Zimbabwe: Radio

Updated February 2002

Jerry Jackson, producer of SW Radio Africa (SWRA) broadcasting from London, challenged the state's media monopoly in Court when trying to set up an independent radio station, Capital FM. The Court's decision invalidated the monopoly on broadcasting services created by Section 27 of the Broadcasting Act because it was found to be inconsistent with the Constitution of Zimbabwe (Capital Radio 2000). However, within six days the decision of the Supreme Court was overturned and the radio had to close down.

At present, SWRA transmits on short waves from London, where the community of Zimbabwean refugees is growing more cohesive. Together with the Voice of the People, which broadcasts on short-wave from Madagascar, SWRA is the only independent airtime available locally. The station angered not only the Minister of Information Jonathan Moyo, who compared the radio's programmes to the genocide broadcasts of Radio Milles Collines of Rwanda, but also Southern African Development Community leaders. SADC leaders criticised the radio, saying that it incited hostility towards the Government of Zimbabwe. Britons and Americans, who were accused of secretly funding and hosting the radio and its staff, refused to comment on the charges (McGreal 2002, Taylor 1999).

The stance itself was very indicative of deep divisions present in the international community. It suggested a profound divide between international and regional actors, standing between co-operation and confrontation, empathy and action. Beyond that, it is clear that the newly implemented the measures have severe consequences for news coverage. Rural constituencies are particularly reliant on broadcasting on FM and medium wave. The result has been a situation where ZBC radio and television remain the main source of information, and where the state comfortably retains a de facto monopoly power.

In this framework, the recourse to racial politics has been the temptation of a President reconstructing a political enemy and reengaging the unfulfilled rhetoric of liberation. With the end of the Cold war and sudden break with socialist policies, a political vacuum opened up. A sudden need for a new political vehicle therefore arose to channel the discontent of the rural masses. The present political discourse channelled through the state-owned media targets a lower class audience, effectively disenfranchised from the development process as well as from political patronage. It recruits, as elsewhere in the developing world, by forging an entity the 'West' simplified to contain mainly all the sins of economic, cultural and moral degradation as a by-product of colonialist domination.

The response of Western powers, notably Britain, the European Union and the US, is portrayed as imperialist interference and interpreted, not always incorrectly, in terms of racial allegiance to the white minority (Hamilton 2000). A fortified boundary not only between the West and the 'Truly African,' but also between white and black is therefore built to mobilise collective passions and finds its main focus in the revived issue of land redistribution - which incidentally has some real foundation in a country where three-quarters of the best farmland is still owned by 4 500 white commercial farmers.

The political discourse channelled through mainstream media outlets remains powerful since it plays out on old and new sentiments of frustration with the development process and independence, declining living standards of the rural masses and disenfranchisement. What is more stunning is that as the lines of the radical debate repose on deep-seated economic, race and class grievances, they also contribute to further entrench misery and instability in a time of deepening economic crisis (Said 2001, Pipes 1994, Weiss 1994, Wetherell 1995).


CAPITAL RADIO 2000, "Press release: On Air!", 1 October.

HAMILTON, W 2000, "Zimbabwe on the brink" IN Socialism Today, 47, May.

MCGREAL, C 2002, "US funds penetrate Zimbabwe airwaves," IN The Guardian, 24 January.

PIPES, D 1994, "Same difference: The struggle against fundamentalist Islam has revived the divisions of the Cold War" IN National Review, 7 November.

SAID, E 2001, "The clash of ignorance," Nation, 273(12), 11-13.

TAYLOR, SD 1999, "Race, class and neopatrimonialism in Zimbabwe" IN Richard Joseph, RA (ed), State, Conflict and Democracy in Africa

WEISS, R 1994, Zimbabwe and the new elite, British Academic Press.

WETHERELL, I 1995, "Wrong" IN Southern African Review of Books, 35, January-February.