THE government has come under pressure following allegations of abductions, torture and clampdown on pro-democracy activists in Zimbabwe, our senior reporter Blessed Mhlanga (ND) met government spokesperson and Information ministry secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana who gave an insight into the issues.
ND: There are concerns that the government does not communicate effectively; do you think that your ministry is doing enough to communicate?
NM: No, there is a lot more we can do. There is definitely a lot more to do so, we are looking at more strategies of how we can deliver the message. I do not believe that we are operating at full throttle. We have definitely not optimised the potential that we have in terms of messaging. I believe there is a lot that is happening in the country in terms of development that is not being amplified. A lot has changed since the new dispensation. There is a lot that is being transformed in this country and somehow there is a message gap because the media is not talking about it, unless you guys are deliberately choosing to talk about something else. I can just give a simple example:
When you walk down the street or drive there are no potholes, but there were potholes before, that is a lot that has been done. When you drive again there are no roadblocks, previously there were roadblocks and spikes on the roads. These were a total menace, but that message is not being delivered. These are very simple things with serious effect on people’s lives. We honestly believe people can see that there is real change; there is a proper transformation in this country.
ND: Do you think a person who cannot afford bread would want to look at potholes at this particular moment?
NM: It depends on individual needs. Remember in our country, like in any society, we have different people who have different needs. I am sure you have studied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. People have different pertinent needs. I have different pertinent needs from my 89-year-old mother. Everyone has got different needs, so as a government, we try to ensure that we deliver everyone’s pertinent needs. And, yes, everybody cares about the state of the roads because that breadwinner in that car may die due to an accident trying to avoid that pothole. So potholes speak to the person who wants bread too. And not forgetting that good road networks are an economic activity enabler.
ND: I want to understand from you, you have a number of ministries, how do you co-ordinate to ensure that there is no information gap?
NM: Firstly, we have information officers attached to every ministry, like my colleague the secretary for Justice. We have an information officer attached to the Justice ministry who co-ordinates messages from there. If they want a Press statement issued, we provide technical support service to all ministries in terms of communication needs.
We are also part of every inter-ministerial committee and Cabinet committee so that keeps us on top of all government activities, policy thrusts and thinking.
ND: In the past, you have issued contradictory statements, particularly concerning the police and the Information ministry.
NM: No, I do not believe we ever have issued contradictory statements. As a ministry, we will never issue a statement before speaking to the police. We work very closely with (police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner) Paul Nyathi; we literally speak to him every day. We will not give an operational statement on any matter – whether it’s somebody who has been shot in Chiredzi or four robbers shot in Kwekwe – without getting the full information from the police. The branding of the government and country is our remit. We set the tone for the whole government so while institutions may have their public relations departments or units; we have the overarching communication responsibilities for the whole government including the said institutions. Their tone must be in sync with the tone which is set by the Information ministry. The message that we deliver is the correct message and will remain factual and unemotional, just straight to the point.
ND: Can I indulge you on the legislation reform – the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill (Mopa) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), some are saying that it is a same person with a different mask.
NM: They are wrong in a lot of ways. When they say that ask them which section is contrary to the Constitution.
That is the starting point because remember what we are doing; a big part of the reform is constitutional alignment then modernisation. So before anyone accuses anyone of anything whether it’s Mopa or Aippa which bit of the proposed Bills is ultra vires the Constitution.
ND: The law is made for man and not man for the law, so if man says that he is not comfortable with this even if it is illegal don’t you think it is the responsibility of the government to listen to its people?
NM: When it comes to Aippa for example, we consulted, we got position papers, we got from our stakeholders model Bills, different types of model Bills before we even went to draft it. You see the expectation of every stakeholder including me as a stakeholder in the ministry is that everything that I want in the Bill will go in the Bill, but that only happens in utopia. It will not happen in the real world; so, for example, (the Media Institute of Southern Africa) Misa Zimbabwe may have made a lot of suggestions, a lot of them would have been taken in, but some will not have been considered and they will harp a lot about that. The same will go for the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe. We go to the media house themselves (the Zimbabwe Media Commission) ZMC itself would have wanted certain things and they did not get some of them. So not everybody will get everything they want unless we are simply taking their Bill as it is and adopt it. The only model that may make everyone happy is one which takes everyone’s views and we make a gigantic Bill and Act of Parliament where everything is there including those things which are contradictory, but that cannot happen. So yes, we would expect people to say I’m not happy, something is not there. The Constitution itself did not give everyone everything they wanted.
ND: Can you tell us what is positive in the Bill?
NM: Which one because there are three Bills?
ND: You can choose one
NM: Freedom of Information, you got access, you got information officers in every government institution and State institution to whom you go when you want to access information, easily accessible, simple application.
