Press Representation of the Government of National Unity (2009-2013) 

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Chapter 2: Press and Political Conflict in Zimbabwe


This study is about newspaper representation of political conflict in Zimbabwe, with particular focus on how the state-owned and the privately-owned newspapers framed political party power, succession politics and factionalism. The aim of this chapter is to review literature linked to the study in order to situate the study in its proper context and also to identify any existing knowledge gaps in the body of knowledge. The chapter will begin by providing a background of the Zimbabwean political and economic crises, beginning at the turn of the century. An analysis of the genesis of the Zimbabwean political conflict will entail reviewing events around the constitutional referendum in 2000, the election campaigns between 2000 and 2008, the Government of National Unity between 2009 and 2013 and the 2013 harmonised elections.

Political Conflict and the Media in Zimbabwe

Conflict has been part and parcel of the making of the Zimbabwean nation, beginning with the first Chimurenga in the 19th century, the second Chimurenga beginning in the 1960s, the Gukurahundi genocide of the early 80s and the land reform programme of the 2000s (coined as the Third Chimurenga by ZANU PF), among many other conflicts. In fact Zimbabwe and conflict are inseparable.
The year 2000 is very significant in Zimbabwe as it marked the genesis of the current Zimbabwean political and economic crisis. Faced with a plethora of problems including the erosion of their hegemony, economic and social crises President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF party started repackaging history. Faced with waning electoral support, brought on by economic decline and popular disenchantment with the party’s authoritarian politics, ZANU-PF turned to Zimbabwe’s liberation story and other strategies to maintain its hold on power. This chapter argues that there was descent into violence in Zimbabwean society. The millennium marked the onset of Zimbabwe’s descent into political terror and economic collapse.
The events of the year 2000 signalled that Zimbabwe’s citizens were realigning politically. Bratton and Masunungure (2011) observe that the ruling coalition, which represented the declining relevance of the politics of national liberation, was losing mass support to an emergent opposition that promoted a liberal discourse embedded in the advocacy for peace, economic opportunity and human rights. The year 2000 also marked an intensification of the ruling elite’s strategy: finally abandoning any pretence of political toleration, ZANU-PF leaders endeavoured to crush any opposition movement that threatened its permanent hold on power. They embarked on a no-holds-barred effort to retain office regardless of the costs to the country’s legal and administrative institutions or to the development of the economy and society. For its part, the untested MDC struggled to make good on stated democratic principles amidst a pervasive political culture of predation, militarisation and terror (Bratton & Masunungure, 2011, 15).
The turning point was the referendum on a new constitution. The government’s official draft of the constitution ignored popular views – voiced more accurately by the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) – for a reduction in presidential powers. In a vote in February 2000, a 55 percent majority voted ‘NO’ on a 20 percent turnout. It was the ruling party’s first defeat at the polls. It was after suffering the body blow that ZANU PF started promoting confrontational discourses through the state-owned media to denigrate the opposition MDC by labelling it ‘puppets’ of the West, ‘stooges’, ‘sell-outs’, “unpatriotic” and “enemies of the state”. Since the MDC victory in the 2000 referendum, ZANU-PF embarked on new propaganda tool as a way to regain back its hegemony. Name calling was one of the propaganda techniques ZANU PF unleashed. The ruling party has allegedly called MDC names such as puppets, stooges and sell-outs (Gatsheni-Ndlovu 2009; Chuma 2008; Mazango 2005; Moyo 2005; Waldahl 2005). In the privately-owned media MDC was thus constructed as “a victim of a rogue state” (Chuma 2005).
The Mugabe led government was shocked by the referendum defeat and its response was swift and brutal. The President and his party blamed their loss of the referendum to the newly formed opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) which they sought to portray as a front for the white settler minority and western imperial powers in the state-owned media. Henceforth, these “enemies of the state” could not expect protection from the rule of law.
