Introduction and Context of the Study

The world, by no doubt, came to a standstill as it experienced the worst ever pandemic of the century in 2020. Initially reported in December 2019, in Wuhan, China, the novel COVID-19 virus that was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) continued to ravage economies and people’s lives. This pushed countries into recessions, forcing sudden severe restrictions to people’s daily activities. Globally, people had to adopt a ‘new normal’ way of life which introduced social distancing, wearing of face masks, quarantining, and regular use of sanitisers. COVID-19 introduced new challenges such as misinformation and disinformation which saw public figures appropriating social media platforms to counter false narratives (Mututwa and Matsilele 2020). However, one of the key challenges that came along with the pandemic was that it offered authoritarian minded leaders in both the Global South and Global North the opportunity to muzzle the media and consolidate power. Thus, governments continue to place political goals above public health. Some leaders continued to see it as an opportunity to censor journalists and at the same time undermine checks and balances to their power. Basing on the foregoing scenario, this chapter broadly proffers scholarly inquiry into how the COVID-19 pandemic eroded liberties of journalistic work in the countries under study by analysing laws and policies legislated during the course of the pandemic. The authors considered how laws and statutes enacted became weapons to oppress the masses or the weak. In this milieu, the chapter examines the negative impact of regulatory frameworks on the practice of journalism in the countries under study. African governments under the guise of ‘following’ WHO guidelines crafted laws and policies which included prohibiting gathering and conduct of journalism—gathering and dissemination of news—during the pandemic.

There are two main arguments: First, while the novel virus required that governments moved swiftly to avert the virus that had turned to be a global pandemic, the chapter argues that some regimes used the pandemic to undermine civil liberties through enacting laws that curtailed freedom of speech, enhanced surveillance, and silence of the media. Secondly, during the course of the pandemic, various laws were enacted to curb the spread of ‘fake news’. However, such laws shielded the government from scrutiny and rendered the elected officials’ omnipotent consequently oppressing citizens. This chapter analyses laws governing media operations in—Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Tanzania enacted to combat/address COVID-19.

The silencing of the media, however, is reflective of the broader concerns of the state of democracy in Southern Africa that was always under scrutiny given its poor record of human rights violations and flawed electoral processes (Sachikonye 2011; Breytenbach 2002). Some of the countries in the region that often top the list for authoritarian rule and defying democratic practices include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and Angola where voices of dissent are silenced, activists and journalists disappear or are abducted, and rigged elections are normal (Chuma et al. 2020; Ndlovu-Gatsheni & Ruhanya 2020; Moyo 2019; Melber 2004; Matsilele 2013).

This study gives a brief contextual background of the countries under study and reviews literature on laws that previously curtailed freedom of expression, association, and assembly which inevitably had a significant impact on the practice of the journalism profession. The study provides a conceptual paradigm adopted by the researchers and it is followed by the research methodology. Lastly, the researchers provide an analysis of laws that affected journalism during the period under study, i.e. March to December 2020.

Research Context: A Look into Selected Countries

The study looked into laws and policies promulgated in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Tanzania. The trio is also in the SADC region. The countries were selected based on their diversity of the manner in which media freedom was entrenched during the period under study, i.e. March to December 2020. These three countries brought different dynamics to the study. For Tanzania, there was an observable entrenching and consolidation of one-party state under the late former President John Magufuli with weaponisation of laws at the centre. Zimbabwe was under a prolonged dual political and economic crisis which saw basic rights revoked during the coronavirus pandemic period. The country became a pariah under the leadership of the late former President Robert Mugabe and did not change under the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa whose reign was marred by open shooting of unarmed civilians by members of the armed forces in August of 2018 and January of 2019. The abuse and intimidation of journalists continued unabated. Thus, Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Ruhanya (2020, p. 4) observed that ‘The Mnangagwa regime is a direct child of Mugabeism; indeed, Mugabeism is its recurrent theme.’ South Africa, however, remained an outlier in the continent that saw a flurry of legal challenges as government made pronouncements that would reduce civil liberties as mechanisms to contain the spread of the virus. The narrative helped give context to how these three countries over two regional blocks employed legal instruments to contain the spread of the virus and consequently limited, undermined, and reconfigured how journalism and journalists were expected to practise within the context of a contagious pandemic. Thus, the difference in the state of media freedom in these three countries provided rich accounts and phenomena for exploration of the journalism industry. This study, therefore, is a springboard for further research on the broader aspect of media regulation and journalism practices in the region.

