BELATED congratulations to our chief reporter Dumisani Muleya on winning the prestigious Mr Speaker Abbot Award, created in the United Kingdom to honour journalists worldwide who have ma
de outstanding contributions to the protection and promotion of democracy.
The House of Commons’ Parliamentary Press Gallery launched the award to recognise a publisher, editor or reporter, working in any media, who has suffered for the cause of democracy. This may include incidences of intimidation, imprisonment or torture.
While I knew Dumisani had been nominated, confirmation of the award only came in as we went to press last Thursday evening. I regard it as an important tribute to both Dumisani and the Zimbabwe Independent in our efforts to keep the candle of press freedom burning in these dark times.
This is what its sponsors have to say about the award: “To mark the special contribution in our history of Mr Speaker Abbot, the Press Gallery is to inaugurate an award for the political journalist who is considered to have made the greatest contribution internationally to the protection, promotion and perpetuation of parliamentary democracy.
“While the award does not rule out journalists operating in the world’s democracies – and most certainly should not – clearly there will be an emphasis on journalists from developing countries.
“The object of the award is to honour the journalist who, in the opinion of a panel of judges chaired by Mr Speaker Martin, has suffered for the cause of democracy and to secure maximum exposure for his/her actions.”
The award will be made at a ceremony at the House of Commons on April 27.
The nominees had the following to say about our candidate: “Due to the repressive media laws in Zimbabwe, Mr Muleya’s job is made very difficult. However, he continues to report human rights abuses and highlight the problems that Zimbabweans face, despite threats from the regime.
“In the past seven years, he has covered a lot of stories and topical issues, including Zimbabwe’s role in the DRC war (in which he obtained exclusive stories on casualties), farm invasions and concomitant violence (he was one of the journalists who exposed the state’s involvement in the farm invasions), the 2000 parliamentary elections and the attendant violence (his paper exposed attacks on opposition supporters and electoral abuses), the rigging of the 2002 presidential poll and several by-elections.
“He has also consistently covered the issue of the destruction of commercial agriculture and the resultant food crisis and poverty. Last year he uncovered private talks between Zanu PF and the MDC. On a weekly basis he deals with general issues of repression, as well as almost daily human rights violations, and the economic crisis…
“In January he was arrested and charged, together with Iden Wetherell (editor), Vincent Kahiya (news editor) and reporter Itai Dzamara, for writing about President Mugabe’s commandeering of an Air Zimbabwe plane to a holiday in the Far East.
“We believe that his bravery and commitment is worthy of recognition, and that this would be extremely heartening for the very many Zimbabwean journalists who daily put their lives on the line for the sake of unbiased information.”
It is heartening indeed. Now we will have to wait and see if the British Embassy grants Dumisani a visa. It was very disheartening when we learnt last month that they had refused visas to three Zimbabwean journalists – including our news editor Vincent Kahiya – who had been invited to London by British Airways to learn something about the British hospitality sector. They certainly learnt something about British hospitality when the embassy’s visa officer argued that because of the dire economic situation in this country the three were likely to defect.
“I am aware that the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe is in steady decline with the unemployment rate at 70% and inflation at 600%,” the entry clearance officer Andrew Gerrard wrote. “You have not shown that you have, on the balance of probabilities, sufficiently strong social or economic ties (here) to satisfy me that you intend to leave the UK on the completion of your visit.”
In other words all three – who didn’t even know who the other members of the party were until they got the same reply – had acted with common cause to abandon their jobs, homes and families to remain in the UK at the end of their three-day promotional visit!
This was a highly insulting and prejudicial statement for the embassy to make. Vincent travels abroad regularly and has had ample opportunity to defect if he was going to do so. And as he points out, he wouldn’t choose the UK if that was his intention! I’m sure the same applies to the other two journalists.
I am aware that there have been cases of journalists, among others, absconding while in the UK. But I would like to think each application is weighed on its merits and that gross generalisations of the sort made about the three most recent applicants will be avoided in future.
At the time this occurred, the British ambassador, Sir Brian Donnelly, was conducting a promotional road show in Masvingo. Much of that hard work will have been undone by this maladroit move.
The Standard’s David Masunda and the Herald’s Nomsa Nkala were the other two refused visas.
Now we await Dumisani’s application with some apprehension. Will he be told by Mr Gerrard that: “I am not satisfied that you are intending to visit the UK for the reasons you have stated”? Will the House of Commons, like British Airways, be seen as pulling the wool over the eyes of this zealous official? Let’s hope not.
Meanwhile, our cartoonist Tony Namate has been awarded the Cartoonist Rights Network’s Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award for 2003 which will be presented to him at the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists’ convention at Lexington, Kentucky, on April 21.
Tony has been a steadfast contributor to the pages of this paper over many years and we are delighted his work has been recognised beyond our borders.