ND: There is concern over the timelines to access information.
NM: The timelines are not even a concern, it’s 21 days. I lived in the United Kingdom for a long time and that had some influence in what went into some of the Bills. So if you look at our Freedom of Information Bill, it actually mirrors the UK Freedom of Information Act, including the processes. So if ours is undemocratic the UK is also undemocratic, the South African equivalent is undemocratic too; the same applies even to Mopa because Mopa is lined again with the Protection of Public Order Act in the UK, among others. So I do not know what we are trying to build here, a democratic country or a country which is lawless because there is a framework that is always needed for managing processions and demonstrations. When you are driving down the road when you are blocked, the people throwing rocks because they are unhappy about something, when you can’t go home, when you can’t go to see your family that day you will think surely can the police not do something about this or isn’t there a better process of managing this type of procession, then what will you be calling for? For an implementation, Mopa is the framework has been put in place for you to be able to go home, to that shop, to your job, to go about your business as you wish and for them too to continue their procession and demonstrations not hindering you and not molesting you.
ND: But are demonstrations by their nature destructive?
NM: They can be destructive, but do not need to be because the right to demonstrate has no supremacy over every other right. There is no supremacy of rights over them so they are destructive, but they can be orderly done that is why I am calling them processions because that is what they are called internationally. It’s a procession because you are walking to go and present your petition, after walking to present your petition, you can be protected from that road and say, okay, motorists use other roads, but this one for now has been designated for this use and that’s it. So you go and present your petition and go home or if you want to go and have a rally in a square after presenting your petition you go back and have your rally in the square not molesting other people, not stopping others, my rights of movement, my freedom to move as I wish.
ND: Why is it that it’s only government who sees these as good and other people are criticising it?
NM: Every potential criminal sees every law as not good. Every time you put an alarm on your premises, a potential burglar would be offended.
ND: So only in government that is where we do not have potential criminals?
NM: No, not the government, there are stakeholders who are happy with the law because remember we are represented by our parliamentarians, they listen to their constituencies and they do exactly what the constituents have told them. Now this Mopa law, for example has passed through Parliament meaning the constituencies have said it’s a go. It does not mean that if those who are unhappy are loud they automatically become the majority. Our democracy works through Parliament.
ND: We know in Parliament there is a whipping system, so we can’t really talk about that because they follow certain lines.
NM: No, when the Bill went to readings, even when it went to the constitutional committee, what happened? It was thrown back to say go and mend this and that, that committee is bipartisan so, the things that were considered undemocratic were sent back and that was done. I have said before that these committees are very non-partisan and democratic because I was getting a hard time from those on the Zanu PF side and those from the MDC side.
ND: The statements by the European Union on the abductions and torture and violations of human rights, do they dent re-engagement with the West?
NM: Reengagement is a journey and not a destination. Of course, when on any journey one may encounter some setbacks where the terrain is not even. One may even encounter bandits who throw stumbling blocks on the way, but it does not stop the journey. It may take a little longer than envisaged to reach the destination, but a setback is not an abandonment of a journey. Re-engagement speaks to diplomatic interactions and a consistent and concerted effort interacts on areas of mutual interest and benefit. It also speaks to efforts to find each other in areas where we have differences. We are not always going to agree with our re-engagement partners and on those areas we disagree we are not going to shy away from pronouncing ourselves. We have already done so where we felt certain powers have been too intrusive and interfering in our domestic politics. This a power that was close to impeaching their own leader when they felt that he had worked with another foreign power to interfere in its own domestic processes.
What is not good for the goose is surely not good for the gander.
ND: Government reaction to demonstrations has been condemned, are there any regrets and will there be any changes in approach?
NM: When we say this is a New Dispensation we mean our approach to democracy is modern. But that is not saying we should compromise on national security. National security is about the safety of a nation from threats such as internal insurgency, terrorism and economic sabotage, among others. It is about the stability of the nation. So when people threaten to overthrow an administration outside the provisions of the Constitution, the State will protect the nation. This is why you see certain countries have had controversial actions like “extraordinary renditions”, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, etc. There are circumstances when national security trumps all else.
Government will always give space to all those who want to express their discontent or dissent within the confines of the law.
But violence like we saw in August 2018 and January 2019 has no place in a democracy. That is not a legitimate political expression. That is urban insurgency and banditry. If the conveners of the protests work with law and order institutions to ensure protection of life, limb and property, we will have demonstrations.
But surely they have to tell the police who their stewards are so they can be briefed by the police who are the experts at this. But they completely refuse to work with the police indicating other motives. There is no price for guessing what their ulterior motive is, because this they have declared. They are too desperate for power and 2023 is way too far for them.