Fearing another defeat in the upcoming parliamentary elections of June 2000, the ruling party turned to its tried and tested tactics of regaining lost power by whipping up emotions up grievances over the sensitive land issue. War veterans and unemployed youth were manipulated into synchronising a campaign of farm ‘invasions’, which was proclaimed as a third phase of Chimurenga [liberation war]. Since white commercial farmers had often openly supported MDC, they became targets of ‘jambanja’ [chaos] by which ‘unruly gangs’ occupied white-owned farms, destroyed crops, livestock and equipment, and harassed landowners and farm workers alike, forcing them to flee (Bratton & Masunungure, 2011). Party leaders ordered the previously neutral police not to intervene.
The ruling party strategy for subsequent elections – in June 2000 (parliamentary), March 2002 (presidential) and March 2005 (parliamentary) – was to create ‘no-go’ zones in the countryside that were closed to opposition campaigns. Under the direction of the party hierarchy, local ZANU-PF officials and members ignored constitutional guarantees of free association and assembly by effectively banning MDC from entering certain areas. State-sponsored militias harassed, intimidated, raped and murdered MDC candidates and supporters. At the same time, the ruling party employed mass media – especially government controlled television and radio stations and daily and weekly newspapers to restrict coverage of MDC, except to depict them as pawns of neo-colonialism. For its part, the opposition used ZCTU and NCA structures to build a rival network of activists among public service workers like teachers, nurses and agricultural extension workers, including in the ruling party’s rural strongholds. The MDC slogan – ‘Chinja maitiro’ [change your ways] – had a stronger appeal to the long suffering urban youth, workers, professionals and the residents of politically disaffected regions such as Matabeleland, Midlands and Manicaland. It was a new party with a ‘fresh’ agenda whose coalition of supporters included the privately-owned media, particularly the Daily News.
After the formation of the MDC in 1999, the referendum, and the fast track land redistribution programme in 2000 with its attendant political conflicts, the press in Zimbabwe were divided along political affiliation (see Willems, 2004; Chari, 2010). As a consequence, the Zimbabwean society became polarised. The government press unreservedly supports the ZANU-PF government and always portrays the opposition in bad light. On the other hand, the private press which is stridently anti-government maintains a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” stance towards MDC and its society allies (Chari, 2009: 55).
Inevitably politics in Zimbabwe is viewed in binary terms, what Chuma (2005) refers to as “the good and the evil”. According to Chuma (2005) the state-owned media has always viewed the MDC as the evil and ZANU PF as the good. For the-state-owned media, ZANU PF is the good because it ‘represents’ the interests of the Zimbabweans while MDC ‘represents’ the interests of the British. Gatsheni-Ndlovu (2009:140) supports this view when he argues that Zimbabwean politics is divided into “traitors, puppets, sell-outs enemies of the nation versus patriots and authentic national subjects”. Whether the press in Zimbabwe has the potential to engender conflict or promote peace through their representation is the focus of this thesis. In particular, it interrogates how political conflicts within the ruling party, ZANU PF and the opposition MDC are framed in the press. It is important to note that the two political parties have different ideologies because of their historical backgrounds. It is generally believed that the state-owned press always sympathises with the ZANU PF government while the privately-owned press unapologetically supports the opposition MDC. However, evidence to support these views is largely anecdotal as there are no conclusive academic studies on this. This thesis seeks to contribute towards building a body of knowledge in this regard. Given this scenario it will be significant to analyse how both the parties and their leaders are represented in the newspapers. Whether the state-owned and the privately-owned press always differ in their representation of political issues or not is therefore a central question. Media representation of political conflict could be a very useful lens for gaining insights into this issue because political conflicts are emotive and polarising, meaning that it would be difficult for the press to disguise their sympathies on political issues than any other issues. It is important to briefly examine the emotive issue of land reform in Zimbabwe so as to appreciate media representation on it.

