media.
Ndebele’s examples drawn from the Gukurahundi atrocities hit Mnangagwa hard as he accused him of hate speech, leading to genocide.
In his presentation, Ndebele also said media was complicit in the Gukurahundi genocide then and now as it continues downplaying atrocities and bloodshed, calling them “disturbances”.
Presenters said while the media plays influential, positive and negative roles in reporting and mediating political intolerance, phobias and violence, the truth is that politicians in Zimbabwe are the main architects of the problem.
Zanu PF’s youth representative Tendai Chirau and main opposition CCC deputy spokesperson Gift Ostallos Siziba also delivered addresses.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba chickened out.
Other big guns who were due to present include Professor Herman Manyora from Kenya and decolonisation studies guru Professor Sabelo Ndlovu Gatsheni, who leads research on Epistemologies of the Global South at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.