Foreign journalist held over newspaper bomb

As opposition journalists endure Mugabe's wrath for threatening his vast system of patronage, spirits remain high in Zimbabwe
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Zimbabwean police arrested a South African photographer on Wednesday night on suspicion of involvement in the bombing of the independent newspaper, the Daily News.

But journalists at the paper said yesterday that the arrest of the photographer, Obed Zilwa, was a deliberate attempt by President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF government to unnerve the international press corps in Harare.

Outside the Daily News yesterday, workmen were still picking their way through piles of glass that was shattered when the bomb was hurled through a window last Saturday. No one was hurt in the explosion.

Upstairs, in a featureless newsroom, journalists admitted that they were shaken by the bomb attack, which followed a bomb hoax and a spate of death threats against Geoffrey Nyarote, the paper's editor.

Given the circumstances, the newsroom spirit seems rather high. But then the Daily News also has something to celebrate. It begins a new print run of 105,000 today - no mean feat for a paper that is just a year old and had an initial circulation of only 30,000.

Mr. Mugabe's government tried to shut the paper down before it even printed its first copy and has watched in dismay as the Daily News' readership has grown while its own daily propaganda organ, The Herald, has gone into free-fall. It is rumoured that The Herald's circulation has plummeted from 160,000 to 80,000.

Some of the senior staff say the Daily News caught a mood for change that was already sweeping the nation.

But Davison Marouziva, the paper's deputy editor, believes it has been more pro-active than that, pointing out it was born five months before the foundation of the Movement for Democratic Change, the opposition party which threatened Mr Mugabe and his vast system of patronage.

Mr Marouziva said that the paper has nursed and encouraged the desire for change which now seems to have spread into Mugabe's traditional heartland and reached the rural poor.

"Our print run is just what Zanu feared. No one could have predicted we would overtake The Herald in just 12 months. We are making that paper irrelevant," he said.

It could have been a very different scenario if Mr Mugabe had not lost the February referendum on the constitution, which would have set up a media commission to license journalists and call them to account it when it disapproved of what they wrote.

Today's circulation is the sweetest of victories for the middle-aged men who head up the paper, which is largely staffed by a younger generation.

Mr Nyarote and Mr Marouziva became famous in Zimbabwe in 1988 after exposing the corruption scandal known as Willowgate. The story was a watershed, giving others confidence to break the taboo against questioning Zimbabwe's first black government after the end of colonial rule.

The men ran the government-owned Chronicle newspaper at the time. Willowgate marked the end of their state media careers.

But both realised long ago that Mugabe and those who have benefited from his two-decade rule would not easily let go. And despite the dangers - the escalating political violence, and the possibility Mugabe might stage a coup - it seems to Mr Nyarote and Mr Marouziva that this is their finest hour.

"We were painfully aware of the risks from the word go but they would have to murder us to stop us doing our job," said Mr Marouziva. "It's exciting to be part of history."

Takaitei Bote, 27, the paper's agricultural correspondent, is one of the few women on staff. She might have had a quiet beat had Zanu-PF and its war veterans not attacked white farmers and their workers after the referendum defeat.

Instead she's had a testing few months that have included a confrontation with Chenjerai Hunzvi, the war veterans' leader, who accused her of being unpatriotic when she asked him if the government was funding the attacks.

But for Bote it's a privilege to work for a real newspaper. "I have a duty to tell the other side of the story that was never heard," she said.