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Media Representation of Land Reform

There are scholars who have examined how newspapers in Zimbabwe report on controversial issues like land reform. These scholars include Willems, Chari and Mushore though the first two will be given more emphasis. These scholars made some important contribution to this study by providing the general picture of the representation tendencies of the public and private media in Zimbabwe. Although land reform is not the main focus of this study, it is important to state that it is one of the sub-themes and therefore how newspapers reported on it is helpful as it contributed to the broader political conflict in Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe few scholars have studied media representation of land reform which was carried out post 2000.
These scholars include Willems (2004), Chari (2010) and Mushore (2012). This section focus on what these scholars examine on Zimbabwe’s media representation of Land Reform programme. Willems (2004) in her article Selection and silence: contesting meanings of land in Zimbabwean media compares and examines how the Daily News and The Herald newspapers have represented the land reform programme which gained momentum in 2000. Willems (ibid) argued that Daily News published on criticism of farm occupations. Various groups such as the international community, opposition parties, human rights organisations, labour unions, business community, and farm worker representatives were quoted as expressing their disapproval of farm occupations although they supported the principle of land reform as long as it would be conducted in a transparent manner. By contrast, The Herald carried articles in which other, mainly political actors declared their support for the land reform such as foreign governments, churches, labour unions and most importantly ruling and oppositional parties from neighbouring countries. However, while supporting land reform if it would be conducted in a transparent and orderly manner, some actors were reported to be concerned about the farm occupations.
Willems (2004: 7) argued that:
Media representations of the land question in the run up to the June 2000 parliamentary elections came to parallel the political polarisation environment, thereby missing chances for a serious and more subtle debate on the land issue in the Zimbabwean media.
Mushore (2010) also argues that media parallelism was notably demonstrated after a constitutional amendment on compulsory acquisition of land by the government which was pushed through Parliament in April 2000. He argues further that before this constitution amendment Bill was passed in Parliament, the citizens of Zimbabwe had already rejected it through the referendum which had taken place in February 2000.
Despite this background, The Herald, according to Willems (2004):
Constructed the amendment as a historical occasion concluding the ‘’struggle for land’’ in Zimbabwe which had started during the first uprising against the British in the late 19th century [‘’First Chimurenga’’] and had continued during the liberation war in the 1970s [‘’Second Chimurenga’’].
It described the amendment as a means to overcome past impediments to land reform, giving rise to a ‘’Third Chimurenga’’, thereby suggesting that legal restrictions had been the main reason for the previously limited extent of resentment (Willems, 2004: 8).
Willems concluded that The Herald failed to denigrate the Bill because it was and is still sponsored by the state. This can be a clear fact that state-controlled media support government projects as contained in Zimpapers’ editorial policy.
The Daily News, on the other hand, commented negatively about the Bill through a cartoon which portrayed ZANU PF MPs dancing to the tune of “ZANU ndeyeropa’’ which Namate the cartoonist, literally translated as ‘’ZANU is ‘’bloody’’ (Willems, ibid, 8). While The Herald quickly focused on the historical background of the land issue that had necessitated the passing of the Bill by Parliament [government of ZANU PF], the Daily News was forward looking, focusing instead on the “violence that would be a likely accompaniment of the [ZANU PF] strategies to remain in power’’. It should be noted that cartoons in both the public and private media created contestable categories of public issues and individuals that reflected particular conceptual ways of depicting divergent ideologies. Mushore (2012) states that visuals placed in a story can add, accentuate the message and even contradict what the verbal words are suggesting. The analysis in this study partly focuses on visuals such as photographs, and cartoons and how these complement texts in the construction of meaning about political conflict.
Willems (ibid) argues that the state-controlled The Herald blamed the rejection of the referendum on “the massive turnout of whites’’. The state media explained the rejection of the constitution by whites as motivated by the clause that would allow the government to compulsorily acquire land without compensation for the landless masses. Willems further argues that whites could not really have had a significant impact on the final results since they constitute a small percentage of Zimbabwe’s population. But with the establishment of the MDC, whites did come to play a more public role in political activities and some held positions in the party. This was quickly taken up by ZANU PF and the state media who portrayed the MDC as a party ‘funded by white farmers’ and dominated by ‘Rhodesian interests’ (Willems, 2004:11).

CHAPTER 1: Introduction and Background to Study 
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Context of Study
1.3 Purpose of study
1.5 Relevance of the topic
1.6 Relationship of the topic to the Discipline of Communication
1.7 Literature Review
1.8 Theoretical Framework
1.9 Goals and objectives of the study
1.10 Formulation of the research problems
1.11 Methodology
1.12 Feasibility of the study
1.13 Ethical considerations
Chapter 2: Press and Political Conflict in Zimbabwe
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Political Conflict and the Media in Zimbabwe
2.3 Elections as a Source of Conflict
2.4 Politics, Violence and Conflict: From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe
2.5 The 2008 Elections
2.6 Conclusion
Chapter 3 Press Representation of the Government of National Unity (2009-2013) 
3.1 Introduction
3.2 GNU Negotiations in the State-Owned Press
3.3 The Inclusive Government and The Press
3.4 Internal Political Party Dynamics in ZANU PF
3.5 Factionalism and infighting in The MDC-T
Chapter 4: Press, ZANU PF Succession and Factionalism 
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Press Representation of ZANU PF Succession Battles
4.3 The Tsholotsho Saga
4.4 Grace Mugabe’s Entry into Main Stream Politics
4.5 Mnangagwa Faction Strategy
4.6 Press Representation of Grace Mugabe’s Nationwide Rallies
4.7 Representation of the Purging of Provincial Chairpersons
4.8 Pre-December Epic Congress Purges
4.9 The Fall of Mujuru
4.10 Cartooning Succession Politics
4.11 Conclusion
Chapter 5: Power, Succession Battles and Factionalism in the MDC 
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Political Parties in Zimbabwe
5.3 Defining Factions
5.4 Stages of splinter party formation
5.5 Departure: splinter party formation versus infiltration
5.6 MDC SPLIT 2005: Pro-Senate versus Anti-Senate election
5.7 Press Representation of MDC-T splits: 2014
5.8 MDC-T not Contesting in Elections: Faces another Split
5.9 Another split imminent in MDC-T: Tsvangirai versus Chamisa?
5.10 Conclusion
Chapter 6: Political Conflict between ZANU-PF and MDC
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Post-Colonial Leadership
6.3 Liberation Movements as government
6.4 Monopoly in Political and Economic Spheres
6.5 Liberation Movements Solidarity?
6.6 Representation of ZANU PF and MDC
6.7 Conclusions
Chapter 7: Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations 
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Analysis of Findings
7.3 Representation of Political Conflict
7.4 Recommendations
Representation of Political Conflict in the Zimbabwean Press: The Case of The Herald, The Sunday Mail, Daily News and The Standard, 1999-2016

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