Telling it like it is 10 years on

WHEN the first edition of the Zimbabwe Independent rolled off the press on the evening of May 9 1996, few involved in the project could have imagined what a roller-coaster of a ride it was going

to be.

It has been a decade of highs and lows. Among the highs has been the experience of fulfilling our role as a public watchdog — one that barks where necessary! Among the lows has been our vulnerability to state vindictiveness.

One such low was the abduction and torture of the late Mark Chavunduka, then editor of our sister paper, the Standard, and his chief reporter Ray Choto in 1999 over a story involving the military. That marked the beginning of the state’s assault on press freedom where we were among the main targets.

President Mugabe went on state television to threaten the proprietors of the Independent and Standard following a plea by the judiciary for him to uphold the rule of law.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was a direct product of that episode. But the state is yet to account for its role in the abduction despite a judicial order to do so.

Three journalists at the Independent were arrested and incarcerated in early 2004 over a story about Air Zimbabwe flying the president to the Far East.

Air Zimbabwe, we need to remind ourselves, is a publicly-owned corporation and therefore subject to media scrutiny in the public interest.

The episode represented a further abuse of power by an unpopular and delinquent regime.

We believe the press has a duty to reinforce accountability, especially in a society with a democratic deficit. That is why so many of our lead stories have been concerned with the misuse of public funds: the abuse of the War Victims Compensation Fund; the hijacking of the VIP housing scheme; murky deals in the Congo; and more recently “mediagate”, the penetration of formerly independent newspapers by the state’s intelligence arm in order to win hearts and minds for a faltering government.

What these reports revealed was a parasitic post-liberation aristocracy feeding off the land. Who will expose the chasm between the claims of populist rhetoric and the reality on the ground if we don’t? Certainly not an official media that massages the presidential ego and lies about the cause of the nation’s plight.

We argue that to cultivate a participatory democracy, the public must have access to a variety of views so they can make an informed choice at the ballot box. At present the only voice heard across the land is Mugabe’s.

US ambassador Christopher Dell made a further point recently. Without access to accurate figures, how can investors assess the health of an economy or determine who is profiting from misrule? Murkiness suits rogue regimes.

We are currently being told to rally behind the latest panacea — the New Economic Development Priority Programme.

This is another bird that won’t fly, largely because it is run by the same people who brought us all the other alphabet-agency failures. We have a duty to say so while at the same time providing a platform for the nation to articulate its vision of the future: a democratic society with a bold parliament, an honest public service, an independent judiciary and leaders who understand that Zimbabwe doesn’t belong to them.

Above all, to use Eddison Zvobgo’s words, we need to know on the day the new president is sworn in, the exact date of his departure.

The Independent has been “telling it like it is” for 10 years now. We have been happy to loan that phrase to others, but it originates here.

Despite fierce resistance from those with an investment in the sterile status quo, we intend to go on telling it like it is for the next 10 years. That is the pledge we make to our readers on our 10th anniversary.