When the moment finally came, it caught many Zimbabweans – their media included – by surprise. After 37 years in power culminating in a week-long struggle, 93-year-old Robert Mugabe resigned as Zimbabwe’s president.
The transition began when tanks rolled onto the streets of the capital, Harare, and a man in a military uniform appeared on the state-owned TV channel assuring everyone that what looked like a coup and sounded like a coup was, in fact, not a coup.
At the time, the Herald, Zimbabwe’s largest newspaper, and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation were both directed not to publicise the unfolding events. After decades of dedication to the Mugabe government, the two outlets were in a difficult situation; one they would have to eventually forsake in favour of relevant and honest reporting.
“The state-owned Herald newspaper found itself in the unenviable position of having a front page story denouncing the generals after their [initial] press conference,” said Lance Guma, editor and exiled journalist at Nehanda radio. “In the morning, they had to produce another special edition with a completely different message, praising the military intervention. It was a spectacular u-turn.”
A similar trend would continue throughout the week to come. During those seven days of constitutional limbo, the country’s mainstream journalists – many of whom had spent decades toeing the government line – seemed unsure who they were taking their orders from, or what line they were supposed to take.
This changed when Emmerson Mnangagwa, a senior member of the ruling ZANU-PF party, was eventually sworn in as Mugabe’s successor. But how will the end of the Mugabe’s rule affect the media and freedom of the press in Zimbabwe? Where some are optimistic, others are concerned that Mugabe’s impeachment alone will not make much of a difference.
“ZANU-PF is still in charge. This is the equivalent of a snake that has simply shed its skin,” continues Guma. “We have no idea who the next information minister is going to be, whether the oppressive laws, like access to information and the protection of privacy act that has been used to muzzle the media in Zimbabwe, whether that is going to be scrapped. So like many are saying, a tyrant has been removed. But has the tyranny gone?”
Talking us through the week of confusion that ended an era for Zimbabwe’s media are:
Lance Guma, managing editor, Nehanda Radio & TV
Wendy Willems, assistant professor, London School of Economics
Alexander Rusero, lecturer, Harare Polytechnic School of Journalism
Source: Al Jazeera