M6 NewsDay | Friday December 17 2021

MISA turns 25: a humble giant in the
struggle for media reform in Zimbabwe


HOSE that know me well can attest to my hatred of Mondays.
They are such a depressing anticlimax from the usual restful, yet
fun-packed weekends that I find therapeutic to the energy sapping and taxing week
days of my life.
So January 11 2010 was that odd, but special Monday that has remained etched in
my memory and safely secured in my vault
of special moments.
I walked into MISA Zimbabwe offices as
the national director having been appointed by the Board at the end of 2009, a decision that almost split the organisation’s
membership as a group of some individuals sought to fiercely contest the Board’s
judgment all the way to the MISA Regional
office in Namibia.
This in itself represented MISA’s unkind induction of myself on the fundamental values of the organisation, which uphold the need to allow for free expression
of one’s opinion and respect for divergent
views – however uncomfortable they may
be – as the centrepiece of a democratic society.
Membership to one organisation does
and should not translate into seeing things
the same way. Even choirs have discordant
notes that break the rhythm. But they still
remain a group bound by the desire to sing
for an occasion.
Thus, while I was excited to be leading
an organisation that had vastly influenced
my career choice as I enrolled for the Post
Graduate Diploma in Media and Communication Studies, and later for my Masters
degree on the same with the University of
Zimbabwe, as well as form the foundation
of my career as a media and communications expert post my studies, I was fully
much aware of the challenges ahead.
Unity of purpose and building consensus
regardless of divergent views was key in
positioning the organisation to respond to
media challenges of the day and influence
reforms, especially as the country invested
its hopes on the coalition government made
up of Zanu PF and factions of the MDC.
My appointment was almost a year into
the formation of the coalition government and hopes were high that it would
be smooth sailing for media freedom advo-

cates as they now had allies in the “new” administration.
This was particularly so as the main currency of the administration was the promise of a reformed Zimbabwe characterised
by democratic legislation, justice and improved socio-economic wellbeing of citizens.
The challenges were there for all to see
However, sooner, political brinkmanship
within the coalition government left no
doubt that the resolution of the fundamental democratic questions of the time would
remain an illusion.
And, as MISA Zimbabwe we could not
afford to be consumed by the euphoria
brought about by the coalition nor shy away
from confronting those who had joined government and who hitherto shared with us
the same vision on media freedom and freedom of expression. They had to be kept on
their toes and held accountable to their
That required a united organisation that
spoke with one voice. As the secretariat
we ensured the organisation’s structures
across the country’s main provinces came
together to focus on the bigger picture of
media reforms and sufficient safeguards for
freedom of expression.
With the network density of its membership, the organisation built national consensus around its key asks and ensured
message discipline during engagements
with legislators, diplomats, regulators, relevant ministries and state institutions, community members and key allies in the media and civil society.
It was that unity, which gave the organisation the courage to rebuff sweeteners from
some members of government and donors
aimed at ensuring that we soften our advocacy blows and compromise on our values.
We could not waiver on our demands on
self-regulation, democratic broadcasting
regulation, sufficient safeguards for freedom of expression, the promotion of access
to information and citizens’ right to privacy.
These were non-negotiable!
This principled approach, which beyond
the usual corridors of power was on public display during the public consultations
by the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry as well as the 2013 constitution mak-

Nhlanhla Ngwenya
ing process, is reflected in the outcome of
the two processes among other markers of
These include the repeal of AIPPA and licensing of community radios, after a long
tedious battle with the powers that be.
True to its position as a strategic, foresighted and robust lead agent on media
freedom and freedom of expression in Zimbabwe, MISA Zimbabwe proactively appreciated the disruptive nature of digital communication technologies anchored on the
rising penetration of the internet in the
Rather than watch in awe the unravelling
technologies, the organisation took leadership in influencing democratic governance
of the digital space as well as promoting access to and availability of the internet, especially among those living on the margins
of the information highway.
This was predicated on the realisation of
communication opportunities provided by
the internet, especially in a country with
media restrictions such as Zimbabwe, and
the need to thus ensure democratic regulation of the space.
Besides spearheading the convening of
multi-stakeholder internet governance forums, providing alternative internet regulatory framework, the organisation facilitated the establishment of community networks – the first of its kind – to promote access in selected rural communities.
This pioneering work soon caught the
eye of ICT ministry officials, who then

