GLOBAL PRESS HQ — Since the August openings of our news desks in Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, and in the nation’s second-largest city, Bulawayo, stories have been rolling in from about a dozen reporters at a fast clip. They’re eager to tell the stories of their communities.
But the stories often reveal a lack of consistently verifiable information about the country.
For example, one story about small-scale gold mining pointed to laws that criminalized those efforts in recent years, while another story quoted small-scale miners who were confident they’d been operating legally for many years. Additional research revealed that the government doesn’t clearly differentiate between artisanal, small-scale and large-scale mining operations, or at least it doesn’t publicize definitions of those types of operations.
In another story, reporters examined the issue of homes built illegally on private land. The residents were convinced that they had purchased plots that truly were for sale, but the government razed their homes as part of a nationwide effort to clean up haphazard development. Now-homeless families were told that they should have checked land records before “buying” a plot from someone who claimed to be the owner. But when GPJ reporters asked to see those land records and associated court documents in local government offices, they were told that the fee would be nearly $30 cash.
Zimbabwe is in the middle of a severe cash shortage. Even people who have money “in the bank” can’t access it because the bank doesn’t have paper money to give them. And for many Zimbabweans, $30 is a significant sum. This is a country with a staggering rate of unemployment — but no one has credible figures for what that rate truly is.
It’s a frustrating scenario for a news organization that is obsessed with accuracy. One analyst who researches the country’s economy described the Zimbabwean government to me as “predatory,” and plagued by interdepartmental disputes, rifts and contradictory statements.
Certain imported products are so readily available that people aren’t sure whether to believe a government statement that those products are technically banned. The economy appears to run on a combination of winks, nods, heads turned conveniently away and rapid-fire enforcement of the letter of the law that is neither consistent nor calm.
Yet, Global Press requires full verification, for every fact, in every story, no matter the country. If the truth is elusive, Global Press reporters welcome the challenge.
“Thank you for telling me to go back and ask again,” one reporter told me recently.
These challenges haven’t curtailed the number of stories we’re producing from Zimbabwe. In fact, reporters are beginning to see how one small slice of truth, in a short story, begets another, fuller story, and another one on top of that.
As always, there’s more to come.