23 July 2008

Zimbabwe: The Real Story

If you were searching for news about Zimbabwe this morning and went to VOANews.com for the latest, you’d find this story with the headline: “Zimbabwe State Media: Political Talks Set to Begin Thursday”

This story and similar ones on other international news sites refer to plans by Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to begin talks about the country’s political future.

The talks follow controversial runoff elections in which Robert Mugabe was re-elected President. He was the only candidate after opposition contender Morgan Tsvangirai dropped out of the race (after taking the most votes in the initial round of balloting). He decided to pull out after many of his supporters were wounded, jailed or killed in what was considered widely a state-sponsored campaign of intimidation.

Understandably, many Zimbabweans, weary of the violence, the political turmoil and a collapsing economy, have welcomed the talks.

But does the narrow focus on talks accurately reflect what is actually going on in Zimbabwe?

We think not because the violence in Zimbabwe continues, as our courageous reporter in Harare, Peta Thornycroft, has discovered.

She notes in a report today that some opposition MDC legislators remain in hiding in Zimbabwe and abroad, afraid to go to their homes for fear of being arrested. She says about 20 winning MDC legislators have been arrested since the elections.

One legislator, who spent three weeks in detention recently and asked not to be identified, is quoted as saying members of the ZANU-PF militia are asking for money from people who fled during post-election violence and now want to return home. He said those that have returned have found their assets, such as food and livestock, were taken after the elections.

Her report goes on: A parliament member from a ZANU-PF stronghold where many voted for the first time for the MDC said militias still control people's movements in and out of villages. And, she notes, many opposition activists and supporters have now gone missing.

Covering talks or press conference or staking out meetings and conferring with officials is important but generally easy and convenient, journalistically. What is much harder is getting out and about, often under difficult conditions, to meet real and possibly fearful people affected by often frightening events and gathering their stories.

Such stories paint a grim picture --- but it is a picture that should be an integral part of any news about Zimbabwe today.

(For the record, Thornycroft’s story has, since we finished writing this, been moved up to the front page of VOANews.com. We’d also like to draw your attention to the reporting of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe where the daily news regularly chronicles the ongoing turmoil, with reports like this one and this one.)

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