came up with their own centres.
The journey has been long, hard and
risky but worth the sacrifice. Someone has
to do it, and selflessly put their neck on the
block for the benefit of citizens.
It is trite to note the indispensability of a
free media in building democracy. Equally,
accountable governance, just and inclusive
societies can only become a reality if citizens have access to diverse sources of information as a public good and are able to use
the information to question authorities, engage and participate in the governance of
their communities as well as mobilise and
act for the betterment of their lives.
That is why such zones of advocacy as
that occupied by MISA Zimbabwe, is a
place I associate myself with no apologies.
It was thus with a heavy heart that I left
MISA Zimbabwe on Thursday, August 31
2017, for it had not just become my work
place, but a part of my life. My workmates
became my second family; the membership became an expansive group of friends
spread across the country, who, to this day,
I call upon for help.
I also got linked to valuable contacts in
the public service, media think-tank organisations and media experts, not only
in Zimbabwe, but the region, who to date,
play an immense role in my career.
But I had to leave, entrenching a culture
of leadership renewal that is characteristic
of MISA Zimbabwe. I was the sixth National Director (in 14 years of its existence),
and was not going to be the one to break the
As with my predecessors, I had to keep
alive the fact that leadership is not about
holding on to a seat of authority but ensuring that the organisation outlives your
time when you pass on the baton and regenerates new and fresh ideas.
And indeed, MISA Zimbabwe is now
more vibrant and has registered staggering
successes within a short space of time under new leadership.
Politicians, civil society leaders, can certainly take a leaf from this humble giant
called MISA Zimbabwe.
Happy 25th!
Nhlanhla Ngwenya is former national director with MISA Zimbabwe and a
media and freedom of expression advocate.

Groomed for leadership
continuously wanting to do my best and not disappoint those who had confidence in my abilities
- even as an Intern.
Looking back, at that time, I did not realise that
this was part of MISA Zimbabwe’s grooming processes for tomorrow’s leaders.
I, however , have to say that not all was rosy during the internship period. Whereas we were privileged to get transport and meal allowances, this
was, however, quickly eroded by inflation because
at the time that I undertook my internship (20072008), Zimbabwe was witnessing one of its worst
hyper-inflation periods.
As a team of about three interns, we would continuously find ourselves having to write requests
for allowance reviews to the MISA Zimbabwe finance officer to ensure we had enough transport
resources to report for duty.



HE year 2007 saw me joining the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA Zimbabwe) as a research and information Intern.
Among other things, my duties entailed media
monitoring so as to assist in the drafting of media alerts and communiqués on media violations,
event management and co-ordination, website
management, reports compilation and attending
media related court cases.
It goes without saying that my one-year internship saw me developing a keen interest and indepth appreciation of freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom issues.
Life at MISA Zimbabwe
When I look back, I fondly remember many notable events that occurred during my internship period. However, if I am asked to pick the most memorable ones, the first one would be the time when
I was seconded to work as an assistant at a Media Centre which MISA Zimbabwe established in
The Media Centre was established to provide a
safe space for journalists as they covered the 2008
election story. The 2008 election was one of the
most controversial and highly contested elections
which culminated in the formation of the inclusive
Government in 2009.
As such, working under the Media Centre manager, I got to see first-hand how journalists played

Vivienne Marara
a leading role in telling the Zimbabwe election story - not only to Zimbabweans, but the world over.
My second memorable event was when my then
supervisor sent me on a solo assignment to conduct press club discussions in Mutare and Masvingo. I remember travelling with the late MISA Driver, Sekuru Zaru (May His Dear Soul Rest in Peace),
to these two events in awe that my supervisor had
confidence in my abilities to deliver on these two
I chose to specifically mention the Media Centre
experience and the field trip because these two assignments instilled in me a sense of discipline and

Work life
The experience gained during my time at MISA
Zimbabwe adequately capacitated me with lobby
and advocacy skills which later on encompassed
the bulk of my work, when a few months after
completing my first degree in Journalism and Media Studies, I was to join the Zimbabwe Association
of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS).
Working at ZACRAS, initially as the advocacy
and information officer, and later as national cocoordinator, did not pose many challenges. I already possessed the relevant skills for the job as a
result of my internship period.
The numerous Press Club discussions that we organised and attended at the Quill Club in Harare

and the various interactions with journalists, came
in handy as I was already acquainted with some of
the people that I was to then work with at ZACRAS.
It has been more than a decade since I left MISA
Zimbabwe. However, the values and principles instilled in me during my time at MISA will forever remain with me. As a wife and mother of two (a girl
and a boy),I sometimes reminisce about how far I
have come since the days at MISA.
I am, however, grateful that my MISA memories
are always kept fresh as I continue to interact and
work with former MISA colleagues.
As I conclude this article, I can only but smile as I
reminisce about my time at MISA Zimbabwe. MISA
Zimbabwe has groomed several interns who now
occupy different influential positions in Zimbabwe
and abroad.
We may now be scattered across the country
and the world, however, we never forget the MISA
Zimbabwe influence and how it shaped us to be
the persons we are today.
We shall forever remain “MISA babies”.
Happy 25th Anniversary MISA Zimbabwe.
Like fine wine, may you continue to mature with

Vivienne Marara is a media development practitioner. She is the former national coordinator
of the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS). She can be reached on

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