Zimbabwe: With a Radio Ban, Mugabe Sharpens the Old Enemy’s Weapon

April 2, 2013 at 10:28 am Leave a comment

Harare — Even 33 years after Zimbabwean independence, President Mugabe remains a harsh critic of the white colonial government’s system. But through the latest radio ban, he is imposing the same oppressive tactics that he himself once fought against to liberate his people.

As I write, Zimbabwe’s statutes are still being starched with the state oppression that Mugabe himself once fought against. A case in point is the state’s latest ban of small wind-up radios with a short-wave dial.

To understand better, let’s first rewind a few decades…

Chiefs and Commandos

Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, gained independence in 1980 after a protracted guerrilla war. At its peak, in the 1970s, the two main fighting movements, ZIPRA and ZANLA, established exiled radio stations in Zambia, Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania, countries where their fighters received training. Via shortwave and medium-wave bands, these stations broadcasted into Zimbabwe. It was their way to communicate with the local villagers who supported the war by sharing intelligence and foodstuffs.

But in a bid to thwart enemy operations, Ian Smith, the last white Rhodesian ruler – whose 15-year reign, until 1979, witnessed the most severe and widespread abuses of native blacks – developed strategies that forced radios to be fitted with frequency modulation (FM), as opposed to short wave.

Manufactured by local Zimbabwean firms, such as Supersonic and WRS, Smith’s FM radio sets were branded with the name ‘Chief’. The name was apt since they were given to traditional Zimbabwean chiefs who lived in rural areas and who, Smith hoped, would sway their subjects to turn against the guerrillas (whom he referred to as ‘terrorists’).

Other radios were manufactured under the name ‘Commando’ and distributed to soldiers in the bush. The government’s intention here was to keep spirits up. Those at battle were given radio programmes through which they could request favourite songs and relay messages about their welfare to loved ones.

Mugabe’s heavy hand

In some ways, Smith triumphed. Thanks to its clearer signal and lively programming, FM listening became a pleasure. Everyday people could easily buy the receivers, which were readily available in most retail shops selling electronics. But, it should be noted, FM’s transmission is restricted to a country’s boundaries.

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