Journalists who critically report about the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe have to anticipate that they risk being arrested or even killed. Itai Mushekwe found refuge in Germany after he appeared on Mugabe's black list.
Working as a reporter in Zimbabwe can be dangerous
From time to time a shy smile flits across the face of Zimbabwean journalist Itai Mushekwe. It seems as if the 24-year-old can hardly grasp the scope of his situation.
His journalistic career started innocuously. His first experience was at a school newspaper and after school he thought: Why not become a journalist?
“As a young ambitious journalist, you are full of motivation and you are sometimes doing things without being able to assess the circumstances and consequences. It is the glamour that appeals to you,” said Mushekwe. “But now I know that as you gain respect in a society you can also get into trouble with your work.”
The repression started in 2000
Since the beginning of a land reform program in 2000, Zimbabwe has constantly tightened its control over journalists. A high point of repression was reached before the elections at the end of March when foreign journalists were expelled from the country and many domestic journalists were arrested.
President Robert Mugabe controls most of the country's media
Mushekwe barely noticed it in the beginning. As a very young journalist just starting his career, he wrote what was demanded of him and was happy about every article that was printed. Then, two years ago he participated in an advanced training course on investigative journalism in Hamburg.
“This was the turning point of my life. Through this course I gained self confidence. I became a journalist not satisfied with simple answers," said Mushekwe.
“Today I am the sort of journalist who goes to press conferences looking for something else than the rehearsed statements being presented on stage.”
Mushekwe uncovered a scandal
In Zimbabwe, the young man's network of sources extended up into influential circles. Through his contacts he found out that the government was hard-pressed for money and was printing new money in Germany -- thus stimulating hyperinflation.
At that point one US dollar was worth 41 million Zimbabwe dollars. The article, based on painstaking research, was never printed in Zimbabwe.
Mushekwe found other ways to get it published. His article appeared in British online magazines and newspapers under a false name. Nevertheless he could hardly believe it when last year during another advanced training in Berlin he found his name on a so-called “hit list” on the Internet.
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It was a great shock that revealed the scope of his actions. “Now I know that journalism is not a game, especially not when you publish sensitive information and state secrets," he said.
The government, which also controls the police and the army, is using its strength directly against the individual, explained Mushekwe. “As a journalist you are a simple human being who is alone in the vast expanse. That makes you vulnerable.”
Returning home would have been life threatening
Mushekwe abruptly realized that he could be risking his life by returning to Zimbabwe. With the help of Reporters Without Borders he was eventually able to stay in Germany. In the meantime he has gotten over the initial shock that took his motivation and strength to work.
“It is my home. Zimbabwe is my country but unfortunately it fell into the hands of crazy politicians,” he said. “I would like to go back to Zimbabwe where my family is living. If the political situation calms down, I want to be part of the generation that rebuilds the country.”