A Review of the Political and Legal Landscape in Southern and Eastern Africa

After gaining independence in 1961, Tanzania embraced a one-party political system until 1992 when the Chama Cha Mapinduzi party introduced a multi-party system (Ngasongwa 1992). The present political system of Tanzania closely resembles an imperfect liberal democracy (Cooksey & Kelsall 2011; Gray 2015). The current political climate in Tanzania has, to a large extent, been shaped by former President Magufuli who gained power in 2015 (Tkalec and Umbach 2020). His rule was based on state-led economic prosperity with centralised decision-making; anti-corruption campaigns; and denying expression of political opposition, civil society, and media (Eriksen 2018, 34). When Magufuli took over, one of the first cost-cutting measures that raised eyebrows was a ban on live coverage of parliamentary proceedings. Protests against this and other measures by an ever more vocal opposition were met with an indefinite ban on political rallies in June 2016 (Paget 2017, 157). The widespread use of laws which were enacted just before former President Magufuli came to power has been described as ‘constricting the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of assembly’ (Paget 2017, p. 156). Magufuli’s censorship went beyond the mainstream media and civics to think tanks and policy reports. For example, the 2013 Statistics Act which was promulgated ‘curtailed the independence of researchers by dictating which organisations may generate and publish national statistics’ (Paget 2017, p. 157). The use of social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp changed the nature of political communication and engagement globally. Such a development is explained by digital dictatorship which refers to governments using technologies to monitor their citizens through tracking their movements, habits, and thoughts with unchecked power. In Tanzania, the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected the lives of millions of people and hence increased the financial burden in the areas of the agriculture sector, health, hospitality, tourism, education, and the banking sector, among others (Saleh 2020, p. 24).

In Zimbabwe, as elsewhere in Africa, the existing police systems are a legacy of colonial rule shaped by post-colonial histories (Mpofu & Matsilele 2020; Makwerere et al. 2012, 130). The country’s media system was largely divided between private and state-controlled. With the ruling party (ZANU-PF) having turned itself into state and government, the public media was transformed into the party’s mouthpiece (Chuma et al. 2020; Ncube 2017; Santos and Ndhlovu 2016). As such, journalists from the state-controlled media enjoyed more privileges than their counterparts in the private media. Private media, which was critical of the state, suffered major criticism and a harsh operating environment which forced some to close down (see Tshuma 2019; Nyarota 2006). On the same note, punitive measures and draconian laws were implemented in early 2000 to regulate the media and the examples included the Broadcasting Services Act (2001), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) of 2002, the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) of 2001, and the Interceptions of Electronic Communications Act (2007). Since the November 2017 coup, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration insisted that it is on course of delivering the ‘Zimbabwe that people want’ (Tshuma 2019) which also included the entrenchment of media freedom. However, events indicated that media freedom was yet to be delivered as journalists continued to be harassed and jailed.

South Africa is one of the few countries whose state of democracy is still a marvel to many. The country was born after years of institutionalised racism, segregation, and apartheid. The apartheid system permeated the entire fabric of the economic, social, and political life. As Alhadeff (2018, p. 11) one of the journalists who operated during the apartheid system noted, ‘Operating at the helm of what was a staunchly anti-apartheid newspaper, it was a constant challenge to expose the iniquities of the system and inform the public of what was really happening without breaking the law.’ The apartheid system enacted laws that defended the racist system while criminalising attempts to expose its evils. Following the end of apartheid in 1994, a new democratic and constitutional dispensation was ushered in opening spaces for free media and civil liberties. South Africa has a diverse and pluralistic media environment that is supported by several press freedom advocacy organisations that regularly challenge encroachments on media freedom. The courts and regulatory bodies have consistently reaffirmed freedom of the press and the right to information, handing down judgements and rulings in support of open and accountable government and media independence (Freedom House 2017). However, the changes in the macro environment came with challenges. As Wasserman (2013, p. 71) notes, ‘the opening up of a democratic public sphere, the intensified impact of globalisation with the end of the country’s isolation and the redefinition of civil society in relation to a now-legitimate state had profound implications for the way the South African media conceived of their role in normative terms’. Wasserman adds that, while the news media often insisted on freedom and independence on the basis of their claim to ‘serve the public interest’, their opponents in the government argued that nobody elected the media, and that therefore elected officials, rather than the media, were the legitimate custodians of the public interest. As these debates continue, the tensions between the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), and the media, the constitutional guarantees ensured that freedoms and protections given to the media are not compromised. It is this context under which this study took place.

