Zimbabwe is an area that it is in turmoil. Political murders, rigged elections, and inflation of 2.2. million percent assure that the nation is usually linked to bad news whenever it’s mentioned in the media. It is not the sort of place that free speech seems to flourish.
Despite that, there is a voice in the free speech wilderness: SW Radio Africa. Despite harassment from paramilitary forces, having their signal jammed, and being forced into hiding several times which did manage to force the station out of the country, it now broadcasts into Zimbabwe from London. Gerry Jackson, the founder, has undertaken a mammoth undertaking. The Independent UK has this to say:
“Everything to do with this project has been unbelievably difficult and continues to be unbelievably difficult,” she says. Money was hard to come by; the station has had to rely on funding from NGOs that support independent media, such as the Open Society Institute. [Disclosure: I work on contract for the Open Society Institute as well. I am their blogger for Katrina Media.org. -Loki] While the station began by broadcasting three hours a day, a lack of cash means it is now on air only two.
Still, two hours a day is better than none. Read on and you will start to understand the important place SW Radio Zimbabwe holds as a beacon in the midst of mind bending violence and socio-political chaos. Radio can reach where other technologies come up against a brick wall.
But radio remains the best medium for communicating with people in Zimbabwe. People who don’t have a television or a personal computer will generally either own a radio or have access to one – wind-up and solar-powered devices are popular. Shortwave is a powerful tool against dictators and despots – a signal can travel thousands of miles, so broadcasts can be transmitted into Zimbabwe from anywhere in the world.
Each day, SW Radio Africa broadcasts news from north London to Zimbabweans about the events in their country. Much of it comes from people on the ground, who talk to the station on their mobile phones or send text messages. The station’s seven journalists are on the phone to Zimbabwe all day, says Jackson, often experiencing difficulty in getting through.
Using cell phones to get the story to London so it can be broadcast back to Zimbabwe? Now that is creative use of the technology! As hard as that must be to juggle, there are other aspects that are worse. The constant blood and death, sometimes communicated as it happens, would take a toll on anyone. Ms. Jackson perseveres, though.
The job is extremely difficult. “You’re dealing with incredible violence,” says Jackson. “It’s a very depressing story to cover on a daily basis. These are not people you don’t know – these are friends and acquaintances being killed.” Last year, Jackson had to report on the murder of a former ZBC colleague, the cameraman Ed Chikombo.
Many people, increasingly desperate, are turning to SW Radio Africa for help, Jackson says. “They have nowhere else to turn to. So, more and more, they turn to the radio station and send text messages of appeal: ‘I’m being attacked – can you help me?'”
I can only imagine the feeling of receiving that as a text message. Check out the article in The Independent. It shows both the depths and the heights of the human spirit.
Screencapture: The SW Radio Africa Website