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The Standard’s rocky road to fame

By Raphael Khumalo
The Standard turned 15 on April 13 and it is no surprise that there was hardly a murmur. It is no surprise that the event has been low-key, considering that the anniversary fell on that “dreadful” day, Friday the 13th, which scares some people into fearing that something terrible will happen on that day.

This fear is said to be so widespread that some people refuse to go to work; others will not eat in restaurants while many will not think of setting a wedding on that day (this belief is very strong in the English-speaking world).

On a more serious note, newspaper anniversaries in this part of the world are not always easy to remember, as each publishing day is celebrated. In the relatively short history of The Standard, there have been many dark days when it seemed impossible to imagine the paper would get published the following week and when that happened, we prayed for another week and celebrate we did.

Starting with the arrest and trial of its first editor, Mark Chavunduka, who is now late and reporter Ray Choto and the subsequent decision by the newspaper founders: Clive Wilson and Clive Murphy, to leave the country after many serious threats, the Standard has had a torturous journey in its short history.

The journalists’ arrest followed the publication of a story in the Standard of January 10 1999, which alleged that a coup plot against President Robert Mugabe had been foiled, resulting in 23 officers and soldiers being arrested. Chavunduka later claimed that he had been called to a military barrack and later detained, subjected to beatings and torture by electrocution and water suffocation.

 

Newspaper reports at the time claimed that the President had then warned journalists not to antagonise the army.
In its first editorial in 1997, the editor had penned his vision for the paper — the newspaper we aim to produce is one of accuracy and fairness — a paper that will become known for giving audience to all quarters regardless of their chosen allegiances — be they political, cultural, religious or social.

The then editor made this statement: “For us, we see ourselves as taking a middle-of-the-road stance (on political issues).”
With the enactment of Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), The Standard’s fate seemed to have been sealed and who would have thought otherwise, as almost monthly, we had hostile letters from the media tsar, Dr Tafataona Mahoso, himself a regular critic of the independent media, complaining about this or that article that The Standard had published, with threats to invoke different sections of Aippa, including the dreaded Section 71 subsection 6 (suspension, cancellation and enforcement of registration certificates).

 

And then of course, we had the holier-than-thou lot from the parent ministry and ZBC that fed Dr Mahoso with regular “complaints”, ranging from the use of an “offensive” picture of His Excellency hitching up his pants to alleged inaccuracy over ZBC’s 100% local content.

Then there was the prosecution of acting editor, Andy Moyse, for publishing what the paper claimed was the results of the constitutional commission’s outreach programme — before it had been undertaken! The state brought charges under the hated Law and Order (Maintenance) Act and legal affairs minister, Patrick Chinamasa, invited all members of the commission to “come and drink at this trough”.

But the courts threw the charges out, compelling the government to amend the law.
The Standard survived, for a while at least. Then out of the blue, came the arrest of its editor, Davison Maruziva, on April 20 2008, for publishing an Op-Ed piece by Professor Arthur Mutambara, then leader of a wing of the MDC on matters relating to the general election. To the professor’s credit, it was an incisive critique of the regime, marking the country’s 28th anniversary of independence and Davison had shown courage by publishing it. The matter is still pending in the courts.

This was to be the first of many arrests of Standard editors and journalists that was to continue even after the government of national unity was in place, which has seen the current editor, Nevanji Madanhire being arrested and detained overnight twice. The record of course goes to Nqobani Ndlovu, who spent nine nights at Khami Maximum Security Prison following publication of a story on police examinations, which was published in the paper. His stay must have been devastating as hardly nowadays does one see his footprint, as if to confirm the words of Ambassador Charles Ray, who wrote in NewsDay on May 3 2012 marking

 

World Press Day thus:
“When journalists are threatened, attacked, jailed or disappear, other journalists self-censor. They stop reporting stories. They tone down stories. They omit details. Sources stop helping them. Their editors hesitate to print stories.”

Remarkably, the Standard in it’s most difficult years, was still able to surround itself with a good network of friends, namely, Rajiv Bendre, director of the British Council, Dr Andrew Pocock, British Ambassador and his wife Julie, Dr Sten Rylander, Swedish Ambassador, Dr Mungai Lenneye, World Bank country representative, as well as Farai Mpfunya, director of the Culture Fund.

These were formidable friends who led to the birth of the Cover to Cover magazine and subsequent publication of an Anthology of Short Stories, which is the only magazine composed of winning entries of stories written by young people from across Zimbabwe.

The magazine will have its seventh edition this year. Its success is also undoubtedly due to the untiring efforts by committed judges, Memory Chirere, Jerry Zondo and Josephine Muganiwa, who go through each script and also thanks to partners, Stanbic Bank and Meikles Hotel, who have entertained and accommodated the winners. Some of the winners in Cover to Cover have gone to excel in other Arts events organised by Intwasa, among others.

As I was going through the paper’s first editorial, I could not help thinking just how naive it was for the founding editor to think his paper would “take a middle-of-the-road stance on political issues”. I, must admit though, that the Standard continuously strives for accuracy and fairness in its stories while being a market-place for its readers, contributors and advertisers.

Admittedly, through it’s reporters like Dusty Miller, who survived the Haiti earthquake by a whisker and managed to beat off Somali pirates, so we could sample the re-opened Rhodes Nyanga Hotel and still manage to cover mother’s day menus at the Meikles, all this from the comfort of our homes on a Sunday, while reading another thought-provoking article from the editor’s desk.

I must conclude by saying, if you want to know how you have aged over the last 15 years, you need to take a look at the first copy of the Standard and the contrast is amazing.

The things we complained of then and now are chalk and cheese; firstly we had Sunday shopping because the two giant retail stores both advertised. nowadays they don’t advertise on Sundays because people will be at church!

Then there was this cellphone service provider that took a full page advert, responding to complaints of inadequate NetOne cellphone lines and dispelling rumors of racism in their distribution. NetOne had only given them 700 instead of the 3 000 they had promised their customers.

Sadly, one of the companies that advertised on that edition is Dun & Bradstreet, which is no more. At its peak, it provided an invaluable service to credit control and was hated with a passion by the underworld.

 

By Raphael Khumalo

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