Mugabe's shortwave resistance

Observations on Zimbabwe

''Godwins have been yapping at Mugabe's heels for 20 years," observes the lively brunette who is, indeed, herself a Godwin. We are in a pub with all the charm of an Argos outlet, in bleak north London.

Georgina Godwin is a producer/presenter with a Zimbabwean radio station-in-exile called SW Radio Africa. The SW stands for short wave. Located over the road from the featureless pub, it was set up by Gerry Jackson, a former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) host fired for allowing listeners a little too much freedom of speech. Jackson, Godwin and others then launched Capital Radio, a Harare-based station that was shut down by the authorities while still making test transmissions.

SW Radio Africa claims to be non-party political, though it clearly is no friend of the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe. It is funded by USAID. The team consists of eight people, who represent all Zimbabwe's important tribes and broadcast in Shona, Ndebele and English. They broadcast three hours a night, starting at 5pm GMT, with a mix of news, music, ingeniously organised call-back shows, political and economic discussion. The station's website (www.swradioafrica. com) registered one million hits in its first three months on air.

"We're exposing what's going on, trying to give Zimbabweans the news they're not getting back home," says Godwin. "It's important to be non-partisan. Zanu-PF [the ruling party] won't talk to us and attacks us regularly in the press. But everyone must be accountable, inclu- ding the [opposition] Movement for Democratic Change." The lot of ejected white farmers is sad, she says, but the real tragedy concerns the black workers - up to one million of them by now - who are displaced every time a farmer packs it in.

This is not Godwin's first UK stretch. Born in 1967 in Rhodesia, she was a child during the war. At 17, she came to Britain to finish her A-levels, and then attended drama school here. When, as a struggling actor, she was invited to play a carrot on Esther Rantzen's That's Life, she knew it was time to go back to Zimbabwe.

Once home, she landed a job as a presenter with the ZBC. In the course of the next few years, first on TV and later on radio, she became a household name. At the same time, her brother Peter, a journalist, broke the story of the 1980s Matabeleland massacres by Mugabe's Fifth Brigade; later he wrote a frank account of his boyhood - Mukiwa: a white boy in Africa. That was the start of the Godwin family's attention to the president's heels.

Truly committed white Africans, accor-ding to Georgina, feel as African as anyone but are denied full legitimacy. In southern Africa, many whites behaved badly, but the best among them hoped the passing of apartheid and UDI (the Universal Declaration of Independence) would result in a new, casteless Africa. That has not happened. Too often, one (white) tribal hegemony has been replaced by another, and nowhere more so than in Zimbabwe. What the Godwins want to do is move past tribalism, so that, on a continent no longer dominated by sectarian politics, they can enjoy full rights as Africans.