Ask Takudzwa 32 – Freer Expression and the State in Zimbabwe

by | January 31, 2021

Takudzwa Mazwienduna is the informal leader of Zimbabwean Secular Alliance and a member of the Humanist Society of Zimbabwe. This educational series will explore secularism in Zimbabwe from an organizational perspectiveand more. Here we talk about Article 61(4) of the Zimbabwean Constitution.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Article 61(4)(a) of the Zimbabwean Constitution (2013) states, “All State-owned media of communication must… be free to determine independently the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications…”

How does this influence some of the editorial decisions of the “content of their broadcasts or other communications”? In short, is there a boundary between finances provided by the State and the broadcasting content freedom of the producers of content?

Takudzwa Mazwienduna: There is a fair degree of freedom of the press in Zimbabwe. State owned media does give a platform to diverse worldviews and it has never stood in the way of secularist opinions.

Jacobsen: Article 61(4)(b)-(c) states, “All State-owned media of communication must… be impartial… and c. afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.” Are there any other legal or infrastructural frameworks providing the stipulated impartiality and fair opportunity for Zimbabweans?

Let’s say an issue on secularism was being presented to the public, and then the religious leaders and spokespersons were provided the opportunity to come forward and present their case, would a divergent and dissenting view be permitted or sought, e.g., an atheist or a humanist group?

Mazwienduna: The government has actually encouraged secularists to speak out both on national radio and in newspapers. The only instance where freedom of the press is compromised is when it comes to criticism of the government itself. The ruling ZANU PF party has a totalitarian approach to governance such that they crush any opposition with every means possible.

Journalists who criticize the government might go missing or face arbitrary arrest without being given proper legal representation as the current case of Hopewell Chon’ono who is in jail for exposing the government’s corruption or cases like Jestina Mukoko and Patson Dzamara who were abducted and never found again back in the Mugabe days. Other than that, freedom of press is allowed as long as it does not compromise the ZANU PF establishment.

Jacobsen: How does this level of free expression compare to adjacent States: South Africa in the South, Botswana in the West and Southwest, Zambia to the North, and Mozambique to the Northeast and East?

Mazwienduna: Our Northern neighbor Zambia however is not as tolerating to secular views. They even have a ministry of religious affairs. The president of the Zambian Humanists Association Larry Mukwemba Tepa has talked about how Zambian government transitioned from a Humanist approach when Kenneth Kaunda the Civil Rights icon was president in the 1960s and 70s to the theocratic approach it takes today under Edgar Lungu.

The state of secularism in Zambia is at an all time low and it is the worst case scenario in the SADC region. South Africa and Botswana on the other hand are beacons of light upholding both secular and liberal approaches. They are successful democracies not only in the SADC region, but in Africa.

Mozambique on the other hand is an interesting case. The main religion in our Eastern neighbor; the Zimbabwean border town to which I’m native to and grew, is African Traditional Religion. Unlike the totalitarian nature of monotheistic religions like Christianity or Islam, animist traditional beliefs encourage more tolerance.

They have an understanding of how everyone has different beliefs and so embrace diversity. Secularism has never been a problem in Mozambique because of this lack of organized religion and so different views face no opposition in the papers.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Takudzwa.

*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

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Image Credit: Takudzwa Mazwienduna.

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