NewsDay | Friday December 17 2021


Challenges and projections for MISA
Zimbabwe gazing into the future


joined MISA Zimbabwe in August 1997
as Information and Research Officer.
The organisation was then in its infancy with only three people – the then
director, the late Vincent Chikwari, Administrator, Annie Musodza, and myself. We
made up the first Secretariat of the MISA
Zimbabwe chapter.
The organisation was then sharing offices with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade
Unions. With support from a vibrant board
led by Geoff Nyarota and the MISA Regional Office, the MISA Zimbabwe entity, although small, established strong advocacy
roots that shape the organisation today.
The organisation moved to New Africa
Building and continued to grow in leaps and
bounds. With limited resources, the three
staff members showed dedication and resilience in the face of state harassment.
I recall Annie and myself walking the
breadth of Harare to deliver invitation letters for the various workshops that MISA
held. Many people and organisations did
not have access to emails. Hence invitation
letters were delivered in person.
As surprising as this sounds, the Internet
was still novel, and we did not know how to
use it effectively. I gave birth to my son in
September 1998 and only spent three weeks
on maternity leave as I had to return to
work. Such was our dedication!
Three directors later (Vincent Chikwari,
Dr Chifamba and Barney Mapondera), I became the first female national director of
MISA Zimbabwe in 2000. I stayed in this position till my departure in July 2004.
Critical developments characterised the
years between 1997 and 2004: the growth of
the regional advocacy campaigns for freedom of expression, the building of local networks with organisations such as the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), the Federation of African Media Women Zimbabwe
(FAMWZ), Zimbabwe National Editors Forum, and the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe. This collaboration
planted the seeds of the current Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ).
MISA Zimbabwe also joined forces with
the Catholic Commission for Justice and
Peace in Zimbabwe (CCJPZ) to establish
the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe
(MMPZ), an entity to promote responsible
journalism through monitoring and analysis of the news and current affairs output
on domestic radio and television, and in the
print media.
These were exciting times as we built beneficial coalitions nationally and regionally
to entrench freedom of expression and media freedom. There were innovative campaigns, workshops, seminars, training programmes and marches.
Who can forget the famous silent march
to Parliament in 2002?
The police pounced on the protesters and
arrested several people. Thanks to the Media Defence Fund, which MISA Zimbabwe
had set up, legal assistance was offered to
all those detained.
Most of us went into hiding for some days
after this event. Still, the spirit of solidarity
kept us going in the face of growing authoritarianism and the promulgation of more
draconian laws.
In the early 2000s, MISA-Zimbabwe was
joined by energetic young people – Rashweat Mukundu, Takura Zhangazha, Wilbert
Mandinde and Koliwe Nyoni. They brought
innovative ideas to grow the organisation;
the key one relates to decentralising the
work of MISA Zimbabwe to 10 of the country’s provinces through the creation of Advocacy Committees.
The early MISA Zimbabwe story is not
complete without recognising the role
played by women. There was a time when
the organisation was led by women – Reyhana Masters as Chairperson, Annie Musodza
(and later Abigail Gamanya), and myself.
Reyhana’s conceptualising talents, Abigail’s fearless character, Annie’s administrative skills and my diplomatic approach
led to outstanding achievements. One of

Sarah Chiumbu
the accomplishments that I am proud of
was buying the MISA House at 84 McChlery
Drive Eastlea, Harare, through a SIDA
Another woman also played a key role
here – Janah Ncube, who assisted us in preparing the proposal to funders. The SIDA
grant also purchased the first MISA Zimbabwe car that came in a curious ruby pink!
(nothing to do with the female power at the
Our beloved and kindly driver, the now

late Paul Zaru, stood out as he drove the
pink car around Harare and the country.
The MISA House also brought in Joseph
Makiyi, who came in as Chef, but later morphed into several valuable roles. He became
the cornerstone of MISA House.
I left MISA Zimbabwe in July 2004 with a
heavy heart and passed the baton to Rashweat Mukundu, who became the youngest
National Director at 26 years old. I knew
that I was living the organisation in good
hands, and as the years passed, MISA Zimbabwe grew from strength to strength.
Rashweat turned over the directorship
to Takura Zhangazha, who brought deep
thinking and heightened advocacy to the
organisation. Takura passed on the (advocacy) role to Tabani Moyo, the resourceful
director who has re-branded MISA Zimbabwe and placed it on the world map.
Under the leadership of these three
young men, with the excellent assistance
of Nyasha Nyakunu, then MISA Zimbabwe senior programmes officer, the organisation became adept at lobbying key stakeholders, notably the Parliament of Zimbabwe through its relevant Portfolio Committees.
Over the years, MISA Zimbabwe successfully lobbied for media reforms and gained
big wins for media freedoms.
Key achievements include the adoption
of progressive and explicit constitutional provisions on media freedom, freedom
of expression and access to information as
now provided for in the country’s 2013 Constitution, the partial opening of the broad-

