By Morgan Morrow


National Flag of Zimbabwe

I. Introduction

Zimbabwe currently sits as the 26th largest country in Africa (World Atlas). Being conveniently located between South Africa and Zambia, Zimbabwe has a tropical climate. Zimbabwe economy depends heavily on mining to support a population of nearly 14,000 people (World Factbook). Formerly known as Southern Rhodesia, Zimbabwe has had a long history of fighting for basic human rights. It was not until April 1980 when Zimbabwe earned its independence from Great Britain (World Factbook). The people of Zimbabwe have faced a racial divide that has created tension among the people in the country. Basic human rights are always being questioned within the country, and the people are constantly fighting for their rights to be ruled by a just ruler. According to Freedom House, Zimbabwe has declined from a partly free country to a not free country. In fact, Zimbabwe has a score of 30 out of 100 in freedom ratings, with 0 being the least free and 100 being the most (Freedom House). The decline in freedom of speech and press can be attributed to Zimbabwe’s long history of political struggles, and current presidential elections.

II. Background History

Zimbabwe was first a part of Southern Rhodesia, who was ruled by a white minority government. Former Southern Rhodesia, and now Zimbabwe, has a strong history of the fight for power between white and black Zimbabweans. This struggle began in 1965 when the white minority-rule government in Southern Rhodesia broke away from Great Britain and stripped the black people of Zimbabwe from many of their rights (Our Africa). This struggle eventually led to the civil war in the 1970s that left the country in need of intervention from Great Britain. Zimbabwe won its independence in 1980. Robert Mugabe, a member of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Force (ZANU-PF), became the first president. Upon winning their independence, Zimbabwe committed themselves to establishing a cohesive nation- state based on a democracy (Murithi 8). To enforce a democracy, the government focused on coercive tactics to get their citizens to comply (Murithi 8). The country attempted to enforce a democracy by allowing the citizens to elect their government officials. However, instead of elections being an open opportunity for many people to run for office, ZANU- PF used intimidating methods to prevent people from running against the party. It was not until the March 2008 elections where ZANU-PF lost majority of their seats in parliament since the country won independence (SAHO).

The strong control of ZANU-PF party can be seen in the recent 2013 elections. Robert Mugabe remained the elected president and passed a reform measure that will allow him to be the head of government until 2023 (SAHO). Under Mugabe’s rule Zimbabwe’s citizens on average became 15 percent poorer than they were in 1980 (BBC News). The citizens lacked the basic need for survival such as food and money. In addition, the citizens lived in fear of being constantly observed by the police and secret agents of the government (Mahajan 2018). Although the country claimed the title of a democracy, the citizens had little say in how the country was being ruled. The media was censored, and the people who spoke out against the government came up missing (Mahajan 2018). According to Winnie Wakatama, “some [of her] friends have died from stress” while living under the rule of Mugabe (Mahajan 2018). On Nov. 21, 2017, after facing pressure and protests from disappointed constituents and parliament Robert Mugabe resigned as president (WorldAtlas). Three days after the resignation of Mugabe, the Zimbabwean parliament selected former Vice President Emmerson Manangagwa and member of the ZANU-PF to be the new sitting president (World Atlas).  With presidential elections scheduled for August 2018 in Zimbabwe, the hopes of an fair election and civil rights for the people of Zimbabwe remain in question.

III. Freedom of Speech

Under the 37-year long dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, the pressing free speech issue in Zimbabwe was the punishment of citizens for protesting. The government prevented the citizens from expressing their viewpoints on how the government was being run. According to the Freedom House, in 2013, the government issued a new constitution that included the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act (CODE). Through CODE, the government was able to place restrictions on certain types of speech conducted on and offline (Freedom House). This control can be displayed by the Zimbabwe government blocking internet access and WhatsApp text messaging for several hours in July 2016 to prevent people from supporting hashtags that raised awareness to the injustices people faced in the country (Human Rights Watch).

In August 2016, Jealousy Mawarire, former spokesperson for the former Vice President Joyce Mujuru, was arrested for a Twitter post that accused an education minister from stealing from a government administered education fund (Freedom House). Mawarire was charged under Section 88(b) of the Postal and Telecommunications Act, which penalized false messages that caused “annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety to any other person (Freedom House). As of April 2018, Mawarire’s case remains to be decided on by the court. The Zimbabwean government has passed many laws that limit citizens’ free speech rights, uses any law that pertains to the case to bring about an arrest, even if the speech can be protected.

In addition, the police would assault, arrest, and charge protestors by the hundreds with public violence (Human Rights Watch). On Aug. 24 and 26, 2017 the police in Harare, Zimbabwe arrested over 140 people on charges of public violence. The lawyers of these people argued that the people were detained on false charges of protest and were not participants (Human Rights Act). The people arrested were not freed from jail until several days later, and on bail. According to the Humans Rights Watch in September 2016, police in Mutare, Zimbabwe arrested and detained 17 members of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU)on accusations of assembling in the contravention of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). POSA was adopted in 2002 just before the Zimbabwe presidential elections. This law severely restricted the freedom of assembly and allowed the police to take the necessary measures to suppress unlawful meetings (MISA- Zimbabwe 11). The 17 people of ZINASU were held in detention for three nights until fifteen of the seventeen were released by the magistrate’s court on unlawful arrest, leaving the two student leaders in custody (Human Rights Watch). The free speech issues Zimbabwe faces can be seen as ran dictatorial instead of a democratic format. The people are prevented from having a voice in the regime, and are punished for trying to advocate for political change.

IV. Freedom of Press

In 2001, the Zimbabwean government implemented the Broadcasting Services Act in 2001 that gave the government control over any future broadcasters, should they gain their license. According to the book Zimbabwe: Mired in Transition, Section 2A of the Broadcasting Services Act states, “the broadcasting services in Zimbabwe must ensure public debate on political, social, and economic issues of public interests so as to foster and maintain a healthy plural democracy” (Masunungure). Contrary to Section 2A of the Broadcasting Services Act, in 2002 the Zimbabwean government instructed Joy Television to stop broadcasting BBC News (IFEX). With the banning of BBC News, independent newspapers in Zimbabwe soon became the only source of alternate news. Also following the banning of BBC News on Joy Television, Zimbabwe canceled the lease agreement for Joy TV because of its violation of the Broadcasting Service Act, and thus made the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) the sole broadcasting company in Zimbabwe (IFEX). The government used Section 2A as a form to monopolize and control the broadcasting services offered in Zimbabwe. The censorship of the ZBC continued into March 2016 when the board decided to ban a documentary about the 2013 Zimbabwean Constitution (Freedom House). This form of censorship prevented the citizens from having access to news sources for their benefits.

In addition to POSA, former President Mugabe signed into law the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which was passed to aid President Mugabe and the ZANU-PF party in censoring the media. The role of AIPPA was put into effect in 2002 when American journalist Andrew Meldrum, a long-time resident of Zimbabwe, was charged with publishing a false story regarding a man who was beheaded by supporters of the government (Press Reference). Meldrum was acquitted of the crime and deported back to the United States. In cases like Meldrum’s the Zimbabwean government has shown dissatisfaction in having foreign journalist in the country. By using AIPPA, the government is forcing foreign media outlets to solely employ Zimbabwean journalist in order to control the information that is being revealed about the government (Press Refrence).

In 2011 the government filed criminal defamation charges against an editor of an independent newspaper, Nevanji Mandanhire, and reporter, Nqaba Matshazi. The case was dismissed in June 2014 after the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe ruled that Section 96 of the Criminal Law Act, which puts defamation under criminal law, was unconstitutional. The nullification of Section 96 of CODE was extremely important in allowing the Zimbabwean people to express their feelings about government officials without being criminalized.

With police cracking down on physical protests, social media has had a huge impact on the Zimbabweans protest of their current government. According to Freedom House, in October 2017, the government established the ministry for Cyber Security, Threat Detection, and Mitigation. The government insisted that the board was necessary in order to respond to the threats posed by the purported abuse of social media to the government. The Zimbabwean government used the Criminal Law Act to arrest U.S. citizen and Magamba TV project manager, Martha O’Donovan, for a tweet insulting former President Mugabe. It was not until a year after being charged that O’Donovan was released on bail. Furthermore, on Sept. 24, 2017 the police arrested civil rights activist Pastor Evan Mawarire with subverting a constitutional government (Human Rights Watch). Pastor Mawarire is leader of the #ThisFlag campaign that protests the Zimbabwean government. He was released from jail after three days and was acquitted for his charges.

