By Nomalanga Moyo
Zimbabweans across the world have expressed their shock and sadness following the news that SW Radio Africa will be closing down after 13 years of broadcasting.
On Monday, station manager Gerry Jackson said: “We’d like to thank the organisations and individuals who have supported us for the past 13 years and the contributors to our programs who have given so willingly of their time and expertise.
Our first broadcast was on 19th December 2001. Our last broadcast will be on 10th August 2014. It’s been a privilege.”
The closure was preceded by a cessation of the shortwave transmissions, a move which was celebrated by many in ZANU PF, a party whose hostility to freedom of expression is well-documented.
The station has been a thorn in the flesh of the paranoid ZANU PF regime and, in his first visit to the UK in 14 years, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa tabled its closure as a condition for ZANU PF’s re-engagement with the British.
For ordinary Zimbabweans, especially those living in the rural areas, the station’s broadcasts had become an important source of current affairs, judging by the popularity of the station’s Callbackprogramme and the solidarity messages from home and from Zimbabweans all over the world.
On Monday, press freedom campaigners MISA-Zim director Nhlanhla Ngwenya described as sad the demise of the station which had established itself as an important news source amongst information-starved communities.
“It is sad that one of the daily sources of alternative information is closing down. It is even worse if one considers that radio remains the most popular news source in Zimbabwe, covering almost 80 percent of the population,” Ngwenya told The Zimbabwean newspaper.
Earnest Mudzengi, who runs journalist resource facility the Media Centre, said Zimbabweans will be deprived of an important channel through which to access information and to express themselves.
“Radio broadcasting remains one of the most effective mediums in terms of reach. SW Radio Africa was playing its role in providing the much-needed diversity in our media environment,” Mudzengi said.
Rights campaigners have for many years condemned the State monopoly on broadcasting and want the ZANU PF government to democratise the airwaves, awarding licences to independent stations.
The Ministry of Information has shortlisted applicants for radio licenses but there are concerns that only those with links to the ruling party will get them. ZANU PF Deputy Information Minister Supa Mandiwanzira and Transport Minister Obert Mpofu are linked to some of the front-runners.
Mandiwanzira already owns ZiFM, which was licenced three years ago together with another State entity, Zimpapers’s Star FM, amid concerns that the two stations would simply operate as appendages of the ruling ZANU PF party.
MDC spokesman Nhlanhla Dube said his party will miss the platform that SW Radio Africa afforded them to air their views on the state of Zim politics.
“It is a very sad development. We also note the reality that the station has been telling the Zimbabwean story from outside Zimbabwe, a story that otherwise wouldn’t have been heard.
“SW Radio Africa has been broadcasting from outside the country because of the sad reality that is Zimbabwean politics. It is unfortunate that we have crafted a new constitution that remains unimplemented.
“We therefore say goodbye to the station with a heavy heart because we do not believe that until the constitution is fully mechanised, the vacuum you are leaving behind will be filled by anybody.
“We understand the different pressures that organisations like yours can come under, whether they are financial or political, but whatever the case, the departure of the station is a huge loss for Zimbabweans.
“Closing down or allowing alternative voices to close down leaves Zimbabweans at the mercy of the authorities and deprives them of the channel through which to push and pressure the government to grant and respect their freedoms,” Dube added. SW Radio Africa