Insight – Five Writers on Zimbabwe

Talk Tuesday 29th July, 2008

With no solution in sight to the current crisis in Zimbabwe, we ask five Zimbabwean writers and journalists for their reflections on where their country is heading and what should be done. Will the violence against the civilian population stop? What does the recent agreement mean between the MDC and Robert Mugabe? How long can Mugabe continue to preside over such chaos and how are ordinary Zimbabweans surviving amid rampant inflation, shortages and political violence?
We ask a group some of Zimbabwe’s most well-known writers and journalists from widely divergent backgrounds to reflect on how their country got to this point, how long ordinary Zimbabweans might be expected to wait for an end to the current abuses and from where a solution to Southern Africa’s most troubled State may come.

Lauren St John was born in Gatooma, Rhodesia, now Kadoma, Zimbabwe. After studying journalism in Africa, she moved to London, where she was golf correspondent for many years for The Sunday Times. She is the author of 11 books, including the award-winning children’s novel The White Giraffe. Rainbow’s End, her acclaimed memoir of growing up on a farm in 70s Rhodesia and newly independent Zimbabwe in the early 80s, was published by Penguin in 2007 and has just been released in paperback.

Georgina Godwin was born during the civil war in Zimbabwe, a war in which her brother (writer and broadcaster Peter Godwin) and father were conscripted, and her sister was killed. Georgina was the main drive time presenter on the national radio station, and the inaugural host of Zimbabwean television’s breakfast show.

In 2000 Georgina was approached to help set up an independent radio station which lasted just 6 days before it was shut by presidential decree and the boots and rifle butts of the Police Force. In 2001, the team moved to London in order to broadcast to Zimbabwe on short wave. However, Georgina and her colleagues were declared enemies of the state and told they would be imprisoned if they ever returned home.

For the last 3 years Georgina has been based in London and working as a freelance writer and broadcaster mostly concentrating on Southern African and Human Rights issues. She does some lobbying and advocacy work and briefs both media and politicians on the situation in Zimbabwe.

Wilf Mbanga was the founder and first Chief Exective of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, the publishers of the Daily News. After extensive persecution of its brave journalists and continuous harassment by government officials, the independent Daily News was shut down in 2003 under the terms of the Zimbabwe Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Now living in exile in the UK, Mbanga edits the respected independent newspaper, The Zimbabwean.

Andrew Mutandwa was one of the first black journalists to be trained after Independence in 1980. After working as a government information officer, he was transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office in 1984 where he became Senior Information and Press Officer. A six-year stint in a diplomatic posting in London was followed by a return to Zimbabwe in 1995 as Deputy Director of Information.  He is currently reading for a degree in Mental Health with a view to one day putting into place a programme to assist Zimbabweans traumatized by political terror, torture and murders during Mugabe’s reign.

Chofamba Innocent Sithole grew up in post-independence Zimbabwe and started his journalism career just as the country was unravelling into its current crisis. Working first at the Financial Gazette, Chofamba went on to edit the Zimbabwe Sunday Mirror and was still in charge of the newspaper when it was taken over in 2005 by Mugabe’s secret police in a scandal that became known as ‘Mediagate’. He came to England as a Chevening scholar to study international relations at the University of Leicester. Chofamba now lives in London and is a writer/editor with a British human rights charity.

George Alagiah presents the BBC News and was previously one of the BBC’s leading foreign correspondents. He is a specialist on Africa and the developing world and has interivewed both Robert Mugabe and Nelson Mandela.