Police warn politicians against hate speech ahead of 2023 election

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has warned politicians against using inflammatory language or hate speech that incites violence and polarizes the country ahead of the 2023 elections, The Standard can report.

The remarks were made by Police Spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Nyathi, during his keynote address at the belated World Press Freedom Day (WFPD) commemorations organized by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe.

“As police, we have also taken note of the language used by some of our politicians. It is not good, in all areas,” Nyathi said recently.

Without naming names, the police spokesperson appeared to be referring to the ongoing exchange of words between Zanu-PF and Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) politicians following the kidnapping, disappearance and ruthless murder of opposition activist Moreblessing Ali.

Ali’s horrific killing by suspected Zanu-PF member Pius Jamba has sparked violent clashes between the ruling party and key opposition supporters in Nyatsime, Chitungwiza, as both sides claim ownership of the deceased.

While the CCC maintained that Ali was a member of the party upon his abduction, ruling party adviser Masimbi Masimbi claimed that the deceased was also their member after her death.

On the one hand, the CCC accused the ruling party of terrorizing mourners and abducting 20 women who were later rescued, while on the other hand, the Zanu-PF counter accused the party opposition party for burning down a house belonging to one of its presidents, George Murambatsvina. .

Murambatsvina later died due to what were alleged to be stress-related causes following the destruction of his home.

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

Police say they are awaiting post-mortem results from the two to determine the causes of their deaths.

Zengeza West lawmaker and CCC National Vice President Job Sikhala, who is also the lawyer for Ali’s family, as well as Chitungwiza North lawmaker Godfrey Sithole, have since been arrested and are currently on trial for incitement to violence.

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

He implored the media to challenge politicians on their statements.

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

“You did it but keep doing it.

“Challenge some of these politicians on how they use their language. Language is powerful, ladies and gentlemen.

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

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

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

The police spokesperson called on the media to forge an alliance with the ZRP ahead of potentially volatile elections scheduled for 2023.

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

“We didn’t agree. We were enemies…

“And going forward, we know we’re going into a difficult environment. We’re going into an environment where some relationships will be affected because of the election.

“I want to appeal to you guys, let’s not get lost. Let’s keep engaging. Let’s keep finding each other.”

The ZRP and various media bodies such as the 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 hire all the officers commanding provinces (Propol) before the legislative elections on 26 March.

Although the national tour has not started, it was aimed at sensitizing provincial and district police commanders on the role of journalists and further cementing relationships.

This development came in the wake of a series of widespread harassment, intimidation, detention and arrests of journalists by politically connected individuals and law enforcement officials.

The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index profile for Zimbabwe has fallen to 137th 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 in the first half of this year by Misa Zimbabwe, which media outlets say could have been avoided.

According to records obtained from Misa Zimbabwe, a total of 22 violations against media professionals were recorded in 2021, up from 52 the previous year, as it looks like the figure will increase towards the elections.

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

“Arbitrary arrests of journalists may mean nothing to a junior officer, but it says it all to an investor,” Dube said.

“When investors look at potential investment destinations, they look at the profile of the country, for example what is the level of media freedom and freedom of expression.

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

The national coordinator of Zinef, Njabulo Ncube, gave his agreement before calling on the police to allow media professionals to carry out their duties without hindrance.

Nyathi acknowledged that journalists should be allowed to carry out their duties without persecution and called on media outlets to restart the nationwide engagement tour ahead of the 2023 elections.

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

“One of the issues that we want to address with all the media outlets in the country is that we have made it clear that we want to go out and meet all the officers commanding the provinces,” Nyathi said.

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

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

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

“I know we have young people coming into the police service.

“Some of these young people are overzealous, as are some of these young journalists.

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

Elections are meant to be an expression of the free choice of a country, society or people and entry into a governance contract, but have become a complex process in most fragile and somewhat exploded.

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

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