Zimbabwe has been attempting to chart a new way forward
under the mantra of the ‘new dispensation’ geared towards
respecting the Constitution and the rights of its citizens.
Since the military-assisted transition in November 2017, the
governing party Zanu PF and the government, particularly
the Office of the President, has been on a new trajectory of
projecting an image of transparency by issuing out frequent
press statements on some issues of national importance.
The new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is active on social
media, which was unheard of under the former Zimbabwean
leader Robert Mugabe. During the election period, the
government did not switch off the internet even at the height
of gross human rights abuses, when six people were shot by
the military during the violent demonstrations that rocked
Harare on 1 August 2018.
While these might appear as good indicators for the enjoyment
of access to information in the country, does this in reality
mean the access to information environment has improved? Is
the image of an open environment constructed or real?
This might not be the case as requests for information from
various public institutions by the Media Institute of Southern
Africa, Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA Zimbabwe) pointed to a culture
of inefficiency and entrenched secrecy in public institutions.
At the point of finalising this report, President Mnangagwa
had filed papers against MISA Zimbabwe’s application to
allow broadcasters to live-stream the hearing of the 2018
Election Constitutional Court challenge by opposition MDCAlliance leader Nelson Chamisa. President Mnangagwa
and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC),
opposed MISA-Zimbabwe’s efforts. This points towards an
administration that is still trying to stifle access to information
and transparency.
It is poignant to note that the pre-30 July 2018 election period
increased demand for information, notably from institutions
such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and
Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) who were supposed to
release information that citizens needed to be able to exercise
their rights.
Political parties were not happy with the ZEC’s low levels of
transparency; for example, there were delays in making the
voters’ roll public. The elections body also delayed publishing
names of election officers as well as availing other information
such as who would be responsible for printing the ballot papers.
The ZEC also refused to release a voters’ roll that had
photographs of citizens. However, the body did eventually
release the voters’ roll in electronic form at a fee of $2.
However, there were complaints that the information was
not easily accessible nor usable, especially for people with
disabilities, such as blind citizens, who also have a right to
access to information.


Meanwhile, while a substantial amount of the information
requests sought by MISA Zimbabwe during the period under
review were not denied, these requests were not fully met.
Requests for information were referred to other offices in
the respective institutions. The trend seemed to be that
information deemed as not being ‘sensitive,’ was not granted.
Determining what is deemed ‘sensitive’ information is often
the arbitrary prerogative of the officials involved.
The election also saw foreign journalists being allowed to
operate in the country. There were, however, reports of
attacks on journalists by the military as well as the disruption
of an MDC-Alliance press conference by the police. Police
interference with the press conference only stopped with the
intervention of the Acting Minister of Information Khaya Moyo.
Generally, however, the environment was safe for journalists.
There were price reductions for online data, which is a positive
step towards improving access to information on the internet.
Despite increasing connectivity among Zimbabweans,
especially in urban areas, public institutions still have poorly
managed websites as well as inefficient mechanisms to provide
information online.
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act 2002
(AIPPA), which also outlines a lengthy period in which public
officials may respond to information requests, has become
outdated and does not reflect the current reality and context
of high connectivity. The AIPPA must be reviewed to reflect
the realities of evolving information communities.
Under the veil of ‘good soundbites’ and ‘change’ in the new
dispensation, very little has changed in terms of how public
institutions process information requests. While the attitudes
of some public officials have improved compared to previous
years, websites remain poorly managed. Almost all public
institutions that were studied remain inefficient; none of them
were able to provide the requested information.
MISA was involved in campaigns and advocacy efforts with
the Parliament of Zimbabwe (PoZ) and the ZRP, which yielded
fruits as the ZRP in particular, improved its operations by
establishing a WhatsApp group (ZRP Media Desk) with local
journalists as well as opening a Twitter account. The ZRP also
has a television programme that provides updates on the state
of policing in the country.
Access to information was also tested during the election
campaign period as opposition parties demanded that the
ZEC release photographs of registered voters on the voters’
roll. The political parties contented that provision of the
voters’ roll in such a format would enhance transparency,
which had been a fiercely contested issue in previous
elections, thereby undermining the credibility of the outcome
of past elections.
However, the High Court ruled that there was no need to
release the photographs to people who did not need them.
In another case yet to be decided, a citizen took the Postal
and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe
(POTRAZ), Zanu PF and the ZEC to court after he received

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