- Title: ENGLAND/FILE: Radio station airs message of hope for Zimbabwe
- Date: 21st March 2007
- Summary: MUSIC PLAYING IN STUDIO
- Embargoed: 5th April 2007 13:00
- Topics: International Relations,Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz
- Reuters ID: LVA5PFD1JQ4B7Y9Y87AHUNIP0S3R
- Story Text: A radio station just outside of London is on a mission - to become the independent voice of Zimbabwe. But it's not an easy task. With the government of President Robert Mugabe clamping down on the media, SW Radio Africa is becoming the only voice of hope for a country hit by years of severe economic and political crises.
Everyday for two hours, journalists in this radio station go to air with one thing in mind: home.
SW Radio Africa has been broadcasting from this studio just outside of London since December 2001.
For the nine journalists and technicians, England is home. Not Zimbabwe where they will get arrested should they risk going back.
Despite the pressure and harassment, the people behind SW Radio Africa are not giving up and taking each day one at a time.
"Often it's just to get through that day (laughs) The news can be so sad and depressing sometimes that you really just have to focus on that day, achieving your goals that day, trying to find the facts about the stories that you're hearing. That's one of the things that's so hard in Zimbabwe because it's a government that's never spoken to the people and has always clamped down on information. It's very hard to get info. So just to clarify what's going on is quite a task each day, to maintain our credibility as a believable news gatherer," says station manager Gerry Jackson whose radio station in Zimbabwe was shut down at gunpoint only 6 days after it began broadcasting, prompting her to set up in the UK.
The station gets much-needed funding from private donors and non-governmental organisations. For two hours everyday, news and current affairs programmes are presented by the journalists. But, this has not gone down well with the Zimbabwe government.
These days, the station has turned to mobile phones to reach out to people living in Zimbabwe, particularly in the capital Harare.
"The government is determined that we will not be heard so they jam our signal in the main city centres using we believe Chinese equipment and expertise to do so. So we are heard in some rural areas but in the main city centres, people can't pick us up. So we're trying to find various ways to get around that," says Jackson.
These days, 83-year-old Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980, is facing pressure from Western powers whose diplomats have been threatened by expulsion if they continue criticising the government.
Both Britain and the United States have called for more sanctions against Mugabe's government because of what they say was a violent crackdown on opposition leaders and the severe economic crisis they blame on state mismanagement.
Although massive anti-government protests have yet to take place, Jackson and everyone else watching from the outside say it's only a matter of time before things change.
"Who can tell? Who can tell how much longer people will maintain this level of suffering. I don't know. but the economic situation is so bad now , it's got the highest inflation in the world and it's the fastest shrinking economy for a country not at war. People literally, middle class people cannot afford to eat. it has to change soon," says Jackson.
Thirty-two-year-old Violent Gonda has not been home for almost five years. Although the government continues to prevent journalists like her to be heard in many areas in Zimbabwe, she says deep in her heart she knows someone out there is listening. And, she says that is more than enough.
"Even if it means a few people, a thousand people, or hundred people are getting us, at least that's a start, at least we are getting the message out and they can pass on the messages to other people, and that's what's happening actually," says Gonda who reads the news and conducts phone interviews with people living in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe has been relying on food aid from U.N. agencies and Western powers for the last six years as a result of a sharp drop in agricultural production that critics blame on Mugabe's seizures of white-owned farms for distribution to blacks.
Once southern Africa's bread basket, the country is struggling with inflation of more than 1,700 percent, frequent food and fuel shortages and unemployment of about 80 percent.
One of criticisms against Mugabe's government is its eviction campaign which left thousands in the capital Harare homeless.
Called "Operation Restore Order", the campaign was an attempt by Mugabe's government to clean up urban slums it says are a haven for black-market traders and other criminals.
The United Nations said an estimated 200,000 have been left homeless by the campaign.
Despite all these, the voices behind SW Radio Africa are optimistic that they will be coming home - someday.
"Definitely (laughs) yeah definitely. Soon I don't know about soon. But yes i will go home sometime. This is a foreign land. The UK is not my country. I'm still a foreigner in this country. I'm a Zimbabwean and I will go home one day," says Gonda.
"Well we're looking forward to be out of a job so we can all go home," says Jackson.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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