It’s PR, Stupid! – Blocking blows against Law Muscles in Zimbabwe!

Posted: May 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

A few weeks ago, the UK Sunday Times headlined a story detailing the embarrassing treatment of a New Zealand photo-journalist who was arrested while taking photos of desperate Zimbabweans crossing the border to South Africa. The journalist, who spent 25 days in jail, had entered the country as a tourist and went on to do his journalist work without authorisation as required by laws of the country. In theory the Zimbabwean authorities had the right to arrest him but I think his detention and the treatment he received were disproportionate to the offence. Moreover, Zimbabwe attracted substantial negative publicity as a result, with the story given a front page cover in one of Europe’s most widely read Sunday publications so overall I don’t see how the Zimbabwean authorities benefited by keeping this man in prison. Instead, his detention gave the journalist access to key facts –many of which were already known to us– about the shocking state of Zimbabwe’s prisons. Recently, the Zimbabwean Minister of Justice admitted that the prisons in Zimbabwe were not suitable for human conditions. There are severe food shortages and what is provided is substandard, dirty cells are said to have lice crawling everywhere, and there is chronic overcrowding and poor ventilation systems. In 2001, I spent 7 days in a police cell that had a blocked toilet spilling human waste to the floor. I wonder what then the current status of these prison toilets is eleven years later.

Zimbabwe needs better public relations

For Zimbabwe to regain its status as a respected global political player, the Government needs to pay better attention to its public relations. By psychologically torturing the NZ journalist in prison for 25 days, Zimbabwean authorities presented the world with an opportunity to attack the country’s human rights’ current record. The journalist’s diary (also published in the Sunday Times) of his days in Zimbabwe, which attracted attention because of his arrest, describes a grim picture of the face of suffering in the country. HhkkkHe writes of massive poverty, fear and the threat of a massive drought season to hit Zimbabwe in the coming years. While there have been promises that a unity government is trying its best to alleviate poverty, Zimbabweans are desperate to leave the country for greener pastures in neighbouring South Africa and huge numbers cross the border on a daily basis. This picture of Zimbabwe, presented to the world by this credible journalist whose work amongst other things has been recognised by the United Nations, is not an encouraging one even for investors who were slowly thinking about going back to Zimbabwe. If they had been smarter, the Zimbabwean authorities would have at most deported the guy and used that fact that he broke the law to their advantage for PR purposes.

Of course there is a bigger question behind it

The bigger question behind this story is that of why the journalist felt the need to avoid registering in the first place. Is it that he thought he was not going to be allowed in the country? Or maybe he felt that if he did register, his activities and access were going to be limited? Over the years, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act has made it extremely difficult for local journalists to report news without fear or favour. Media reforms remain an unresolved matter in the current coalition government.

And how far are we Zimbabweans prepared to take this approach?

Undemocratic regimes across the world are known to impose unjust laws on their societies and at times we are left asking ourselves whether it is okay to break such laws? To take just one example, under POSA for Zimbabwean political parties to hold rallies and demonstrations they have to apply for permission from the police. In the past the police have been accused of helping the former ruling ZANU-PF party to organise counter-rallies in order to impede those that applied. In the 60s and 70s, the liberation fighters did not seek permission to organise their struggles. They felt the laws were unjust against the local population and they broke them. To find an example of the same principle, we can look to Mahatma Ghandi when he said “ It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

  1. Rejoice Ngwenya says:

    Exactly, if you do nothing, nothing changes! More often than not, it’s like “you politics guys, do something for the old man to go!” Really? You talk about PR – ZANU-PF doesn’t give a s**t about image. They have none!

    • Mathula says:

      Sure point Ngwenya,,thats the problem..sometimes people think ZANU PF gets attacked with no basis…they seem not to care about the country at all and I guess one day things will get better…if we act.

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