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Geoffrey Nyarota: a defiant voice

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Geoffrey Nyarota, editor-in-chief of the Zimbabwe Daily News, has gained a reputation as an outspoken and fearless critic of Robert Mugabe's government.

Despite death threats, arrests and the bombing of his newspaper's printing press this January, he has continued to publish articles critical of Mugabe's regime, one of the few remaining editors in Zimbabwe to do so.

Born into a middle-class black family in what was then Rhodesia, Nyarota gained a university education before taking a job as a teacher at Inyanga near the Mozambique border.

"I always wanted to be a journalist," he said in June interview with Focus, the official magazine of the Helen Suzman Foundation, which campaigns for press freedom in southern Africa.

"But in colonial Rhodesia the only job open to educated Africans was teaching."

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In 1978 he saw an advert recruiting trainee journalists for The Herald, one of Zimbabwe's biggest-selling daily newspapers.

"They had advertised for 12 trainees and for the first time they were opening recruitment to blacks," he recalls. "I applied and got the job."

From there his rise was swift. Within three years he had been made editor of the weekly Manica Post, increasing its circulation from 5,000 copies to 13,000. Then, in 1983, he was appointed editor of the country's second largest newspaper, The Chronicle, based in Bulawayo.

It was here that he cemented his reputation as tireless investigator of government corruption, exposing the so-called "Willowgate scandal" in 1988 linking high officials with fraud and corruption at the Willowvale Motor Plant.

The Chronicle's coverage of the scandal -- it was the only Zimbabwean paper to carry anything about it -- lead to the resignation of four government ministers and the suicide of a fifth.

It also earned Nyarota the disapproval of President Mugabe, who at the time described him as "overzealous," and subsequently cost him his job at The Chronicle (the management told him he was being removed "for his own safety.")

He went on to become the editor of the Financial Gazette, but was again fired under government pressure.

For the following six years he ran journalism courses across southern Africa before launching the Daily News in March 1999, Zimbabwe's first truly independent newspaper.

After a difficult first year -- the paper very nearly closed in January 2000 -- circulation steadily rose to 120,000 (it currently stands at 70,000, the most copies they can print each day).

Its principled, tenacious, independent style of investigative journalism has earned it admirers both domestically and internationally.

It has also incurred the wrath of the government, which has accused it of being a mouthpiece of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), a charge Nyarota strongly denies.

"We are rigorously independent and have frequently criticised the MDC," he says.

The stress of constant threats and intimidation has taken its physical toll on Nyarota, who earlier this year was diagnosed as suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

"My doctor said this was caused by stress," he said. "Two bombings and an assassination attempt in 10 months don't exactly make for a peaceful life."

Despite this, he has no intention of quitting. The recipient of numerous awards for his work, journalism is his life and he won't give it up easily.

"We have no intention of stopping what we have begun," he said in the Focus interview.

"I dreamt of a daily paper like this for years and I have been privileged to live my dream."

• The Daily Newspaper::Zimbabwe
• Zimbabwe Government

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