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The Daily News: Zimbabwe's candle in the wind

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Conrad Nyamutata was the banned Daily News' first Chief Reporter in March 1999. Over the years working at the paper which was banned in 2003, Nyamutata's emotions have gone from ecstasy to utter despair. From his new base in Leicester, England, he writes movingly about 'The People's Paper', just denied a publishing licence by Zimbabwean authorities

By Conrad Nyamutata

ON MARCH 31, 1999 a group of journalists, working from an office along Samora Machel Avenue in central Harare, and bureaus around the country, set out to launch a newspaper which was to alter the media landscape in Zimbabwe in a big way for the first time.

Led by Geoffrey Nyarota, the blend of reporters combined youthful enthusiasm and professional experience; bravery (or is it bravado) and a dedication. In essence, this was a group of risk-takers, considering the mortality rate of private media ventures. Some had abandoned secure jobs elsewhere to join a 'newspaper' which was not even in existence at the time.

Most remembered too that The Daily Gazette, a few years before, had crumbled in no time, leaving The Herald with a sense of triumphalism.

I write today in memory of The Daily News as it continues to wage a spirited battle to re-open. I must say that former information Minister Jonathan Moyo's recent attack on the Media Information Commission (MIC) does not give me a modicum of consolation for one moment. Neither does his inglorious departure. This (MIC) is a dog he knows too well. He created it, proudly had it on the leash, fed it, trained it, sharpened its teeth and showed it how to kill. Moyo left but did not take his vicious dog away with him. The tools of his legacy hang dangerously above.

Again, this is one man who has somersaulted routinely, spinning into the realms of inconsistency with carefree abandon.

I hold him personally accountable for the closure of the newspaper and its sister, The Daily News on Sunday, and the accompanying agony of hundreds of jobless former employees, not to mention the suffering we endured as his hands as we tried to provide an alternative source of information. The MIC chairman Tafataon Mahoso remains his accessory to the crime.

I have no doubt that posterity will judge them harshly. But future generations will also learn about the determination and be inspired by the resilience of this newspaper, and accord it its rightful place in history.

Media scholars will analyse for themselves the implications of the State's crude constriction of the public sphere and democratic space in the political history of our beloved country. When AIPPA was concieved, I told colleagues that the legislation was drafted by the devil in the annals of hell. Just diabolical. Its numerous victims - either as media institutions or individuals - vindicate me.
I recall with immense vividness the day we launched The Daily News, if you can allow me to relive this fond memory. On the morning of 31 March 1999, we waited with bated breath for the paper to hit the streets. I must admit we did so with a great sense of trepidation too, considering the trials and tribulations the venture had encountered before.

As we anxiously watched from the second floor building, we eventually saw vendors take delivery of the new paper. In fact they had little time to do so. As pictorial records will testify, masses of human bodies virtually buried the vendors as people scrambled for a copy of the newest media product on the market. I hate chaos but sometimes there is some rumpus which is just good to watch. This was one of them. These scenes were replicated all over the place, and for many days, months…

It was a dawn of a new era. As one of the pioneers at The Daily News and as its first chief reporter, I recall the launch of newspaper, its existence and service to the nation as democratic force, with pride. And for all his perceived faults, Nyarota is by far the most celebrated editor in our media history. He led The Daily News with the obstinacy of a mule, and it paid off. His attitude went down to the very lower echelons of the paper, creating a robust internal spirit.

Soon The Herald and its sponsors were squirming in their old pants. Like a determined long-distance runner, the new-kid-on-on-the-block outpaced the 100-year-old government-controlled daily newspaper in a race of popularity and sales. But the distance was to be short. Painfully short as we now know.

With a refreshingly incisive, aggressive and at times abrasive approach, The Daily News crossed swords with numerous enemies, especially in higher circles. The list of adversaries within a regime unused to fearless reporting, constant and constructive criticism, is well recorded. War veterans, the CIO, the army, the police...Moyo!

A widely-held misconception is that The Daily News was launched after the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and hence it is perceived as some surrogate of the opposition party. The reality is that the MDC was formed months later.

An association with the MDC, perceived or real, made the paper just as equal an enemy of the state as the opposition party, like all dissenting voiced are branded by the regime.

Not surprisingly, the paper's premises were bombed twice and its staff becoming regular guests of the state. Even after its printing presses were blown into smithereens, The Daily News - like the proverbial Phoenix - rose from the ashes of deadly suppression with a buzz of defiance.

To confirm that the dastardly acts had the tacit approval of the authorities, the police made no serious effort to apprehend the bombers.

Later on, almost an entirely new group of people took over The Daily News after hounded businessman Strive Masiyiwa became the major shareholder. Even these mafikizolos managed to carry the torch further. But the resolve to wipe this paper from the face of the earth was just too strong.
And then eventually the State openly descended on it with the force of a hammer; the newspaper was shut down for defying the draconian and unjust Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in September 2003.

But the drawn-out fight by The Daily News to re-open symbolises much more than just an attempt by business to reintroduce a product on the market. For me, it transcends the mere desire to re-establish a money-making venture. This is a struggle for freedom of _expression in Zimbabwe in the widest sense.
True, a number of private newspapers exist in Zimbabwe today. Most of us would probably discern some semblance of freedom of _expression because of mere numbers. But we should not be fooled, for pluralism alone does equate to freedom of _expression. Laws such as AIPPA and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which engender fear and self-censorship, still hang precariously over the private media.

At The Daily News, that sense of insecurity and danger created firmer bonds among staff from all departments. Some members of that great team have departed now. Leopold Hatugari, John Mauluka, Julius Zava, Todd Hogwe, Shepherd Samasuwo, among others. RIP. Some have just escaped the persecution.

It is disheartening that today some journalists from The Daily News still face the prospect of imprisonment or being heavily fined for operating without licences. For goodness sake, leave them alone!

The stubborn resistance of this paper should epitomise not just the struggle for free _expression in Zimbabwe but instil the never-say-die spirit in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, Operation Murambatsvina included.
No other newspaper has demonstrated courage and served the people like The Daily News did. You have to be made of sterner stuff to be able to publish a day after a bomb has destroyed your printing presses, as if nothing has happened.

It is the reason some of us associated with the newspaper from its very beginning still relate to it with a deep passion. I remember a write-up by Wilf Mbanga - the first chief executive officer of the paper (now editing The Zimbabwean), aptly concluding that the demise of The Daily News almost made him weep. "It's like losing a child," he wrote. I share this sentiment with him.

Having seen it bounce back before, I am dissuaded from penning an epitaph for a paper of such resilience. Already chief executive officer Sam Sipepa Nkomo has indicated they are heading for the High Court. Perhaps the observations by Moyo against his own dog, the MIC - whatever the motivation of his opinions - might become relevant.

But I am sure everyone joins the newspaper in its dogged fight to re-open. I still wonder if it does open, whether The Daily News - which, to borrow from a famous song, 'lived its life like a candle in the wind' - can still recapture the spirit of 31 March 1999. This day ought to be remembered and recognised in some way.

Conrad Nyamutata is a former chief reporter of The Daily News, living in Leicester, UK. He can be contacted on

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