Zimbabwe result could open the airwaves


Radio DialogueA 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 a radio program, with the presenter behind a mixing desk, playing CDs and jingles between segments of the program.

The day before the meeting, we gather local news from that suburb, and present a news bulletin in the middle of the program. The meeting ends with a 'phone-in' segment, where a roving microphone is passed among the audience. Through this people get a real experience of what local community radio will be like — that they will not just be passive listeners, but will actively participate and have their voices heard.

We also do music recording and work a lot with local youth and artists.

So far, it's been difficult. We have to get police clearance for any public event, which is time consuming and makes planning difficult. Last year, the police banned the opening night of our cultural festival a few hours before it was due to start because President Mugabe was in Bulawayo.

As I write, the whole nation is anxiously waiting to hear the final results of the general election. Tight state control ensures that small amounts of information trickle through very slowly. This is made up for by the rumours that fly around via the internet or mobile phones.

Some people are despairing — 'It's been rigged ... the election's stolen ... five more years of this misery ... how can I get to South Africa, to UK, to Australia?' Others, like myself, are hopeful — 'Our time of suffering is about to end ... a new beginning ... a new dawn ... an end to the police state ... the beginning of freedom of speech ... the opening of the airwaves ... soon we'll be broadcasting.'

The next few days will prove who is right.

Radio Dialogue
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Nigel JohnsonFr Nigel Johnson SJ is founder and director of Radio Dialogue in Bulawayo.





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Existing comments

We wait with you Nigel and keep you and Zimbabwe in our hearts and prayers. Blessings upon your perseverance.
Trish Taylor | 04 April 2008

The Rudd government has signalled that it intends to have a greater say in foreign affairs and has already declared that a seat on the UN Security Council will be one of its objectives to that end.

But the parliamentary defeat of the Zimbabwean despot, Robert Mugabe, offers Mr Rudd a golden opportunity to initiate preparations an international rescue initiative for a new incoming government.

Given the rape and plunder of that country's people and its resources, it will need material assistance on a multi-national scale and there's no reason why Australia can't make the first move. In the meantime, one must hope that Australian diplomats have conveyed Australia's support to Zimbabwe's Opposition Leader, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mr Rudd should also use whatever influence Australia has to convince South Africa's President Mbeke and Tanzania's leader, Jakaya Kikwete, that they must urge Mugabe to step down immediately following his decisive parliamentary defeat.
Brian Haill | 04 April 2008

You are a brave and persistent man. The world is better for your being here.
Judy George | 04 April 2008

Further to my earlier message, I am delighted to advise Eureka Street readers that the British government has now indicated that it has taken the initiative in assembling a $2.2 billion dollar rescue package for Zimbabwe.

I'm calling on Prime Minister Rudd and Opposition Leader Nelson to add Australia's endorsement and involvement.
Brian Haill | 04 April 2008


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