Bulawayo’s pioneering voices

I had visions of Bulawayo being a sleepy little hollow and perhaps in some ways it is.  But last week, after arriving at Radio Dialogue nestled 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 organisations on using Freedom Fone and Pioneer House seemed to me, to be pioneering the way!

BYO Workshop ParticipantsOn the 9th Floor is Radio Dialogue, a community radio station that opened 9 years ago, but like all community radio stations in Zimbabwe, 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 lift 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 scheduled for the following day. 

We were greeted by excited youths aged between 13-19 years, working together in groups to write and read poetry about Mother Africa.  This is one of the many regular activities organised by the Youth Press Bureau, headed by the Youth Coordinator Rosie Chauke, one of the participants who attended the Freedom Fone workshop. 

Truth Telling ExhibitionRosie later told me about an art exhibition and competition that Radio Dialogue have organised, which we later visited at The Bulawayo Club, open until the 31 May 2010.  It is 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 1980’s. 

In the same building as Radio Dialogue and Youth Press Bureau, is Bulawayo Agenda on the 6th floor of Pioneer House.  Bulawayo Agenda provides a platform for community views, through a free printed news bulletin called Weekly Agenda and have recently organised 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 hubs included the Habakkuk Trust, Zimbabwe Development Democracy Trust (ZDDT) and KG6: King George VI School for the Disabled, where the Oscar winning documentary Music by Prudence was set.  

Freedom Fone WorkshopOverall the workshop was not without its technical frustrations, but I left Bulawayo feeling inspired by the dynamism of the participants we had interacted with.  Their thoughtfulness during the brainstorming sessions, their determination and resilience during the technical sessions and overall eagerness made me hopeful that Freedom Fone would be taken up as a valuable information tool to assist many of these organisations in reaching their noteworthy communication and community orientated goals.