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Press Freedom in Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights recently held a poetry and discussion session with the theme Press Freedom at the US Embassy Public Affairs Section.

The session began with youth activist George Makoni, representing the Youth Alliance for Democracy, discussing media freedom in Zimbabwe since 1963. Mr. Makoni interrogated the notion of Press Freedom saying that it was ‘the ability of people to express themselves through media platforms’. He gave the audience a brief historical background of the issues of media freedoms in Zimbabwe, and examined the use of the media by the state for repression. He pointed out that the methods used by the colonial government had been made use of and extended by post independence government, during and after the 2000 election period. He also made note of the legislative tools used by the ZANU PF government such as POSA and AIPPA to repress media freedom.

Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights comprises talented spoken word artists and poets. Samuel Mahuntse was amongst the first poets to take the stage. His poem, recited in English, Ndebele and Shona was celebratory in tone. It invited the world to take advantage of the World Cup in South Africa and to come and see what the real Africa looks likes. Another poet, Gargamel recited his poem ‘Pull, Pull, Pull and Pass’. While short, I found the poem to be very witty. Gargamel evoked the traumas of Operation Murambatsvina, and examined the state of Zimbabwean youth whom he charged had become a ‘clownish cast’. Mutumwapavi, with his poem ‘Izwi’ spoke about the power of words. In ‘Chigaro’, he examined the power of position.

The gathering of young people who attended the session, while small, was enthusiastic and eager to share their ideas. Of the questions from the floor the most difficult to address was, “What is propaganda? And who determines what it is?’ Consensus was reached in the definition that propaganda is a message designed for political means. Participants also discussed the infringement of the right to information and freedom of expression. Debate arose over the right to freedom of expression insofar as it does not infringe on another persons rights. Poet Cynthia Flow Child, discussed patriotism with regard to propaganda. She stated that in Zimbabwe patriotism has come to mean an association with a certain political party.

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