Binga, April 21, 2014 -In this southwest border area, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH) listeners licence is prominently displayed on most vehicles’ windscreens.
But on the stereo, it is a Zambian radio station rocking the airwaves – and this is not because residents here enjoy it more than Zimbabwean stations. They simply can’t access Zimbabwean radio and television.
“It is daylight robbery,” says local businessman Elias Sibanda. It is not difficult to understand the source of Sibanda’s bitterness.
For decades there has been no ZBH signal, forcing people with no access to State owned radio and television stations to rely on signals from neighbouring Zambia, whose stations have a permanent presence for free here.
Yet, that is not stopping ZBH and the police from demanding regular payments in licence fees. Motorists are particularly forced to part with their hard earned dollars to pay for the ZBH licences because of the numerous roadblocks in the area where police officers fiercely enforce the ZBH licensing regime.
The Legal Monitor was in Binga as the world commemorated World Press Freedom Day this month and experienced first-hand the great robbery by ZBH.
Many people here are more conversant with the music and events in neighbouring countries because they have no access to Zimbabwean broadcasting products despite being forced to pay licence fees.
Some of the people told The Legal Monitor that ZBH was using the police to “reap where it did not sow” as people in Binga were relying on radio and television signals from across Zambezi River in Zambia.
“We have no reception of ZBC here. We rely on Zambian stations or satellite stations. But police force us to buy ZBH listeners’ licences citing some law I do not understand. It does not make sense to pay for something I do not eat or a service I do not enjoy,” Sibanda, a businessman at Binga Growth Point, told The Legal Monitor.
In terms of the controversial Broadcasting Act [Chapter 12:01] (Act No. 3 of 2001), Section 38 (B) (1):“No listener shall have in his possession in Zimbabwe a receiver otherwise than in accordance with the terms and conditions of a licence issued by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation or by agents of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation appointed by it.”
Many Zimbabweans have complained about the legality of ZBH television and radio licences.
One of them is lawyer and MP for Harare West Fungayi Jessie Majome, who is awaiting a hearing date at the Constitutional Court after filing a constitutional challenge.
Sibanda says he is also itching to take the matter to court. “Surely, if I get educated about the issue of litigation, I will take both police and ZBH to court. We end up paying licence fees to avoid harassment and inconveniences from the police,” he said.
It seems until a determination is made at the Constitutional Court, Zimbabweans will continue suffering from police harassment over the controversial issue of licences.
Recently, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights’ Blessing Nyamaropa had to intervene after political activist and MDC-T candidate for Mutare North in the July 31 elections Irimai Mukwishu had his vehicle impounded earlier after querying the rationale behind paying the ZBH licences at a roadblock.
Police released him and his impounded vehicle after the intervention of ZLHR. They indicated that they would summon him to stand trial in court once they are ready to proceed with the matter.
While people like Majome and Mukwishu complain about having to pay for a station that they don’t care to listen to, in some Matabeleland regions such as Binga and Lupane, people are forced to pay licences for stations that are inaccessible.
In Lupane, residents say they are being forced to fork out cash to pay for ZBH licences yet the State broadcaster has been inaccessible in the area for decades.
“It’s naked robbery, pure daylight theft. Whenever I drive, say to Bulawayo or Victoria Falls, police insist I must pay fines for not having a ZBH licence,” said Alfred Sihwa, a social worker in the Matabeleland North capital. “Why should I pay fees for something that I access only when I visit other parts of the country? ZBH does not deem us to be part of Zimbabwe. Tourists who are driving are exempted from paying. Why not me? Why not those in Lupane? After all, we just access ZBH stations when we visit.”
The situation is similar in Tsholotsho.
“We are living in the dark in terms of current affairs in the area and nationwide,” said 72-year-old Herbert Mpofu from Mbizo Village under Chief Magama in Tsholotsho.
He said it was difficult for people in the rural areas to watch pay per view television stations because of huge monthly fees.
“We do not receive the ZBC signal here unless maybe if you climb the trees or hills. So why does ZBC want to cash in when it has invested nothing?” queried Mpofu.
Even local government officials appear annoyed by the situation.
“We have television sets here. But we can’t access ZBC. It is important to know what is happening in the country every day,” said Tsholotsho district administrator Nosizi Dube at a public meeting on the state of the media last week.
Some teachers in Jambezi area said it is becoming difficult to teach Zimbabwean current affairs as the students were used to listening to Zambian television and radio stations.
“We are on Zimbabwean soil, but everything here is Zambian in terms of knowledge. Half the class – if not all- know the cabinet ministers of Zambia better than ours,” said one teacher who refused to be identified.
“When the President says he is addressing the nation, he will be talking to a few lucky regions. Unfortunately, we are not part of the fortunate ones,” he said.
The Legal Monitor