Theoretical Framework: Insights into the Securitisation Theory

This study is informed by the securitisation theory. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, governments were quick to label it a security threat as it led to effects that were largely affecting and crippling the socio-economic and political performance of governments. As such, ‘it is by labelling something a security issue that it becomes one’ (Wæver 2004, p. 13). Therefore, the pandemic was rendered a ‘threat’ and had to be combated through legal statutes. Hence, by stating that a particular referent object, in this case the state and its people, was threatened in its existence, government as securitising actors claimed having the right to effect extraordinary measures to ensure that people were safe and everything goes back to normal (see Willems 2014; Taureck 2000; Wæver 2004). Furthermore, the securitisation theory indicates that by declaring something or phenomenon a threat, it ensures that such a phenomenon is ‘moved out of the sphere of normal politics into the realm of emergency politics, where it can be dealt with swiftly and without the normal (democratic) rules and regulations of policy-making’ (Taureck 2000, p. 55). Against this background, the outbreak of COVID-19 resulted in the state of emergency being declared, the enactment of virtuous regulations which did not go through normal legal procedures as there was a need to ‘swiftly’ deal with it.

According to Wæver (2004), to prevent ‘everything’ from becoming a security issue, a successful securitisation consists of three steps. These are (1) identification of existential threats; (2) emergency action; and (3) effects on inter-unit relations by breaking free of rules (Buzan et al. 1998, p. 6). To present an issue as an existential threat is to say that: ‘If we do not tackle this problem, it is neither unmanageable nor incoherent’ (Taureck 2000, p. 55). However, this study largely focused on the emergency as the pandemic forced governments into an emergency mode. However, security and emergency are social and subjective constructions. Thus, this means security is ‘no longer has any given (pre-existing) meaning but that it can be anything a securitising actor says it is’ (Wæver 1998, 2004). In this vein, Wæver seems to be aware of the abuse of both the term security and its declaration by actors by arguing that ‘security should be seen as a negative, as a failure to deal with issues of normal politics’ (Buzan et al. 1998, p. 29). As such, he advocates for a strategy of desecuritisation whereby ‘securitisation is reversed and issues are moved out of ‘the threat — defence sequence and into the ordinary public sphere’ where they can be dealt with in accordance with the rules of the (democratic) political system’ (Buzan et al. 1998, p. 29).

Methodological Premise

The study analyses laws and regulations that affected the conduct of journalism in the countries under study. The researchers assessed laws and regulations that were implemented from March to December 2020 when governments of the countries under study implemented lockdown measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. For Zimbabwe, they assessed the Freedom of Information Act, Statutory Instrument 2020–083, Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment), and the Criminal Law [Codification and Reform] Act. For South Africa, they considered the Bill of Rights while in Tanzania they analysed the Tanzania Electronic and Postal Communications Act. The laws and regulations for this study were subjected to document analysis. This form of analysis ‘…is a systematic procedure for reviewing or evaluating documents—both printed and electronic (computer-based and Internet-transmitted) material’ (Bowen 2009, p. 27).

Discussion and Analysis of Findings

South Africa: The Bill of Rights and Constitution Guarantees during the Pandemic

There are three interventions the South African government made in response to the practice of journalism during the pandemic and curbed mis- and dis-information campaigns. Firstly, the government made a deliberate decision to ensure professional journalists continued with the practice as this would assist in the fight against disinformation. Secondly, the government legislated emergency funding towards media to ensure jobs was saved, and lastly, the disaster management act criminalised spreading of fake news on social media. The three interventions from a legislative and regulatory position are discussed thus:

During the course of the pandemic, the South African government classified journalists as essential workers which meant they could operate without threats of the state security apparatus. This approach by the South African government demonstrates the extent to which the country was prepared to go in safeguarding the rights of journalists to practise even as other countries withdrew journalistic privileges and rights to practise. Commenting on the role journalists played, President Ramaphosa affirmed, the media had fulfilled its watchdog responsibility by exposing corruption and maladministration leading to a national debate and investigations of high-profile political elites (Swart 2020).

