ZANU PF Politburo Approving Radio Licences
Harare, Zimbabwe, 15 December 2009
1I got something of a shock yesterday when I was told by a reliable source that no licence for a radio station in Zimbabwe will be issued without the OK being given by the ZANU PF Politburo. ZANU PF is Mugabe's party and, as the source put it: "You must understand that ZANU PF is very sensitive when it comes to the media. They have been burnt before and now they are extremely careful about the airwaves and the media in general."
One "apolitical" person I spoke to yesterday informed that he had submitted an application and been subjected to meeting after meeting with CIO operatives, Minister of Information and Publicity Webster Shamu and many others.
He was asked to list the names of the people involved in the project as well as the names of the "backers" of the proposed radio station. When he submitted the names, which he all considered "apolitical", he was informed by a high-ranking CIO officer that the names were OK except for one, which was "suspect".
The advice to him was to drop that person and reapply, which he did. It has now been three months and he has not heard anything since.
It was when he revealed this that my source told him point blank that "apolitical" people were "professional broadcasters" and these would never be issued with a licence because the one question that is asked when applications go in is "Anoziva gwara remusangano here?" Translated, the question is: "Does he (or she) know the ideology of the party?"
That, apparently, is the one most important criteria for the issuing of licences and ZANU PF has no intention of going back on that. They will drag their feet, they will hesitate and deliberate and retreat to farms at weekends where these deals are thrashed out and deliberated. So a three month waiting period is nothing to write home about.
It was also only yesterday that I was told that ZANU PF is also extremely unhappy with the Financial Gazette, which they thought would fight in their corner once ownership changed, but which took the professional route of publishing stories critical of both ZANU PF and MDC. This was an unforgivable sin in the eyes of the ZANU PF Politburo.
"There is no licence that will be issued for newspapers or radio stations for the life of this Inclusive Government," my source confidently stated. "That will not happen because ZANU PF is determined to go into elections with the media landscape as it is right now."
The unhappiness with the Financial Gazette also explains why the newspaper, which announced plans to launch a daily newspaper, just like Trevor Ncube at the Zimbabwe Independent, has failed to get a licence to publish the daily.
So, while Mugabe is pushing Morgan Tsvangirai to convince MDC-aligned "pirate radio stations" to close shop in the foreign countries where they are based, he is also clear in his mind that, if they do this, they will not get licences to broadcast from within Zimbabwe.
It shows once again that there is no shift in mentality from ZANU PF. There is no change of heart. If anything, the party is regrouping and has not thrown in the towel. They are determined to cling to power by means fair or foul.
Mugabe has already announced that he will call for elections in 2011, whether a new constitution is ready or not, whether there is a new Electoral Commission or not.
It is difficult to see how, in light of this new information, the media landscape can be changed prior to those elections. As my source put in last night: "ZANU PF controls the issuing of licences at the moment and the world has given them no incentive to liberalise."
Sanctions remain in place, as do travel bans and the like. This is the biggest and most persistent thorn in Mugabe's flesh. Until and unless these are lifted, he will not budge and is willing to dare the world to take him on.
He has nothing to lose.