Michelle Stanistreet's Harare diary part 1: First impressions
27 August 2009
A delegation from the NUJ visited the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists in Harare between 16–21 August 2009. Michelle Stanistreet kept a diary of her experiences on the visit.
Phew… After months of planning and worrying about the logistics of whether or not we'd be let into the country, we finally made it! Right to the last moment our plan B, if we were sent packing back to South Africa, was to hold our workshop in Johannesburg.
I couldn't quite believe that we'd arrived until we saw our very own welcoming party at the arrivals gate in the form of the leadership of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. Relief all round!
Since we met with Foster Dongozi, secretary general of ZUJ, last November and held a public meeting in London to discuss the reality of life for working journalists in his country, we've worked hard to find ways of practically helping our colleagues in Zimbabwe. We were successful in bidding for some funding from the TUC in order to develop closer links and work together on a project that will enable the NUJ and ZUJ to apply to the UK's Department for International Development for (potentially substantial) funding next year under the Civil Society Challenge Fund scheme.
Getting to Harare and meeting with journalists on the ground is essential if we're to find out exactly what the challenges are, what practical work can be done to counter them, and where we as a union can help. The key areas of work we're looking at are broadly threefold – areas of professional and ethical training, getting more women involved in journalism and the union, and assessing how we can help ZUJ better defend its members.
I'm here with Jim Boumelha, NUJ National Executive Council member and president of the International Federation of Journalists; Gemma Freedman, international project officer at the TUC, and Stephen Pearse, NUJ campaigns officer who worked on the successful bid to the TUC with me. Now we're finally here in Zimbabwe, after months of planning, we're all itching to get going!
Everyone's seen the headlines documenting the collapse of the economy in Zimbabwe, the hyperinflation and empty shelves in shops. We're here just months after dollarisation and ostensibly the economy is getting back on its feet, but, while the effects of the crisis are not so in your face, it would be a mistake to think they've gone away.
Rather, surreally, around the corner from our hotel is a local Spar corner shop, just like those back in the UK. We head there for some fruit and water and the shelves are bursting with tins, sweets, meat, frozen fish – you name it, if you have the dollars (American, of course), you can savour it.
The reality is that most ordinary Zimbabweans haven't a hope of filling their baskets in shops or supermarkets. On the flight over, I was catching up on this week's edition of the Zimbabwean, a weekly newspaper published in exile, and read that an average shopping basket for a family of six now costs $170.
Yet, unemployment rates are still hovering around 90 per cent, after a peak of 96 per cent during the rampant inflation earlier this year. Wages, even for those in professional industries like journalism, range from 60-200 US dollars a month – the numbers simply don't stack up.
Read the rest of the diary: