Press and Politics in Zimbabwe

by Stanford D. Musaka

Abstract

This paper provides a historical background to the development of the press in Zimbabwe and identifies the political, social and economic interventions that have shaped the editorial policies and directions of the press. The development of the press in Zimbabwe press, the paper suggests, can be categorized into three eras: colonial/nationalist (pre-1980); transitional (1980-1990) and post-transitional (1990- present). During each era, the press exhibited editorial policies and practices that reflected the ideological and socio-political environment of the country.  In the colonial era, the press mirrored the settler-colonial ideology of the state and social polarization along racial lines. Its successor in the post-colonial transitional era depicted the revolutionary fervor of the emergent black political regime whose stated ideology of socialism regimented Zimbabweans under an authoritarian state. In a dramatic reversal from the nationalist campaign promises for a free press and free expression in an independent Zimbabwe, during this period the press was coerced to support the government. In this environment the message has been: You are either with us or against us. However a number of developments in the mid and late-1980s ushered in the post-transitional era. The end of the Cold War and the subsequent abandonment of a socialist rhetoric in favor of (at least on paper) a market economy and free enterprise by the Zimbabwe government, has given rise to a new generation, albeit a minority, of more assertive, independent publications and journalists.

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Stanford D. Musaka worked in Zimbabwe as a journalist and news editor for Bulawayo-based Chronicle from 1981 to 1985. This paper is in part a reflection of his personal experience as a Zimbabwean journalist when the authoritarian influence on the press by government was at its peak. Dr. Mukasa is currently professor of journalism at  Indiana University of Pennsylvania.