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Cablegate: Independent Radio Offices Bombed

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: At approximately 0100 on August 29 the
offices of independent radio "Voice of the People"
(VOP) were firebombed and destroyed. The offices were
in a house in a residential neighborhood near downtown
Harare. There were no injuries, but the house and its
contents (including computers, files, recording
equipment and furnishings) were completely destroyed.
Eyewitnesses, including a security guard and two
domestic employees living in a separate structure
adjacent to the house, said that the firebombing was
carried out by three, armed, Shona-speaking men. Our
non-expert opinion, based on the even destruction of
the entire house and lack of damage to the garden or
adjacent buildings, is that the attackers knew what
they were doing. Eyewitnesses reported a loud
explosion, but the damage to the house appears to be
primarily fire damage. This attack on part of
Zimbabwe's beleaguered independent media is sadly
similar to the January 2001 bombing of the "Daily
News" printing press. End summary.

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2. "Voice of the People" (VOP) has been broadcasting
on short-wave frequencies from facilities in the
Netherlands and Madagascar since mid-2000.
Programming was news and information in Shona and
Ndebele. The station has faced funding constraints
and has been on and off the air in the last year, but
was managing daily morning broadcasts (0330 to 0500
GMT) since May 2002. In Zimbabwe VOP described itself
as an "information trust," not a radio station. VOP
staff collected information and produced programming
in Zimbabwe, and sent digital audio files to the
Netherlands for broadcast. Since they were not
operating a transmitter in Zimbabwe, they maintained
they could not be considered a broadcaster and were
exempt from Zimbabwean law governing the electronic
media. Anecdotal information indicates that, because
it broadcast in indigenous languages, VOP had a larger
rural audience in Zimbabwe than any other
international broadcaster.

3. On July 4, 2002 police with a search warrant
raided the VOP offices. According to VOP staff, the
police were looking for traditional radio equipment
such as tape recorders and transmission facilities
raided office. Not finding that type of equipment,
police seized paper files and audio CDs. Those items
were returned to VOP during the week of August 19.

4. On August 1, 2002, John Masuku became director of
VOP. Mr. Masuku, a professional broadcast journalist,
was director of the government-owned Zimbabwe
Broadcasting Corporation's Bulawayo branch until June
2002 when he (and about 400 other ZBC employees) was
dismissed as part of a ZBC "restructuring" exercise.

5. The security guard at the VOP office said that
three men approached him at about 0100 on August 29
and told him in Shona "he must step aside lest he dies
for something that he is not involved in." A woman
living on the property said that at least one of the
attackers had a handgun. The men broke into the
offices, spent a short time inside, and then left
shortly before an explosion and subsequent fire in the
office. The security guard reported the explosion and
fire to police who arrived at about 0200. The fire
department also responded, but the offices were
completely burned by the time they arrived.
Initially, police did not protect the scene. VOP
staff, local journalists and other people were able to
move freely about the destroyed offices and grounds
until about 1000, roughly 9 hours after the attack.
As of 1100 police forensic specialists had not

6. VOP, which has received funding from European and
other donors, is not sure what the future holds. VOP
staff and boardmembers at the offices after the
firebombing were visibly shaken. At the very least,
the complete destruction of their offices and
equipment will likely lead to several weeks off the
air. A decision on whether or not to resume
programming will not be made for several days as VOP
staff take stock of their losses and evaluate the
risks implicit in resuming operations.


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