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Opinion: Harare spring fizzles out

Promise of significant media reforms in Zimbabwe fails to materialize.

But there has been no change in the fawning attitude of Mugabe’s mouthpieces. On the occasion of his 86th birthday last weekend the Manica Post in a front-page hagiographical article described the president as “an object of cynosure held in both veneration and reverence among other African leaders.” Mugabe is as constant as the North Star, readers were told, and would not be “bullied into submission by an incessant Western barrage.”

More disturbing was the return to Mugabe’s fold of former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo who presided over the closure of independent newspapers and the arrest of journalists in 2003-2004 before being expelled from Zanu-PF in 2005 for standing as an independent parliamentary candidate.

The Zimbabwean’s editor Wilf Mbanga claims Moyo has recently made a number of threats which have led to the arrest of the newspaper’s distributors. They are being charged with “falsehoods prejudicial to the state.”

This followed a story in The Zimbabwean claiming Moyo had met with other top Zanu-PF officials to discuss the formation of a new splinter group. Moyo has strongly denied any such episode.

“The tactic of harassment, arrest and charges in connection with publication in newspapers,” Mbanga wrote, “is reminiscent of the days when Jonathan Moyo was Minister of Information and regularly made complaints to the police culminating in the arrest and charging of many journalists on allegations of publishing false statements."

Media Institute of Southern Africa Director Nhlanhla Ngwenya said the incident betrayed the government’s lack of commitment to media reform.

“The whole incident exposes the fallacy of media reform rhetoric,” Ngwenya said.

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, which has not issued a single licence since its formation 10 years ago, took out an advert in the state media last weekend to congratulate Mugabe on his 86th birthday.

The state press quoted visiting U.S. Congressional delegation leader Gregory Meeks as describing Mugabe as “a great man” after meeting him at State House, the president's official residence in Harare. The press did not mention how Meeks described Prime Minister Tsvangirai.

 Meanwhile, the only voice heard across the land remains that of the incumbent who does not describe any plans to extract the country from the hole he has dug for it.