V. Critical Comparison

When compared to the United States, Zimbabwe is also a democracy that says it strives to give its citizens rights. Although Zimbabwe has had many incidents that show a form of censorship and control of government, it is considered partly free by Freedom House. In comparison to Zimbabwe, the United States is considered completely free. Due to this difference in freedom rating when discussing the incidents Zimbabwe has had in regards to free speech and free press, there are different ways the United States would handle the incidents.

Zimbabwe, similarly to the United States has a long history of fighting for its independence. The struggle can be displayed in the former Southern Rhodesia regime and later in the separation from Great Britain. The Zimbabwean people are proud of their heritage, and the government makes sure its flag is held to be sacred. According to the Ministry of Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs secretary Virginia Mabhiza, people who participate in any action or activity involving the national flag that can be seen as dishonoring can face prosecution (The Herald). Flag desecration can be punishable in Zimbabwe with being fined and/or spending no more than six months in prison. The Zimbabwean flag has become important in local protests that involve the burning and selling of the flag. This punishment of flag desecration in Zimbabwe would be ruled differently in the United States. In the court case Texas v. Johnson, American citizen Gregory Johnson was charged with burning an American flag (Oyez). In the 1989 outcome of the case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that even the burning of a national flag is protected under the freedom of expression.  The court ruled so based on the notion that just  because an object can be seen as symbolic to someone, and may find its offensive, is not grounds for prohibited speech (Oyez).

In 1971, the United States Supreme Court established the malice standard in the case New York Times v. Sullivan. The court considered this ruling based on the facts of what press reports can consider libel about certain public officials or figures. In New York Times v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court required public officials to prove actual malice when bringing a libel action.  Malice was defined by the Warren court as someone having a bad intent in knowing that a statement was false upon its publishing. In multiple incidents such as Joyce Mujuru’s, the United States would have ruled in favor of Mujuru under the malice standard. The court would have ruled that there was no form of malice established in Mujuru posting the tweet. In addition, the same standard would have been used to rule Andrew Meldrum’s case. However, in the facts of his case the statements he made in regards to the beheading of a citizen was false. If the Zimbabwean government established Meldrum’s malice intent in the post thus finding him guilty, the United States would likely agree with this ruling due to the malice standard.

VI. Conclusion

When comparing Zimbabwe with the United States, it seems clear that Zimbabwean citizens have  numerous problems when trying to exercise freedoms of speech and press. The Zimbabwean government focuses on censoring its citizens to prevent protests against the government. In comparison to the United States, the laws surrounding the media in Zimbabwe are skewed to favor the government. In the United States, citizens have the right to free speech and press through the First Amendment to the Constitution. Similarly, to the United States First Amendment Zimbabwe has a clause in their constitution granting citizens the right to some form of free speech and press. However, the government has acted in a contradictory manner in allowing this right. Meanwhile, Zimbabwean citizens hope for better freedom of speech and press rights in Zimbabwe remain open with the upcoming 2018 presidential elections and beyond.

Works Cited

Press Reference, http://www.pressreference.com/Uz-Z/Zimbabwe.html.

“Freedom on the Net 2017.” Zimbabwe Country Report, 30 Jan. 2018, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2017/zimbabwe.

“History & Politics.” Our Africa, http://www.our-africa.org/zimbabwe/history-politics.

Masunungure, V, and M Shumba. Zimbabwe:Mired in Transition. Weaver Press, 2014.

Mendel, Toby. “The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act: Two Years On.” MISA-ZIMBABWE, no. 19, Sept. 2003, p. 11.

Murithi, Timothy, and Aquilina Mawadza. Zimbabwe in Transition: a View from Within. Fanele, 2011.

“New York Times Company v. United States.” Oyez, 29 Mar. 2018, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970/1873.

“Television Station Stops Broadcasting BBC News Bulletins.” IFEX, www.ifex.org/zimbabwe/2002/05/10/television_station_stops_broadcasting/.

“Texas v. Johnson.” Oyez, 29 Mar. 2018, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1988/88-155.

“The World Factbook: ZIMBABWE.” Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, 16 Mar. 2018, http://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/zi.html.

“World Report 2018: Rights Trends in Zimbabwe.” Human Rights Watch, 18 Jan. 2018, http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/zimbabwe.

“Zimbabwe.” South African History Online, 16 Nov. 2017, http://www.sahistory.org.za/places/zimbabwe.

“Zimbabwe.” Zimbabwe | Freedom House, 22 Mar. 2018, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2018/zimbabwe.

This essay was last updated April 30, 2018.

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