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Mugabe maintains media grip

Zimbabwe's state broadcaster maintains steady stream of TV and radio propaganda.

Zimbabwe opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)'s treasurer and Deputy Minister of Agriculture designate Roy Bennett leaves the High Court building in Harare, Nov. 12, 2009. Bennett is facing charges of banditry and plotting to kill President Robert Mugabe. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — It is an extraordinary situation: President Robert Mugabe’s
Zanu-PF party lost its parliamentary majority in elections last year. Mugabe himself lost in the first round of voting in the presidential poll but he managed to hang on to power by a campaign of violence and manipulation.

But despite this tide of public opinion against Mugabe, his Zanu-PF party continues to maintain its iron grip on the country’s sole broadcaster. As a result the only voice heard across the land — on radio and television — is Mugabe’s.

Not only is Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai shut out of news reports, he is also excoriated for allegedly undermining the Government of National Unity (GNU) in which he is prime minister.

Tsvangirai recently withdrew from active participation in the GNU because of what he called “unfulfilled promises by an unreliable partner.” He took his ministers with him.

“We have a crisis on our hands,” Tsvangirai said last month. “We are no longer talking about a theoretical case but a practical experience.” After three weeks of boycotting, Tsvangirai and other MDC ministers returned to cabinet meetings on Nov. 11, but the situation remains tense. The MDC is clearly unhappy with the power-sharing government which they complain is all about Mugabe keeping power and sharing very little.

Tsvangirai's most immediate frustration is the prosecution of MDC official Roy Bennett, facing what the MDC calls trumped-up terrorism charges. But another major sore point for Tsvangirai is Mugabe’s refusal to open up the media despite the fact that was specifically required in the agreement that formed the basis for the power-sharing government.

Mugabe's Zanu-PF, the losing party in last year’s poll, uses the broadcast media — and the vast swaths of the print media that the state owns — to “explain” to the public how they were duped by British and American propaganda into voting for a pro-Western party that did not have the interests of the people at heart.

Tsvangirai has taken his case to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional grouping that is tasked with mediating between the warring parties in Zimbabwe. A SADC delegation was in Zimbabwe this month to investigate MDC complaints about the broadcast media and other issues, although the official press described the visit as routine.

At the same time, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak was bundled out of the country before he could even begin his mission. Zanu-PF ministers said they were too busy with the SADC visit to see him but the fact that Tsvangirai offered to host the U.N. official probably sealed his fate.