On May 18, 2017, The Patriot, a local newspaper that is headquartered in Harare, ran a misleading article entitled Wolves in sheep skins. The article went to great lengths struggling to articulate how Nhimbe Trust and other cultural organizations have become ‘regime change’ organisations.
Nhimbe Trust would not have bothered to respond to the article had it been written as an opinion piece in a publication like The Patriot for obvious reasons. However, the story was packaged and presented as a news article, which sends the misleading message that it is a factual narrative. It is therefore Nhimbe Trust’s view that such an approach towards journalism as a profession weakens the tenets of expression, which in actual fact are sacrosanct and protected by the constitution of Zimbabwe. We take it that factual errors and speculative reporting characterizing the article are not borne out of their professional mistakes but rather a reflection of political and other ulterior motives that are aimed at damaging reputations for reasons best known to the paper. Nhimbe Trust’s mandate and scope of work is aptly captured in its vision statement that strives for, “…a vibrant and sustainable Zimbabwean cultural sector, sufficiently regulated and well resourced.” This indelibly cast vision is further broken down through our mission statement, “To advocate for public policies that recognize, enhance and foster cultural diversity for cultural expressions; to contribute to the socio-economic development of Zimbabwe.”
Every intervention that we undertake in the country is anchored on the afore-stated timeless decree, which is engrained and engraved in a traceable footprint of our programmes. As noted in our vision and mission statements, we do not advocate for selective and comfortable expression that suits sections of the population but a rather 360-degree approach in support of creative and innovative expressions across all channels and means. We find it very disturbing that The Patriot has fallen into the trap of political dogma, which is bent on attacking creativity and expression through wanton and brazen labelling of the cultural products as ‘regime change’. This is akin to setting the arts and cultural sector in a collision course against the government of the day. As Nhimbe Trust, we refuse to be dragged on this felonious road and remain adamant that newspapers have an obligatory role of truth telling. We call upon the newspaper to seriously consider returning to the founding ethos of competitive journalism, which is that of ethical and factual reporting. Surely, a newspaper does not have to play the ‘prosecutor, jury and judge role’, as if to say it is a holy trinity establishment. If there were no ulterior motives, the paper should have given all those artistic organizations accused of being agents of regime change a chance to respond to the heinous accusations before the paper published the story. As an organization founded on a progressive vision and mission statement, we therefore dismiss the allegations that we are a ‘regime change’ organization with the contempt they deserve.
To the contrary, our track record shows that we have been at the epicentre of the struggles for the arts to operate in a secure and competitively regulated space as a means to guarantee that they thrive and succeed in line with the developmental quest for the country’s ZIMASSET. Suffice to mention we enjoy mutual and cordial relations amongst the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary in as far as the advancement of Nhimbe Trust’s vision and mission is concerned. We do so as law respecting citizens of the republic and remain subservient to the supremacy of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013), which fireproofs the right to creativity for the peoples of Zimbabwe. As already noted, our vision and mission statements are guaranteed explicitly under Section 61 (1) which reads: Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes – (b) freedom of artistic expression and scientific research and creativity… It is of grave concern that The Patriot feels that it has the sweeping powers to take away from the industry the rights that are guaranteed in the supreme law of the land.
We hope it is not out of ulterior political motives, especially when the country is headed towards the 2018 general election. Newspapers, by their construct, are part of the broader creative industries and conduits of the right to freedom of expression, hence the general expectation that they will play an industry advocacy role in furtherance of industry requirements.
They do so by calling upon the Government of Zimbabwe to review the laws that hinder the enjoyment of the constitution as aforementioned. Laws such as the infamous Censorship and Entertainment Controls Act (CECA), Broadcasting Services Act (BSA), Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), Criminal Law (Codification Reform) Act, Public Order and Security Act (POSA), among others, are an impingement in the enjoyment of section 61 (1) (a). Due to the existence of these laws that violate the constitution, artists across the board have been arrested, harassed, tortured and exposed to harm.
We therefore invite The Patriot to join our voice in our demands for a democratic and sustainable regulatory framework to govern the arts. In focusing on a speculative and factually incorrect story on the creative industry, the paper squandered an opportunity to effectively assess the challenges that the creative industry faces in the country and how the stakeholders could possibly map the way forward.
As we head towards the 2018 elections, we want to take this opportunity to call upon the government to:
• Guarantee the safety of artists while they undertake their constitutionally protected work as outlined in Section 61 (1) (a);
• Repeal the aforementioned laws and replace them with democratic legislation that supports the flourishing of expression and artistic creativity;
• Open up the airwaves so that there is healthy competition for the development of the content generation industry;
• Start consultations on the consolidation of the creative industries in Zimbabwe;
• Transform Zimbabwe Broadcasting Cooperation (ZBC) from being a state to a genuine public broadcaster;
• Transform the current Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) into an Independent Broadcasting Authority that is answerable to the Parliament of Zimbabwe.
These are the issues that we believe genuine industry stakeholders are grappling with and yearning for the speedy resolution of, as opposed to speculative stories, which lack validity when tested against ethical journalistic standards. Nhimbe Trust will therefore put it on record that our valued stakeholders and the broader industry should disregard The Patriot’s story as false and unfounded. In the USA they would call this uninformed bad will ‘fake news’.