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In Zimbabwe, the Voice of the Worker

Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

Imagine being one of only five opposition voices in a country of thirteen million people, where all radio, print and television is strictly controlled by the government. That's Ben Madzimure's uphill battle everyday as editor of "The Worker," the voice of the labor movement, in Zimbabwe -- especially because his newspaper is only printed once a month, with only 5,000 copies distributed throughout the country.

"Zimbabwe used to have such a vibrant and independent media but most of the press was shut down," said Madzimure. Today many of the print reporters across the country bite their tongues and print the government's viewpoint. Madzimure, on the other hand, actively seeks out stories the government doesn't want mentioned, such as worker discontent and political corruption, and provides an unfiltered analysis of current events.

While President Mugabe lost the presidential election of 2008 (despite employing voter suppression strategies), he refused to relinquish power to the victor, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai. Today, under a "power sharing" agreement between the parties of Mugabe and Tsvangirai, the government continues to control all forms of media and mass-communication.

Given that Zimbabwe is one of the most literate countries in Africa, around 90 percent literacy rate, print media is a critical tool in moving a message. Madzimure says that after the newspaper is read, it's passed on to at least nine other people and it remains a "permanent marker," because people use it to "wrap things or to fill holes."

With a population spread out over hundreds of miles in rural areas, "The Worker" is the main way for the trade union federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), to disseminate news and inspire activity. "When ZCTU calls for national actions, the media doesn't report on it at all, "The Worker" is a main vehicle giving directions to people on how to participate in strikes, elections and public actions," said Madzimure.

Yet, despite financial support from the ZCTU, the Solidarity Center in the United States, the Canadian Labour Congress, and others -- the $1 USD price tag to purchase the paper is too expensive for most Zimbabweans. With 80 percent job informalization in the country, according to a recent United Nations report, the labor movement relies on its local networks to make sure the message filters throughout the country. Union members at every district are providing reporting as "volunteer correspondents" and several unemployed reporters are also lending a hand.

Madzimure's dream is to eventually turn "The Worker" into a daily publication, offering investigative reporting and political analysis. In the meantime, while most Zimbabweans have no access to the computer, this does not stop Ben from promoting widely via every medium at his disposal including a news blog, a fan page on Facebook (it has 3,800 fans), and on Twitter (12,000 followers).

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