By silencing the last independent voice in Zimbabwe’s media, President Robert Mugabe is escalating his repression and resembling what he once fought against: apartheid-style power. Most of the world is noticing. But there is a notable exception.
This week, Zimbabwe police said they would charge the entire editorial staff and owner of the Daily News with working for or operating an unregistered organization. The Supreme Court had recently shut down the paper, drawing on a law, pushed by Mr. Mugabe last year, which requires media outlets to register and submit details of journalists’ party affiliations. Mr. Mugabe also pushed through a law banning public gatherings. Last week, police raided the Daily News and confiscated computers and other equipment. The Daily News’ attempt to secure a license to operate was rejected last week.
The Daily News is Zimbabwe’s best-selling publication and only independent daily. The state also controls radio and television broadcasts. With its own words, the Mugabe government has made clear it was targeting the paper. Zimbabwean Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said in 2001 that the Daily News was “a threat to national security which had to be silenced.”
Mr. Mugabe, who helped win Zimbabwe’s independence from British colonial rule, has sought to justify oppressive measures by invoking the apartheid legacy. His policies appear to be motivated by racial retaliation and have brought Zimbabwe famine, hyperinflation and epidemic unemployment. Crusaders against apartheid in Africa have criticized Mr. Mugabe.
Anton Harber, the founder of South Africa’s the Weekly Mail, said in a column for allAfrica.com last week that, “Registration of journalists is familiar to South Africans, who fought against repeated attempts to introduce it in the apartheid era. It was blocked because journalists and employees stood together in resisting what would have been a death knell for dissident voices.”
Sadly, the South African government doesn’t see it this way. Rather than pressure Mr. Mugabe to reform or step down, it criticized Australia last week for blocking Mr. Mugabe from the next meeting of Commonwealth leaders. Such a defense of Mr. Mugabe puts South Africa at odds with the United States, Britain, Amnesty International, South Africa’s National Editor’s Forum and media organizations around the world, all of which have strongly criticized Zimbabwe’s attack on press freedoms.
The Bush administration has done what it can in regard to Zimbabwe. Given South Africa’s silent diplomacy, Mr. Mugabe is coming under little pressure. South Africa’s handling of the Zimbabwe crisis should have some bearing on America’s relationship with South Africa.