I had visions of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe being a sleepy little hollow, and perhaps in some ways it is. But last week, after arriving at Radio Dialogue offices in Pioneer House in Bulawayo’s central business district, I was very pleasantly surprised. We were in the City of Skies to run a practical two-day workshop with six local organizations on using Freedom Fone. Pioneer House seemed to me to be pioneering the way!
Radio Dialogue is a community radio station that opened nine years ago and resides on the ninth floor of Pioneer House. Like all community radio stations in Zimbabwe, it has yet to gain a government license to broadcast. Despite this challenge, it manages to successfully give communities in and around Bulawayo a voice on local issues.
The Radio Dialogue office was bustling! The reception area felt like grand central station, with inspired communicators heading off in all directions. One young journalist stopped me outside the elevator to ask for an audio vox pop: “Now that winter is coming, what home remedies do you personally use to ward off flu?” After describing my potent garlic ginger juice concoction, my colleague and I continued on to one of the well-equipped computer labs to prepare for the Freedom Fone workshop the following day.
We were greeted by excited youths between 13 and 19 years old. They were working together in groups to write and read poetry about Mother Africa. This is one of the many regular activities organized by the Youth Press Bureau, headed by the youth coordinator, Rosie Chauke. She was one of the participants in our Freedom Fone workshop.
Chauke later told me about an art exhibition and competition organized by Radio Dialogue, which we later visited at The Bulawayo Club. It was titled TRUTH telling: The TRUTH will set you free and is about the importance of speaking out against the violent atrocities in Zimbabwe, particularly around the Matabeleland massacres, locally known as Gukurahundi, which took place during the 1980s.
In the same building as Radio Dialogue and the Youth Press Bureau, is Bulawayo Agenda. It provides a platform for community views through a free printed news bulletin called Weekly Agenda. Bulawayo Agenda recently organized a Transitional Justice Interface meeting to find resolutions to ensure national healing in Zimbabwe, such as including information on Gukurahundi in the education syllabus and identifying the causes of political violence.
Workshop participants from other pioneering organizations included Habakkuk, Zimbabwe Development Democracy Trust and KG6: King George VI School for the Disabled, where the Oscar winning documentary Music by Prudence was set.
Overall the workshop was not without its technical frustrations, but I left Bulawayo feeling inspired by the dynamism of the participants. Their thoughtfulness during the brainstorming sessions, their determination and resilience during the technical sessions, and their overall eagerness made me hopeful that Freedom Fone would be taken up as a valuable information tool to assist many of these organizations in reaching their noteworthy communication and community-oriented goals.