Most media outlets in Zimbabwe are state-run, and working as an independent journalist under Robert Mugabe came with serious risks. NPR's Ari Shapiro talks with Dumisani Muleya, editor-in-chief of The Zimbabwe Independent, about his hopes as a journalist now that Mugabe is out of power.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In every country in every part of the world, there are some universally understood concepts; for example, a journalist on deadline.
SHAPIRO: So I immediately recognize this scene in Harare, Zimbabwe - the newsroom of a weekly paper the day before it goes to print.
The newsroom of the Zimbabwe Independent looks like any newsroom in America - long tables of people at laptops working away on their deadlines for the Friday paper.
The Zimbabwe Independent calls itself the country's leading business weekly. This is a country where most of the news comes from state-run media. Independent outlets like this one are in the minority. Journalists in Zimbabwe have worked with a fear that if they report stories critical of the government, they could be arrested. Last November, the military replaced President Robert Mugabe with a top deputy. The word coup comes with a lot of baggage, so the new government won't use it. People here jokingly describe it as the coup that wasn't a coup. The new president has promised to open up Zimbabwe to create a freer country. I wanted to find out what that means for journalists as Zimbabwe prepares for its first presidential election without Mugabe on the ballot in nearly 40 years.
Dumi, I'm Ari Shapiro.
DUMISANI MULEYA: Dumisani.
SHAPIRO: So good to meet you.
Dumisani Muleya is the paper's editor-in-chief. He's been arrested for his reporting before. When I arrive, he's in his office making final edits with a big red pen on a page that is going to print the next morning. He paused for a few minutes to talk with me about this moment in his country.
MULEYA: From day one, we are the only newspaper in this country - the only one - that called it a coup from day one.
SHAPIRO: You're very proud of that.
MULEYA: Yeah. Well, I think - not proud of that, per se, proud of the fact that we are willing to call things what they are, you know what I'm saying?
MULEYA: The thing is everybody saw the army tanks rolling on the streets and they saw the soldiers. The issue is the manifestations of a coup were on the ground.
MULEYA: The difference was that they did not want to call it a coup for obvious reasons. But we cannot, obviously, ourself play that game of trying to help them to construct that smokescreen. And the interesting - when you talk to the same people here off the record - private - they tell you, of course, it was a coup. So why should we as journalists knowing the truth which is admitted by the perpetrators that it was a constitutional usurpation of power which means it is a military coup.
SHAPIRO: How hopeful are you that the Zimbabwe of tomorrow will be different from the Zimbabwe of today, that you will be able to do your job freely one day?
MULEYA: Yeah, I think so. I think so. We started off with a very repressive leader in the regime for 37 years and that we knew that at some point it would come to an end. We didn't know how, but we knew that it was going to end. But now, we think that this - the new government being a remnant of the old order, we think that it will try to do different - things differently because they learned over the past 37 years that what they were doing, their policies, their leadership approach, governance approach, was not working. So we hope they will change and that they will begin a process of really introducing change, long-lasting change in society. So we hope that sometime in the future we will be able to our work more freely.
SHAPIRO: What do you expect election night to be like here in your newsroom?
MULEYA: Well, people are very excited. I mean, look; it's the first election after the removal of Mugabe. It is also an interesting election from the perspective that the majority of voters now, they are 40 and below. That is 60 percent of the voters.
SHAPIRO: So 60 percent of voters have only ever known Mugabe.
MULEYA: They've ever known Mugabe. So you see, people who were born in 1980, they're going to be voting for the first time and they're in the majority. And there are quite a lot of reporters here who haven't covered elections before. So this will be the first time for them to see how it works like practically on the ground. It will be an experience because as a journalist, you always want to cover one big event or another in your life. Otherwise, if you're just going to cover small beat stories, it doesn't feel like you are really practical journalist.
SHAPIRO: How many years have you been a journalist in Zimbabwe?
MULEYA: More than 20 years (unintelligible).
SHAPIRO: More than 20 years.
SHAPIRO: Why do this job that you could get arrested for, this job that makes you at times an enemy of the state?
MULEYA: I think the thing is this sort of a job is just more than a job, an ordinary job where you just go to work in order to get a salary, to get a few benefits here and there. You provide a service to democrats and to society. So when you go to work, you're just not going to work for a salary. You're going to work to improve the communities, the society in which you live in, so that you can live in a better countries like other people do.
SHAPIRO: Dumisani Muleya, thank you so much for talking with us.
MULEYA: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: He's editor in chief of the Zimbabwe Independent, a weekly newspaper.
(SOUNDBITE OF DO MAKE SAY THINK'S "AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE")
SHAPIRO: Tomorrow, survivors of violence in previous elections become poll watchers for this one.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I will make sure there's peace during Election Day, and I'll make sure they won't rig this election.
(SOUNDBITE OF DO MAKE SAY THINK'S "AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.