casting sector and the striking off of Section 96 of the Criminal Law Codification
and Reform Act, which made defamation a
criminal offence.
Looking to the future, freedom of expression NGOs such as MISA face challenging
times as the communication eco-system
keeps transforming. Advocacy issues within the ambit of digital rights and freedom
of expression online include digital access,
online content regulation, privacy and surveillance, misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms.
The implications of data and artificial
intelligence-driven tools for media freedom
and freedom of expression are also essential to consider.
While the introduction of AI-driven
tools can create new opportunities for users to exercise their freedom of expression
rights, automated filtering and sorting can
also result in new digital inequalities and
unequal opportunities for access to information.
While personal data has taken an increasing role in all of our lives, the ownership
and control of this data are not just questions for people in the IT sector, but also for
those interested in freedom of expression
and human rights.
Sarah Chiumbu is an associate professor in the School of Communication,
University of Johannesburg, South Africa and former national director with
MISA Zimbabwe.

A people's media in our time


s MISA Zimbabwe marks 25 years of existence, one cannot but marvel at the
changes in the media spaces that have
unfolded over time.
Gazing into the future, it is again impossible
to imagine what the media ecosystem will shape
out to be.
One reality is likely to stand out, that media
spaces will increasingly belong to the people
more so as the online or internet based digital
media spaces continue to grow and breach the
many bottlenecks, policy and blockages that authorities will try to put in place.
Going back 25 years into the past, it was almost impossible to dream that Zimbabwe would
have a constitutional order as we have now, with
Sections 61 and Sections 62 specifically protecting, promoting media and free expression rights.
Never mind the intransigence of political leaders in trampling these rights, the foundation is
firmly set and what is left is to build on the principles set out in the Constitution.
It was almost impossible to think that the monopoly of the state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe
Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) would be broken. In 2021 Zimbabwe has licensed community radio stations, and commercial TV and radio.
The key change forced on the ruling elite was
that the old order was no longer sustainable. The
changes have not come on a silver platter but are
a result of years of advocacy and engagement on
these matters.
If the political elite had a choice, Zimbabwe
would not have the online based social media
space which has contributed to the democratisation of the media space, much to the disappointment of the political leadership.
An interesting observation as MISA marks
25 years, is the resilience of media reform advocates. If there was an area from which one
would easily have quit from, the media sector
is one such area, for the monopoly of the state
broadcaster, and the ruling elite's determination
to maintain a media monopoly appeared to be
Generations of Zimbabweans have lived under the media monopoly structure in which the
interests of the elites are protected by a welloiled propaganda machinery.

Rashweat Mukundu
In the past 25 years violence has been used
against journalists, prominent of which are the
bombings of the Daily News, and VOP, the dismissal of hundreds of journalists from the ZBC and other state-controlled media. The political capture of
some private newspapers, abuse of undemocratic
media law to shut down independent media, beatings, threats and arrests of hundreds of journalists
and deportation of some.
All this made media advocacy more depressing
and, in some cases, hopeless. Change, however, has
been built step by step and over decades and generations.
It is for this reason that 25 years on, new media
entities spawned by MISA have in turn become critical in advancing the media reform agenda from the
opening of the broadcasting sector, media regulation to sustainable community information platforms we now have.
Aided, and through online media, the transformation of the media spaces can only outpace the restrictions we see. Attempts at shutting down civic
voices through cyber laws are bound to fail as the
net is now a people's platform. The media is no longer alone, but now shares the same spaces with mil-

lions of others in Zimbabwe and billions in the
The Zimbabwe government should develop
media policy with the understanding that the
public can no longer be silenced, but can only
be conversed with.
Leaders have to learn to listen and engage and
not dominate, learn to share and not restrict and
deny. The future of media policy must focus on
media as platforms of dialogue on national developmental and governance issues and not for
control and managing information.
It is only when quality information is part of
our daily conversations that we can collectively fight misinformation and disinformation. Dis
and mis - information is partly aided by a lack
of access to quality information and absence of
public conversations.
Throttling the net, monopolising media spaces such as Zimpapers and ZBC can only fuel the
tensions and mistrust in an already polarised society. Apart from a few policy issues, cyber security included, Zimbabwe's future media is anchored on platforms of content generation and
information sharing.
Authorities must accept this reality or always
be on the back foot.
Journalists have to accept that the world we
are in has significantly changed, and that journalism is now conversational and not downloading information to passive audiences.
We are in a world where explainer, sustainable
and public interest journalism must take root,
more so as Zimbabwe and the entire globe, face
existential threats such as climate and environmental disasters and pandemics.
Media policy must therefore promote access
to information, sharing and participation. Journalism must go beyond the ordinary to talk to
the challenges society faces.
While Zimbabwe remains in the deep waters
in its politics, one sure thing is that the public is
in the midst of dialogues and discussions.
While we still need to expand such platforms
to rural communities, the tide is favouring the
people. Our programming going forward must
have communities at the centre.
Rashweat Mukundu is a Zimbabwean journalist and former national director with MISA

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