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Police caution politicians over hate speech ahead of 2023 polls

The remarks were made by police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi during his keynote address at the belated World Press Freedom Day (WFPD) commemorations organised by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe.

BY KENNETH MATIMAIRE The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has cautioned politicians against using inflammatory language or hate speech that incite violence and polarize the country ahead of the 2023 elections, The Standard can report.

The remarks were made by police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi during his keynote address at the belated World Press Freedom Day (WFPD) commemorations organised by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe.

“As the police, we have also taken note (of) the language which is being used by some of our politicians. It is not good, across the board,” said Nyathi recently.

Without mentioning names, the police mouthpiece appeared to be making reference to the on-going exchange of words between Zanu PF and Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) politicians following the abduction, disappearance and callous murder of opposition activist Moreblessing Ali.

Ali’s gruesome murder by an alleged Zanu PF member Pius Jamba sparked violent clashes between ruling party and main opposition supporters in Nyatsime, Chitungwiza as both parties claim ownership of the deceased.

While CCC maintained that Ali was a member of the party right from her abduction, the ruling party’s councillor Masimbi Masimbi claimed that the deceased was also their member after her death.

On one hand CCC accused the ruling party of terrorising mourners and abduction of 20 women who were later rescued, while on the other hand Zanu PF counter accused the opposition party of setting on fire, a house that belongs to one of its chairperson George Murambatsvina.

Murambatsvina later died due to what has been alleged as stress related causes following the destruction of his house.

His death coincided with that of another party leader in a nearby area – Tina Gweshe – the former Manyame district chairperson, who was allegedly poisoned at Ali’s funeral, according to Zanu PF.

Police say they are waiting for post-mortem results of the two to ascertain the causes of their death.

Zengeza West legislator and CCC deputy national chair Job Sikhala, who is also the Ali’s family lawyer together with the Chitungwiza North legislator Godfrey Sithole have since been arrested and are currently facing trial on charges of inciting violence.

Nyathi argued that the violence could have been avoided had the politicians been more responsible with their choice of words.

He  implored the media to challenge politicians over their utterances.

“I also want to challenge our colleagues from the media,” Nyathi said.

“You have done it but continue doing it.

“Challenge some of these politicians over the way they’re using their language. Language is powerful ladies and gentlemen.

“Language is very powerful. It can either unite the people or destroy the people.

“So as the police, yes, we can conduct investigations but we also want the media to support us.

“We also want the media to work with us, so that politicians cannot continue to use language to divide the people.”

The police spokesperson appealed to media bodies to forge an alliance with  the ZRP ahead of the potentially volatile election set for 2023.

“I know, previously there was an acrimonious relationship between the media and the police,” Nyathi said.

“We were not seeing eye to eye. We were enemies…

“And going forward, we know we are going to a challenging environment. We are going into an environment where some relations will be affected because of the elections.

“I want to appeal to you guys, let’s not lose one another. Let’s continue to engage. Let’s continue to find one another.”

The ZRP and various media bodies such as Young Journalists Association (Yoja), Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef), Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), among others, had planned to engage all officers commanding provinces (Propol) ahead of the March 26 by elections.

Although the national tour failed to kick-off, it was meant to sensitise provincial and district police commanders over the role of journalists and further cement relations.

The development came following a spate of rampant harassment, intimidation, detention and arrests of journalists by politically connected individuals and law enforcement agents.

The Reporters Without Borders (RSF), World Press Freedom Index profile for Zimbabwe fell to number 137 this year from 130 last year.

The Index assesses the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories.

Journalists such as Blessed Mhlanga and Chengeto Chidi of Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) are recent case studies of the 12 media violations recorded during the first half of this year by Misa Zimbabwe, which media bodies argue could have been avoided.

According to records obtained from Misa Zimbabwe, a total of 22 violations against media practitioners were recorded in 2021 down from 52 the previous year as indications are that the figure will spike towards elections.

VMCZ executive director Loughty Dube said avoidable cases of arbitrary arrests of journalists by junior officers have far reaching consequences towards the country’s economy.

“Arbitrary arrests of journalists might not mean a thing to a junior officer but it says everything to an investor,” Dube said.

“When investors are looking at potential investment destinations, they look at the country’s profile, for instance what is the level of media freedom and free speech.

“So cases where journalists are arrested or even detained while on duty are classified as violations against the press, which have negative implications against a country as an investment destination.”

Zinef national coordinator Njabulo Ncube concurred before appealing to law enforcement agents to allow media practitioners to exercise their duties without hindrance.

Nyathi acknowledged that journalists should be allowed to exercise their duties without persecution and called on media bodies to revive the national engagement tour before the 2023 polls.

He indicated that police Commissioner General Godwin Matanga has already approved the engagement exercise.

“One of the issues, which we want to do with all the media bodies in the country, is that we have made it clear that we want to go out to meet all the officer commanding provinces,” Nyathi said.

“We want to start with Harare, because most of our problem start with Harare and Bulawayo.

“We wanted to do this (national engagement tour) just before the by-elections, so I still want to challenge you (journalists) to put this program in motion so that we go out there and not only meet the officer commanding provinces but we also want to meet officers commanding districts.

“So that you  (journalists) can also highlight some of the issues that affect you.

“I know that we have some youngsters that are coming up in the police services.

“Some of these youngsters are overzealous just like some of these young journalists.

“It’s a fact. So we want to go out there and engage the commanders before elections are held in 2023.”

Elections are supposed to be an expression of a country, society or a people’s free choice and an entry into a contract of governance, but have become a complex process in the majority of fragile and somewhat broken States.

Misa Zimbabwe in a statement concurred that “elections in fragile states are a matter of life and death for both the citizens and journalists, as these are high stakes national, and by extension, regional processes.”

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