In the lead-up to the Zimbabwean elections on August 23, journalists have been assaulted, attacked and arrested whilst reporting on the elections. Jamlab spoke to reporters on the ground about the challenges they face.

“I do not feel safe and free working in Zimbabwe following what l went through, in the past l used to face several challenges and some have been reported but the July event was the worst,” said Annahstacia Ndlovu, a Zimbabwean reporter for the Voice of America.

Ndlovu, a journalist for 26 years, was assaulted along with her other colleagues, who had received a tip that Zanu-PF supporters were harassing vendors, and had assaulted a photographer who had been taking photographs of the supporters harassing the vendors. Ndlovu said she interviewed the photographer on camera and was approached by Zanu-PF supporters who questioned why she was recording a video and ordered her to stop and delete the footage. She refused and a supporter attacked, punched and kicked her with the other supporters joining in. “I do not feel safe and free working in Zimbabwe following what l went through, in the past l would face several challenges and some have been reported but the July event was the worst,” said Ndlovu.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), “Although levels of violence against journalists have declined significantly under the [Emmerson] Mnangagwa administration, they remain alarmingly high and self-censorship is routinely practised to avoid reprisals. The police often use disproportionate force and confiscate equipment. Acts of intimidation, verbal attacks and threats (especially on social media) are all still common practices”.

“l have been insulted by the president, assaulted by state agents barred from state events and removed from government-official Whatsapp groups. The media in Zimbabwe is polarised and with the current state of affairs it is not safe,” said Ndlovu.

Early in the year, Zimbabwe journalists met with the ruling party to ensure that journalists were not targeted and subjected to political violence, but despite these efforts, journalists continued to face violence during the election period. Ndlovu said that “under the second republic they [ruling party] have no respect for media rights and the oppressive laws have an impact on freedom of expression and freedom of association in Zimbabwe.

In June, the Senate passed the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Bill 2022, commonly referred to as the “Patriotic Bill”, which states that anyone who “wilfully injures the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe” by attending a meeting when they have “reason to believe” that its aim is “to consider or plan armed intervention”. According to RSF, “If the meeting aims to subvert or overthrow the government, participants will face up to 20 years in prison. If sanctions or a commercial boycott of Zimbabwe are discussed, they could get a ten-year sentence”. The Patriot Bill could be used to imprison journalists covering meetings.

Lungelo Ndlovu, a freelance journalist who was also assaulted by Zanu-PF supporters said that “journalists are not safe during elections and are targeted, and our safety is at risk”.

The media landscape in Zimbabwe is polarised in terms of state and private media and the polarities are shown in how stories are covered he said. Ndlovu said that there is media capture by politicians and he has witnessed young journalists who are captured by politicians and are mouthpieces for these politicians. Ndlovu said he does not feel safe reporting as a journalist despite efforts by journalist organisations to increase journalists’ visibility in the country. Ndlovu adds that there are people who render themselves above the law, particularly the Zanu-PF.

“One of the main challenges in this election period is that journalists have to have media accreditation by the Zimbabwe Media Commission then you will need accreditation from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. All this attracts some fees which is not ideal given the economic situation. Media practitioners are some of the most least paid yet they play an integral role in society which is sad. This also opens them up to brown envelope journalism,” said Kudzayi Zvinavashe, Network Organiser for #ElectionsZW, an online platform that supports content creators in Zimbabwe.

Zvinavashe said, “We need more freedoms to be awarded to the media in the legislative arena. We need to have more high-impact interventions that lead to sustainable models that can ensure the independence of the media”.

Annahstacia Ndlovu said she has filed a report of the assault at Bulawayo Central Police Station but has not received any new updates on the case.

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