Beyond being allowed to practise, the government also committed to make regulatory interventions that would allow improved advert spending in a number of news media to help protect jobs and ensure viability. As SANEF noted: ‘The first and most visible casualty was the magazine industry with the closure of two magazine publishers with the loss of 97 jobs at the one publisher and up to 250 at the other. Away from the limelight, small, independent, hyperlocal print publications were also ravaged.’ These dire consequences were also reflected in job losses with estimated 300 to 400 journalists losing their jobs. Workers at three of the so-called Big 4 print media companies were forced to take salary cuts of up to 45%, and temporary layoffs were widely implemented. To ensure the survival of some media houses, the government promulgated legislation that saw government emergency funding of up to R10 million dedicated to the community media.

The initiative by the government was also supported by the Social Justice Initiative in conjunction with SANEF where emergency funding was put in place for journalists who lost their livelihoods as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This funding was a result of intervention by MTN South Africa. Ramaphosa urged local donors and humanitarian entities to lend a hand towards independent and investigative journalism and encouraged the private sector to continue supporting the media sector through advertisement spent and collaborating with news media in producing innovative content in line with world media trends (Swart 2020). Thus, the package was part of the emergency measures that institutions took having declared the situation a security threat (Taureck 2000; Wæver 2004). Journalism is a profession that safeguards the interest of the people; hence its survival also safeguards the national interests as its normative role is also to collaborate with the state when its security is threatened, in this regard, by the pandemic (see Christians et al. 2010).

The South African government also promulgated laws to help clamp down on fake news. The National Disaster Management Act enacted laws that sought to police publication of content meant to mislead other citizens regarding the pandemic, the infection status of any individual, and misleading citizens regarding government policy positions on the pandemic. The Act stated that anyone who commits such an offence would face a fine or up to six months imprisonment or both. One of the country’s citizens, Steven Birch, was arrested in April of 2020 for allegedly circulating a video on his social media pages where he told South Africans that the country’s coronavirus testing kits were contaminated and could infect people (Hyman 2020).

Tanzania: Human Rights Violations and Gagging the Media

Journalists and the media, as the bearers of information, are often targeted by different regimes and receive the first onslaught. In July 2020, setting the tone for muffling the media, the Tanzanian government repealed the 2018 Tanzania’s Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations and replaced them with the Tanzania Electronic and Postal Communications. The 2020 regulations aggravated the crackdown on free speech as they required the registration of bloggers, online discussion forums, radio, and television webcasters. Democracy detects that the media, as the fourth and fifth estate, becomes independent and also functions freely without any hindrance (Mpofu & Matsilele 2020). However, while performing their normative roles (see Ndlovu & Sibanda 2020; Christians et al. 2010), in July 2020, Kwanza Online TV was the first casualty after it was suspended for 11 months for allegedly publishing an ‘unbalanced, biased, misleading and disruptive story on the state of Covid-19 in that country’. The station’s crime was that of publishing an alert issued by the US warning its nationals about the spread of COVID-19 in Dar es Salaam, which the Tanzania Communication Authority Content Committee deemed to be false, misinforming, and malicious, intended to cause panic and harm the country’s economic activities such as tourism.

The attack on the media in the guise of fighting the pandemic led to government’s suspension of the online licence for Mwananchi daily newspaper after it published a picture of the late President John Magufuli surrounded by many people. The newspaper questioned Magafuli’s stance on the pandemic since he assembled crowds in the wake of the need to practise social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the TCRA, the paper breached the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations as its report was allegedly misleading and caused confusion in the community. The media is duty bound to educate people on various issues with such a mandate being more pronounced on health communication where people are supposed to be aware of what they ought to do and not to do (Mututwa and Matsilele 2020). More so, with the media expected to hold leaders accountable (Tshuma 2019), the framing of Magafuli as not promoting social distancing and other WHO guidelines was ideal for the media to do. Furthermore, Talib Ussi Hamad, a journalist with the Tanzania Daima daily newspaper, was suspended for six months for his reports on the Covid-19 outbreak in Tanzania. Albert Sengo, a journalist working with Jembe Radio FM in Mwanza region, was also charged in court for publishing online content on his ‘unregistered’ online GSENGO TV. As such, Albert Sengo’s case showed that enacted laws affected citizen journalists. Citizen journalists are regarded as a parallel market of information as they operate outside the economic armpits of the power bloc (see Moyo 2009). As such, they increase public debate and offer an alternative to the state-sponsored narrative often churned by its controlled media. Therefore, the clampdown on freelance journalists by the Tanzanian government muffled citizens’ voice on important issues around COVID-19. There is no doubt that the future of democracy in Africa seems bleak given the fact that the media which should act as an agent of representation and free from state and government control is being muzzled by the government which wants it to tow the ‘official’. Securisation theory helps to further explain the conduct of governments during the pandemic. By viewing media reportage as a ‘threat’ to the economy, it invites the state to put punitive measures to address such a ‘threat’ (Wæver 1999). However, the ‘threat’ is a creation by the state which wanted to block the media from being critical of its blunders.

