Susan Nyabunze THE INTERVIEW
TODAY Zimbabwe celebrates 35 years of Independence. The trending motif of this year’s celebrations has been #1980sofarsogood. Our reporter Susan Nyabunze (SN) caught up with Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo (JM) [pictured above] recently to unpack the motif. Read on…
SN: Professor, may you highlight how #1980sofarsogood came about and its significance to this year’s independence celebrations?
JM: It is definitely influenced by the fact that we are celebrating 35 years of independence. In the life of an individual, if you contextualise development especially of anniversaries against the backdrop of the experience of individuals, then you know that 16 is an important year, you get can get a driver’s licence so usually you don’t forget that. 18 is also an important year, you get your national identity and you qualify to vote and you attain the age of majority so you remember. Twenty-one is also significant, you get your key of life or to life. Twenty-five, a lot of people remember because its the Silver Jubilee.
But 35 is the age of truly coming into life, real life. It’s the year when we say you have come of age. It’s the time when you also take stock, all these others are like a step forward. Especially when you get to 25 that’s probably when you start a family and you get your first job and look for a house.
But when you get to 35 you have matured, so it’s a bold statement of maturity and you take stock and you say “How has it been?”
In our case, obviously the life of a nation is not the same as the life of an individual, but we have come of age. On Saturday the 18th of April we will be turning 35. And when you take everything into consideration, you take the trials and tribulations that we have gone through as a country; you take the achievements which are very notable, the successes and measure them against the very trying times that everybody acknowledges we have gone through. and if you do so without prejudice you would have to say so far so good, it cannot be bad.
We know that only Zimbabwe faced even the challenge of regime change. There are some formidable countries in geopolitics like the UK and its European allies, its American cousin, its Commonwealth friends Australia New Zealand and Canada they seriously invested in regime change to cause what they said was “a failed state”. But if you were to ask people is Zimbabwe a failed state? No! And that means so far so good.
SN: So does that mean there are no problems at all in Zimbabwe; are we home and dry?
JM: No, it simply means so far so good with still a whole lot more to do. We are very happy that this is an expression of achievement, but also in this case we are not talking about you and me or individuals. We are talking about our country.
If we were to look at some specific cases of individuals, I’m sure we would find that it’s so far so bad. For example, if you are (Morgan)Tsvangirai it must be so far so bad. So when some people were saying “you must be saying so far from good”, they are talking about MDC. I mean, you get formed in 1999 you take stock and you find you are disintegrating; there are seven versions of you. There is MDC A, B, C, D and you are coming close to the end of the alphabet, that’s not the story of Zimbabwe. We don’t have versions of Zimbabwe. We have not witnessed crippling divisions that have happened elsewhere in our wider neighbourhood. There have been those threats between 1980 and 1987.
There were disturbances in Midlands and Matabeleland provinces, which could have seriously divided our country but we found a way of overcoming them. Did they happen? Yes! Did we overcome them? Yes! That’s why we say so far so good. If we had allowed those things to consume us it would have been so far so bad.
SN: Apart from that, are there any other challenges that threatened the country’s independence?
JM: We had hyperinflation and during that period we saw the disappearance of our country, that’s very bad. We saw an exodus of skilled Zimbabweans becoming economic refugees all over the place including across the Limpopo, that was not good. But many are now coming back from Europe, America, Australia and South Africa starting their businesses, seeing opportunities and so forth, so it is so far so good.
SN: After all has been said and done, how then did we come up with the #sofarsogood motif?
JM: Really, really ultimately why we came up with this is because we are commemorating and celebrating our nationhood in the form of our Independence. Independence by definition is a feel good experience, for any country. Whenever you think of independence you must be thinking of something good. So we are basically saying so far so good about our independence.
SN: So from a 35-year point of view, are we only going to be reflecting on the past, in which direction are we heading from here?
JM: From that point of view we continue to consolidate our independence. The theme of our independence celebration is about consolidating our unity, peace and economic sovereignty, that’s what we look forward to doing. And we do this from time to time by focusing on specific activities. At this very moment it’s Zim-Asset and we are using it to deepen our independence.
SN: And in terms of the media what can be deduced from our experiences over the past 35 years?
JM: I think for the media so far so good. We have been able to articulate our position as Zimbabwe through the media, the national media – the public media. We recognise the private media, it is allowed to exist and operate as an expression of our Constitution.
SN: What role has the private media played in the country?
JM: We know that there has also been polarisation, we know that there have been some other interests which have sought to use not Zimbabweans but also the media to destabilise us, elements of the media anyway. Quite a number of them were extensions of the regime change brigade.
But we have seen it all, that’s why 35 it’s not a jubilee, it’s not like 25, 50 or 75. But it is a clear age of maturity were you have seen it all, you have experienced it all and so, we in fact have. And that’s why for quite a period between 1999 or 2000 and the last election, 2013 there was serious, serious polarisation in the media which reflected polarisation in the society.
But the fact that we have had to critically interrogate that experience speaks well of us. Just right now as the ministry we are reading the IMPI (Information and Media Panel of Inquiry) report, which has unpacked a number of issues affecting the media, especially also this question of polarisation.
SN: What are some of the challenges that are affecting the media today, as highlighted by IMPI?
JM: There are other serious issues. The media elements of it thought that it was very easy to operate because there were donors who wanted parts of the media in our country to be the mouthpieces of regime change. But they have taken their money away, there is no money for that now.
And viability is becoming an issue. We have seen certain media houses that were formed yesterday closing down today, because of viability issues. Issues of access to newsprint if you are in the print media; access to advertising in an economy that has shrunk, whether you are electronic or print.
And problems of redefining markets or audiences because of technological changes and the emergence of new digital platforms and so forth. Skills issues; the fact that the training institutions have become factories rather that institutions of education. They are more interested in cost recovery, raising money and they are training multitudes without skills.
SN: So how does the country’s media forge ahead or even survive in light of such challenges?
JM: These things have gotten the various media players to start understanding that they have common interests. Rather than fighting they must work together, pull their resources together and share these things. And we are beginning to experience that now against a background of quite some deep-seated and acrimonious relations.
And because of this we can’t conclude any other way than to say so far so good.
SN: And lastly, in terms of laws, ethics and maybe regulations in general, that affect media operations, can our environment be regarded as conducive in Zimbabwe?
JM: Well, we have had lots of issues, people complaining in the past about the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act calling it AIPPA and complaining about the Broadcasting Services Act . . . but basically complaining about freedom of expression.
Now, we went through as a country, an outreach process of gathering the views of the people of Zimbabwe on the kind of constitution they would want for themselves, and those views were put into a draft constitution.
In March of 2013 there was referendum which overwhelmingly approved that draft. And from 1st May, 22nd and then August 22nd of the same year 2013, the new Constitution came into effect; with all these freedoms that speak to very progressive Bill of Rights in general and but freedom of expression in media in particular.
You can’t have a new Constitution and say we are in trouble, it doesn’t make sense . . . so, so far so good!