The state of the media in Zimbabwe today can only be seen and understood through the prism of the local and global historical developments that took place in the last hundred years. These developments, occasioned by the political, economic and cultural forces at play during the colonial and post-independence epochs, have had a lasting impression on the mass media of this country. This article endeavors to unravel the narrative of these historical developments and how they account for the state of the mass media in Zimbabwe today. It looks at the interplay between the local and global forces during the colonial and post-independence periods, and how these manifest themselves in the mass media today. The article focuses at the colonial period, Black Nationalism and resistance period and the post-independence period and shows how developments in these eras have dovetailed to form the countenance of the media today. This article discusses the history and current state of mainstream media in Zimbabwe. Advertising and Public Relations, the arts, film, telecommunications, and the Internet are also discussed. Although these media have not really acquired the state of mass communication in Zimbabwe and other African countries, they are discussed alongside radio, television, newspapers and magazines, which enjoy a fairly higher appeal and circulation in comparison.
The winds of change that cut through Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe in the nineties did not spare Zimbabwe. After attaining independence in 1980, Zimbabwe clearly desired to take a socialist policy path as evidenced by the centralization of the economy, politics, and the restrictive media environment, especially in broadcasting. For instance, the Broadcasting Act (1957) that was used by colonial governments to ensure state monopoly in broadcasting continued to be used after independence until 2001 when the Supreme Court struck it down. Although the 1979 Lancaster House constitution clearly enshrined the freedom of expression and multi-party politics, the government had a solid plan of creating a defacto one party state and promoting its policies by maintaining a monolithic environment in the media. Any efforts to the contrary by the state were merely cosmetic so as to placate the donors and the international community. The confidence to embrace the socialist policies was obviously inspired by not only the global bipolar politics, but also by the country’s intimate relationship with the Socialist block during the struggle for independence. Countries like Cuba and China whose influence continues to deepen even today, were the linchpins of Zimbabwe’s independence. Although the print media environment had always been deregulated and pluralistic even during the colonial period, both the public and private media still operated with great caution in the post-independence era as the media environment remained a minefield due to the restrictive laws acquired from the colonial period. These laws include the Criminal Defamation Act, Official Secrets Act, Public Order and Security Act (promulgated in 2002 to replace the Law and Order Maintenance Act). Like its colonial predecessor, the new black government also used extra judicial and underhand strategies such as eliminating good editors by ‘promotion’, and also intimidating and torturing journalists. For example in 1985, veteran journalist Willi Musarurwa was dismissed from The Sunday Mail editorship for his unwavering commitment to truthful and courageous reporting. It is a fact therefore that while the outside world was misled to think that Zimbabwe was democratizing her institutions, things were actually taking a different direction on the ground. The reconciliation with the white community made Prime Minister Robert Mugabe pose as a democrat and statesman to the world. However, unlike the South African reconciliation process that was underpinned by strong guarantees of human rights, the Zimbabwean process had an effect of strengthening a culture of state domination, ruthless governance and impunity (Carver, 2000,p3). Zimbabwe was therefore essentially a closed and authoritarian society during the first decade until the nineties when government succumbed to the pressure from the World Bank and the IMF to liberalize the economy and democratize politics. The Economic Structural Adjustment Program (ESAP) was introduced in 1991 and this culminated in a hesitant pursuit of free market economics in the country by the government. The beginning of the liberal economic policies led to the proliferation of private players in the economy including magazines that gave a platform to a number of growing voices of dissent in the country. The private press has remained the kingpin of the democratization process through the articulation of the alternative views from mainly the opposition, civic organizations and the masses. The pressure from the private press has continued to mount on the government not only to open up and democratize, but also to stop the mismanagement of the economy and corruption. This pressure seems to have reached unbearable levels for government after the introduction of The Daily News in 1999. This private daily newspaper, together with other newspapers like The Zimbabwe Independent and The Financial Gazette, has almost submerged the state-controlled media in directing public opinion on issues such as the economic crisis in the country, the land question and the DRC war where government continues to be heavily involved. Although the private media has managed to offer a tinge of optimism for self determination for the 12.8 million Zimbabweans, doom and gloom still plagues this nation. The challenges that lay ahead are far much bigger than those that the people have conquered in the past. The economy is in shambles with inflation at 112% (six times the SADC average), unemployment is above 50% and external debt is US$700 million. The government has failed to meet its obligations several times now. Above 60% of the people live below the poverty datum line and commercial agriculture that employed above 66% of the labor force, has collapsed. Many industries have folded due to foreign currency shortage and lack of respect for private property. Social and health services have also collapsed and about 2000 people die every week from AIDS. The average life expectancy has fallen to a harrowing 37 years for the majority of poor Zimbabweans.