Zimbabwean media accused of complicity in human rights violations

Human rights defenders have accused certain media entities of complicity in the country’s human rights violations and undermining the struggles of marginalised people, particularly those in Matabeleland.

This assertion follows the publication of a cartoon by ZimDaily, that implied the self-proclaimed Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) interim secretary general Sengezo Tshabangu has “sold out” the democratic struggle by drawing parallels to the historical myth that King Lobengula also traded land and mining rights for a bag of sugar during the early days of White settlement.

The cartoon triggered an uproar with critics describing it as “tribal, offensive and dehumanising.”

Discussing the impact of ZimDaily’s cartoon on CITE’s X space on Thursday, Human Rights Defender, Effie Ncube said while the media is important for the sustenance of any democratic society, it also presented “very” serious concerns when it advances false narratives that create and aid conflict.

“Throughout the world, where atrocities have occurred, the media has been complicit. We know even during Gukurahundi, the media was either covering up or inciting and was propagating that Ndebeles as a whole are dissidents, which can be dangerous,” Ncube said, adding that the media fed narratives that Ndebele people as a whole were responsible for Zimbabwe’s colonisation.

Ncube explained it is important to look at the ‘controversial’ cartoon from that particular standpoint – of accusing an entire group of people – when the Ndebele people fought a war against colonisation in 1983, subsequently in 1896 and so forth.

“But deliberately someone is choosing to undermine that history and the Ndebeles’ contribution to the liberation of this country in resisting colonisation by pushing false narratives,”  said the rights’ activist.

According to Ncube, these false narratives help to delegitimise Ndebele people as citizens of Zimbabwe.

“This pushes them to be second-class citizens and it is something that is not even restricted to the particular cartoon. If you have been following the media in Zimbabwe, you would know that when a political party is established and led by someone from Matabeleland, the media, not someone else, will use its power to say that it is regional despite the speakers or policies in that party saying, ‘we are a national party.’”

Ncube claimed the media will ‘too often’ refuse to cover politicians from Matabeleland as national leaders.

“If something is driven from Matabeleland, it is driven into the periphery by the media itself and never allowed to occupy the centre space. Anyone coming from Matabeleland is refused the role of becoming a national leader by the media and not by the people,” said the rights’ activist.

“The media then convince people of Zimbabwe that this politician is a person from Bulawayo or Tsholotsho, not necessarily a leader in Zimbabwe.”

As a result, the ‘controversial’ cartoon is part of a larger context that deprives Matabeleland locals of Zimbabwean citizenship, undermining their roles in power and human rights claims, Ncube added.

“We have to take this very, very seriously. I do not know the extent of which those who came up with this cartoon did due diligence in asking if their work would undermine an entire tribe. Remember this comes quite recently after the entire people of Matabeleland were called refugees by an entire minister,” Ncube said.

“When the Catholic Bishops Conference issued a pastoral letter about the Zimbabwean state of affairs, and because the head is a Ndebele, the State’s response was to attack an entire Ndebele people and call them a righteous minority.”

Ncube concluded that the cartoon in question was not an isolated incident but located in a political context that Zimbabwe needs to deal with.

“This should not go on but change the narrative of othering and undermining people of Matabeleland and undermining their claims to human rights in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Media lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Professor Mphathisi Ndlovu weighed in that the cartoon raised ethical concerns and that of hate speech.

“Assume that such content is about humour but even when creating humour, take note of ethnic issues that perpetuate stereotypes about people, their culture, heroes and heroines,” said the lecturer.

“Understand the whole context, especially in a country with a different history, memories and imaginations. Take note that such content cannot be reproduced.”

Prof Ndlovu also noted the perpetuation of stereotypes about King Lobengula and the Ndebele people or culture was not only confined to media but was there in other spaces.

“The issue of hate speech is pertinent in Zimbabwe and that brings a debate of how do you regulate online content. Media organisations that look at regulations such as the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) and others should look into this,” he said.

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