By Shingirai Vambe
South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperations Minister Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor recently met with Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister Fredrick Shava where she expressed her worry over the continued shrinking of civic space and crack down of activists and journalists.
Since March 2020 when the country recorded its first case of COVID19 and instituted a national lockdown, several journalists and activists have been harassed, beaten or even arrested across the country by security personnel deployed to enforce COVID19 measures.
This is however a different song from the hymn book of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Nick Mangwana.
Mangwana appeared before the portfolio committee on Media and Broadcasting Services chaired by Matebeleland South Legislator, Sipho Mokone and said cases of attack, harassment and torture of journalists during Covid-19 lockdown are just allegations.
“No case that was brought to my attention that I ignored, in most cases I was contacted, journalists would probably be asked to sit down for 30-50min before being released at the check point.
This was due to late issuance of press cards by the Zimbabwe Media Commission. On the issue of harassment and torture no case was reported or brought to my attention” said Mangwana.
No case was reported, he said.
The Perm Sec further highlighted that there was no need to give journalists COVID19 Cushioning allowances because they were going to work during lockdown .
“Journalists were allowed to work, yes they should be paid. They can demonstrate against their income to the employer and will fully support that because they were working” added Mangwana.
The impact and effects of Covid 19, coupled with the economic situation in Zimbabwe have seen most media houses struggling due to loss of income and opportunities.
This has seen the majority of journalists opting to become freelancers due to low salaries, that are also coming in drips and late.
Statistics reveal, most journalists in Zimbabwe are getting less than equivalent of USD $100 per month, not enough to cater for their children’s school fees, rentals, transport to work to mention just a few.
Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), Programs Manager, Nigel Nyamutumbu told Post On Sunday that it is hypocritical to try and down play the plight of Journalists with regards to violations and safety in their operating environment.
“It is about reflecting on the cases which were recorded earlier and alone in 2020, about 53 cases were reported, and well documented and submitted by the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA)
There is need for the government to support the media sector through the enactment of the media sustainability fund, the taxes paid through the media ought to support the media broadly and Laws that support media business” said Nyamutumbu.
Adding to that he said that environment can only be achieved when there are democratic laws, safe operating environment and policies that support plural and diverse media enterprises.
In his report submitted to Parliament Mangwana said the media has funding challenges and the economic environment has forced media houses to scale down and said the industry is taking too long to adapt and evolve in line with new technologies which affects the quantity, quality and uptake of media products.
The 2020 national budget allocated supportive funds to state media only.
Meanwhile, some of the 6 new shortlisted companies that had applied for broadcasting licenses risk losing their offers as they fail to pay the required amount of money to get an operators licence.