Right to freedom of expression and access to information are the lifeblood of any democratic society. Awadhi Lugoya was arrested and accused of wrongful use of social media, for opening a Facebook account called ‘Coronavirus Tanzania’ and using it to purportedly spread ‘misleading information’ about the pandemic. Mariamu Jumanne Sanane, a third-year student at the University of Dar es Salaam, was arrested in April 2020 after she claimed on social media that there were 230 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and four deaths in Tanzania. Furthermore, Afrikana Mlay was arrested over accusations of spreading false information on social media, to the effect that the government was hiding the number of coronavirus disease cases in the country. The police claimed that the post was ‘intended to create panic and discourage efforts being undertaken by the government in fighting (the) spread of the virus’.

The move by the government to muffle citizens in the guise of curbing fake news on Covid-19 shows that authoritarian rule was now a new form of governance in Tanzania. Citizens were being prosecuted for airing their views meaning that they no longer had the supreme power since the government was no longer ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’, but the will of the few individuals in government.

Zimbabwe: Harassment, Intimidation, and Abuse of Journalists

Zimbabwe has, over the years, continued to use laws to abuse and intimidate journalists (Melber 2004; Moyo 2004). More so, these laws mostly targeted private and international media houses reporting on the Zimbabwean story. Most journalists from these media houses aced arbitrary arrests and continuously landed in court by virtue of reporting ‘negative’ stories about corruption scandals, politics, and human rights violations mostly perpetrated by the ZANU-PF-led government. The trend of harassing and intimidating journalists started during the rule of Zimbabwe’s long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, and still continued under the ‘New Dispensation’ era under incumbent leader Emmerson Mnangagwa. The Covid-19 pandemic provided the Zimbabwean government good ground to intimidate journalists under the guise of laws and lockdown regulations.

One of the major highlights of harassment of journalistsFootnote 1 and undermining of their role/duty were arrests linked to operating without 2020 accreditation cards that were issued by the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC).Footnote 2 Accreditation cards enabled journalists, both local and international, to perform their duties legally. However, the ZMC had not issued accreditation cards for the year 2020, despite continuous harassment, arrests, and threats of journalists by the police and state security forces (Reporters Without Borders 2020). Such events invoked the right to media freedom that is clearly stipulated in the Zimbabwean constitution. More so, Section 62 of the Freedom of Information Act stipulates that ‘Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas and other information; freedom of artistic expression and scientific research and creativity; and academic freedom’ (Freedom of Information Act, 2019) as invoked since it kept citizens informed of developments and measures that were implemented by the government and important stakeholders in combatting the Covid-19 pandemic. Advocacy bodies such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) were instrumental in assisting media practitioners in filling an urgent chamber stipulating that 2019 accreditation cards were valid and could be used by journalists in 2020 since they had not been issued yet. However, much as the interdict prohibiting police officers and state security from harassing journalists was passed, there was still continuous harassment and intimidation of journalists (Ilkka 2020). The arrests were part of government efforts of restricting the freedom to inform in arbitrary and disproportionate ways. Such acts by the police and state security saw Zimbabwe ranked 126 out of 180 countries and territories in the Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders 2020). Over 20 cases of harassment and intimidation where reported (Reporters Without Borders 2020).

