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Zimbabwe result could open the airwaves

  • 04 April 2008

A year after Radio Dialogue started operations in 2000, we were invaded. They locked me in my office, and attempted to replace the lock on the main doors and take over the studios. The local state-owned newspaper reported that I had been replaced, and published a cartoon of me being kicked out of a window. From then on we have employed 24 hour security. Two weeks later, we were raided by the riot police, police internal security, central intelligence and the national telephone corporation. The telephone people were hoping to find radio transmission equipment so that they could confiscate it, but all we had was recording equipment. The police and central intelligence were hoping to find subversive material, but there was nothing. Two days later, we had a visit from the immigration people, who were hoping to find someone they could deport. They found one. He was given two days to leave the country. A few months later, I was filming a Valentine's Day demonstration by a group of women, and was arrested along with them. We spent the night in jail, and next day were charged with holding an illegal demonstration, then released.

Some time later, I was filming a youth group to make a music video for them. That earned me another night in jail. That is how it has been in Zimbabwe for the past ten years. The government is very suspicious of any independent organisation they are not in control of, especially media organisations. Radio Dialogue was set up as a community radio station for Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo. But no one has ever been granted a broadcasting licence in Zimbabwe, except the state broadcaster. So, while waiting for a change, we have 'broadcast' by alternative legal means. We make programs on CD and cassette, which are then played on public transport, in hair salons, bars and so on. We put on road shows in the suburbs, featuring local singers, dancers and drama groups. Each show contains a special message. The earliest shows got across to people the idea of community radio. The most recent ones urged people to register and then vote. We then developed our 'Live Broadcast Meetings'. These are public meetings, organised by our Radio Dialogue ward committees. They select a topic of local interest — mostly concerned with shortages of water, electricity or food. They then invite local officials to be questioned by the audience. The whole show is presented like