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Constitutional outreach is cosmetic

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Here’s another reason why state-controlled media should be boycotted. Below is an email we recently received from a Kubatana subscriber living in the south of Zimbabwe.

I’m aware that Kubatana’s correspondence with the public ended on 31 May 2010 but since COPAC has postponed outreach dates for Bulawayo, then this petition still applies. This is a plea on a personal level and petition on behalf of millions of people in Bulawayo and the South-South Western part of Zimbabwe who have no access to newspapers or simply cannot afford them.

For the Constitution making outreach programme to be meaningful to Zimbabweans, you will agree that we need to be constantly educated and informed on issues that affect us with regard to the laws of the land. In my view, radio is the cheapest, most effective medium of mass communication with the broadest coverage reaching even the simplest man on the street. With this in mind, please allow me to detail my grievance against ZBC.

Since 3 April 2010, there has been a breakdown in transmission of SFM radio and National FM Radio in the above mentioned areas. This was after an initial breakdown from 29 February 2010 to 1 March 2010 which was rectified after 3 days.

SFM airs programmes on the judicial system, parliamentary affairs, sexual reproductive health, education, religion, arts, politics, sports, business and finance, agriculture and mining, etc. These programmes have platforms for comment and debate besides the fact that they are educating and informative. It is therefore clear that such a radio station is vital for ALL Zimbabwean citizens to be well-informed and knowledgeable enough to make meaningful contribution during the constitution-making outreach programme (especially the urban citizen).

In my personal capacity, I have made serious attempts to have the SFM management to address this issue but to no avail.

* On 1 March 2010, I texted Hilton Mavise, Shift Head of Montrose Studio FM. He ignored the message.
* On April 21, I called Mrs. Nonceba Mkandla, the Area Manager for Bulawayo based at Montrose Studio. She said she had done all she could to prompt her superiors to address the issue to no avail. She said the problem was from Transmedia and TelOne faults. She even gave me Minister Webster Shamu’s two mobile saying the issue should be taken to him. Obviously neither of the Minister’s numbers was ever reachable.
* On May 7 2010, I called Rodney Rwende, the Shift Manager of SFM in Pockets Hill. Without bothering to hear what my problem was, he claimed his phone battery was low and gave me his superior’s number instead.
* On the same day, I called Simon Mkhithika, Head of SFM. He said he was aware of the problem. He was not any more helpful than the others but instead blamed the problem on some mysterious POLITICAL issue regards broadcasting that had been offset by Jonathan Moyo.
* I have called the engineers at Montrose and the radio presenters and the majority were rude, contempt of our plight and downright bureaucratic to protect their superiors.
* I have tried to reach Allen Chiweshe, Head of Radio Programming for ZBC on both his mobile and landline, to no avail. From this true information, it is clear I have gone out of my way to find numbers and call for rectification of the problems to no avail.

This led me to the conclusion that ZBC SFM is deliberately ignoring the breakdown in transmission to keep us ill-informed regards the pertinent issues that could equip us to make meaningful contribution to the new constitution. Besides that, ZBC continues to demand radio and TV license fees from this region despite their awareness that we have no access to either SFM or National FM. The licence fees are equivalent to those paid in Harare and Northern Zimbabwe although clearly this is grossly unfair as the capital has access to ZTV channel 2 at no additional cost. Is it coincidence that the languages targeted by National FM (e.g. Tonga, Venda, Sotho, Nambya, etc ) are spoken by people mainly found in the parts of Zimbabwe affected by the breakdown? I think not since ZBC (has not bothered to address this problem) regards these as minority people in Zimbabwe.

Why hasn’t ZBC at least spoken to us to address this problem via Power FM, Radio Zim or ZTV? Should we be silenced and accept ZBC’s excuse that the problem is Transmedia and TelOne’s baby when the problem affects its paid-up licence holders who will soon be expected to make contributions to the COPAC teams? Would it not be better for ALL willing Zimbabweans to be heard at a discreet but national radio level first, before the smaller, face-to-face platforms of the COPAC outreach reach them? Should this evil of clear regionalism, tribalism and sabotage of the constitution making process be ignored? Should our right to information and service provision for something we pay for be demanded? Should incompetence and corruption regards this issue be politicised?

Why is it when it comes to radio and TV transmission, Harare and its surroundings is never affected but Bulawayo has perennial problems including this current and on-going problem? Should sanctions be blamed on an issue that never affects Harare but makes it a mockery to say Bulawayo is the second-largest city? Do Cuthbert Dube and his fellow ZBC Board members even know about this issue since they have ensured that there is no clear platform for complaints regards faults and breakdowns of the service they chair? Does Happison Muchetetere, CEO of ZBC care about this problem and is he aware of its impact on this historic constitution making process on Southern Zimbabwean citizens?

We would sue ZBC if we had the means and know-how to do so. But then we are just ordinary citizens who are simply petitioning for this problem to be resolved and for us to be heard.

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