Zimbabwean journalist lives in the Netherlands for a year
Zimbabwean journalist Wilf Mbanga was given the opportunity to
write and work without political restrictions for a year. He grabbed
the chance. At the invitation of the Tilburg Vrijstad foundation,
Mbanga arrived in the Netherlands in November 2003.
Mbanga is the founder of the Daily News, the newspaper that President
Mugabe prohibited in the past year. Despite a number of court decisions
in favour of the newspaper, it is still not published. The government
has continued to frustrate relevant efforts. Mbanga and a number
of the newspaper's other editors have already been arrested and
Mbanga is a quiet speaker, even when he is talking about horrible
things. 'The Daily News is not the only one having problems. You
can regularly read about how the newspaper is being mangled on the
Index on Censorship website. And now the government has effectuated
a new law requiring all media to register with the Media and Information
Commission (MIC), a government organisation. If you do not register
before publishing, you can be sentenced to imprisonment.'
Mbanga keeps abreast of the ever-worsening situation in Zimbabwe
by means of daily e-mails from family and friends. He need not worry
about this registration, which can best be compared to the Kultuurkamer
that the Germans established when they occupied the Netherlands,
while he is here.
Mbanga is working on a book with his wife Trish, who was the former
director of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. T he book is about
the famous mixed marriage between Botswana tribal chief Seretse
Khama and the Englishwoman Ruth Williams. Mbanga: 'The British made
the marriage impossible in the 1940s. They could feel the breath
of the oncoming apartheid regiment in South Africa in their necks.
The story of the lives of Khama and Williams is both a horror story
and a modern-day fairy tale, embroidered by the political priorities
of the era in that region.' It must be very special for Wilf and
Trish to be working on this book. They, too, have a mixed marriage.
Today they are not being frustrated by the British, but by the president
Each week Wilf Mbanga writes witty as well as heart wrenching columns
for the Brabants Dagblad. The column about his introduction to the
Dutch carnival was witty; his comparison of medical care in the
Netherlands and Zimbabwe was heart wrenching. He described his visit
to a general practitioner to have his blood pressure measured, where
he was pleasantly surprised by the warm atmosphere, modern equipment
and efficiency at the doctor's practice. On the day of this visit,
he read that doctors in Zimbabwe are tearing apart the curtains
in the hospital to use them for dressing wounds.
Mbanga: 'It is an incredulous experience to notice so directly
how far Zimbabwe has already sunken. Not only has daily life become
many times more complicated and limited: just think of the problem
of getting groceries for dinner. The political situation has also
become unrecognisable. Here the prime minister is criticised for
controversial comments; in Zimbabwe you can't say anything anymore.
When a newspaper printed an article saying that empty crates were
being loaded onto the aeroplane with which Mrs. Mugabe was going
shopping elsewhere, the editor in chief and journalist were immediately
Wilf Mbanga has a head full of writing ideas for this year. He
also regularly lectures law students at the University of Tilburg.
'I demonstrate to them how the law can also be used for unjust,
undemocratic matters. Judges are currently fleeing from Zimbabwe.
Decisions that are not to Mugabe's liking have dire consequences.'
The last lecture he held was greeted by a standing ovation.
The Tilburg Vrijstad foundation is an initiative of Tilburg mayor
Johan Stekelenburg, who recently died, lawyer and poet Afshi Ellian,
and Paul Seters, director of the Globus institute at the University
Prince Claus Fund