As already alluded to, journalists continued to be harassed for conducting their duties even after being classified as essential workers and the approval to carry out their duties using outdated 2019 press cards. For instance, two journalists, Frank Chikowore and 263Chat news website reporter Samuel Takawira, were arrested for ‘violating’ lockdown regulations of social distancing and a ban on hospital visits. Their charge was published in the Public Health Gazette (Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) that stipulated various measures that were related to social distancing and rules governing the lockdown. Their arrest, in part, confirmed the freedom of press that was in jeopardy since the Mugabe era (Melber 2004; Moyo 2004). The two journalists attempted to interview MDC Alliance members—Netsai Marova, Cecilia Chimbiri, and Joana MamombeFootnote 3 who had been allegedly abducted by state security officials (Ndebele 2020). However, the two journalists were denied permission to cover the story on grounds of violating the lockdown regulations, were arrested for four days, and only released after paying a fine (Mavhunga 2020). In part, using such regulations and intimidation by the state were a way of preventing the two journalists from investigating a potential human rights abuse story. Their arrest was one of the many tactics used by the state to intimidate journalists covering stories that implicated the Zimbabwean government in abuse of human rights.

While the Covid-19 pandemic continued to ravage the already fragile Zimbabwean economy, politicians and their associates were involved in looting funds meant for hospitals. Prominent among the looting and corruption cases in Zimbabwe was what became known as the Covigate/Draxgate scandal initially broken by prominent Zimbabwean journalist and Zimlive editor Mduduzi Mathuthu in April 2020. The exposé was later carried by prominent Zimbabwean Hopewell Ch’nono using his Twitter account, drawing interest from not only Zimbabweans but the international community. The scandal mainly involved Zimbabwe’s Minister of Health Obadiah Moyo awarding a multi-million-dollar deal contract for Covid-19 testing kits, drugs, and personal protective equipment to a shadowy company, Drax Consultants. The scandal also dragged in Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son, Collins Mnangagwa. According to the exposé by both Mathuthu and Chin’ono, it is estimated that the Zimbabwean government, through the Minister of Health, awarded Drax Consult contracts worth USD 60 million. The corruption scandal also saw the two journalists use their Twitter accounts to call for a national wide protest on 31 July 2020. However, the Covid-19 exposé by the journalists saw them face the full wrath of the law with Chin’ono charged with Sect. 187(1)(a) as read with sect. 37(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Law [Codification and Reform] Act: ‘Incitement to participate in public violence’. Chin’ono was also accused of using his Twitter account @daddyhope to call for the removal of a constitutionally elected government through an uprising. By using such a law, Chin’ono’s right to liberty was infringed upon. Much as Chin’ono was charged for incitement of public violence, and sentenced to prison for 45 days, his political crime and judicial persecution were more on his reporting and views on corruption. However, Mduduzi Mathuthu was not arrested, since he hid after being intimidated by police and security forces.


In conclusion, journalists who operate in authoritarian regimes like Zimbabwe and Tanzania had their liberties taken away as the government regarded their critics as a threat likely to cause harm. The findings demonstrated that laws were passed in the guise of fighting the spread of fake news by which its definition could be manipulated by the state to thwart and punish voices critical to the governmental rule. Through the securitisation theory, governments treated the pandemic as a security threat. The laws that were enacted to control the flow of information were not justifiable. While there was a need to regulate the media so that it could not tear the nation apart through misinformation and disinformation, or spreading of hate speech, the harassment of journalists in both Zimbabwe and Tanzania showed that laws were not about information dissemination but were designed to shield the corrupt and incompetent government from scrutiny.

On the one hand, Tanzania and Zimbabwe shared similar traits in the manner in which laws and policies were enacted to control the media’s role during the pandemic. Harassment, torture, arrest, and closure of the media houses were key negative issues resulting from laws and policies that were enacted by government to ‘combat’ the COVID-19 pandemic. Journalists were treated with disdain as they became a ‘security threat’ which resulted in their harassment while on duty. The authoritarian regimes took advantage of the crisis and silenced journalists who were questioning their flaws in addressing the health crisis. Thus, the health crisis further put the journalism profession in deep crisis. On the other hand, South Africa’s treatment of the media was the polar opposite of what transpired in other selected countries. The government recognised the power of the media in information dissemination for education of the masses about the pandemic. As such, laws and policies were enacted to support the media as an essential service provider during the pandemic, and this further meant strengthening the democratic practices in the nation-state. Ultimately this study observed that for countries operating under a hybrid system (Zimbabwe and Tanzania) there was a natural tendency to implement laws that curtailed democracy and by extension press freedom. South Africa, one of the few countries in the continent with a good record on press freedom and human rights culture, ensured that journalistic and press freedom were safeguarded during the pandemic.