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Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Why did Zimbabwe ban the BBC?
Milton Nkosi
Africa Bureau Chief, BBC News

The BBC has been banned from Zimbabwe for almost four years but many viewers and listeners have asked to be reminded why, especially during coverage of the Zimbabwean elections.

President Robert Mugabe
The BBC was accused of lying about Mugabe and land seizures

It was a beautiful winter's afternoon in Johannesburg on Tuesday July 24, 2001 when I received the all-familiar rant on my mobile from the Minister of State for Information and Publicity, Professor Jonathan Moyo.

Shouting at the top of his voice, he told me that the BBC was going to be kicked out of Zimbabwe for reporting lies about the land seizures.

At the time, we had our then Africa correspondent Rageh Omaar in Harare covering stories, including the opening of parliament, for various BBC programmes.

The Johannesburg-based crew had been in the country for about a week filming farmers and farm workers whose properties had been destroyed by Zanu-PF supporting war veterans.

The story was clear and simple, as it always has been - President Robert Mugabe's land redistribution policy was in full swing.

'Colonial imbalance'

Zanu-PF party loyalists were invading mostly white-owned farms and in some instances killing the farmers and chasing the black workers off the land, replacing them with pro-Zanu labourers.

In his opening speech in parliament, President Mugabe reiterated his commitment to land seizures.

The BBC will one day return to Zimbabwe all of the day and all of the night

Prof Moyo felt that we misrepresented his leader by reporting this, because he didn't see the farm invasions as stealing the land from its legal owners.

He saw it as redressing the colonial imbalance of the past.

Following the one-hour rant on the phone, he then faxed me a two-page letter "suspending all accreditation of BBC correspondents in Zimbabwe" pending agreements on ethical and professional codes of conduct.

Since then we have never been allowed to report from inside Zimbabwe except on two occasions.

The first time was a few cricket matches during the world cup in South Africa and the second was the controversial England tour in November 2004.

In both instances, the Zimbabwean government was compelled by the ICC to accredit the BBC.

Vitriol

Otherwise we've had to be creative, and since our creativity began we've managed to do about a dozen "tourist" trips.

But these have not been our only efforts; we've also been talking to senior people both within the ruling party and government itself.

The most recent face-to-face contact was last month when I flew into Harare and had a meeting at Zanu-PF headquarters.

Zimbabwe Information Minister Jonathan Moyo
The BBC was banned after an irate phone call from this minister

There's a tremendous amount of goodwill towards the BBC from many Zanu-PF officials but equally there's enough vitriol to have cost us the coverage of this election.

In our many attempts to kick-start normal relations, I have seen at close range how deeply divided a party like Zanu-PF is on an issue such as media freedom.

We will continue to approach the Zimbabwean government officially and informally until we get accredited.

We want to be back in the country that has some of the nicest people on this vast continent.

Zimbabweans are some of the darlings of Africa and it is a shame that we are not allowed to tap into that human spirit of resistance, struggle and dignity.

Strange times

During our many visits prior to the ban, we travelled the length and breadth of this beautiful land and we know for certain the vast majority of Zimbabweans would love to have the BBC reporting from deep inside their beloved country.

As a man I met in Mbare market outside Harare once said: "Do not ask me about gays and what Mugabe thinks about them, the people are suffering, they are suffering all of the day and some of the night."

The BBC will one day return to Zimbabwe all of the day and all of the night.

Oh, before I forget, a few weeks ago the president fired Prof Moyo for trying to influence the appointing of Mugabe's possible successor.

Moyo stood as an independent for a small Matabeleland town of Tsholotsho and I don't know how it happened but he won it by a landslide.

We live in strange times indeed.



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