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Voice of Zimbabwe, via London

Tererai Karimakwenda: "We've become this avenue for a lot of the frustration"  

By CNN's Robin Oakley

LONDON, England (CNN) -- No independent broadcaster is left within Zimbabwe. But since December, Zimbabweans have been able to hear, and talk to, an independent voice -- SW Radio Africa, broadcasting from a studio in London.

Station manager Gerry Jackson can't tell for sure what audience her team of eight exiles is reaching, broadcasting three hours a night.

"We can't do research to assess how many people are listening because of the level of violence. If you sent somebody out with a clipboard outside of town they'd just get beaten into the ground," Jackson said.

But they do know that crowds listen in beer halls. Some even climb trees to get better short-wave reception. And many respond on the Internet or by calling in.

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"They're able to air their opinions, they're able to say exactly what is happening. We're giving a voice to the voiceless," says the station's Violet Gonda.

"We've become this avenue for a lot of the frustration, a lot of the pain," says announcer Tererai Karimakwenda.

This week a spirit medium -- a sort of holy man -- was killed by government sympathisers.

"Spirit mediums have until now been considered sacred and to harm them was to invoke 'ngosi' or bad omens. Has that now changed? Whatever your opinion we want to hear it," Gonda told her audience

The message which comes back from Zimbabwe is one of increasing intimidation.

"In February there were eight deaths, 62 kidnappings, four disappearances, three rapes and 159 recorded cases of torture," Karimakwenda reads into his microphone.

"We're giving a voice to the voiceless," says the station's Violet Gonda  

But that doesn't stop the callers.

"Not enough has been said about the corruption that's endemic," says one listener calling in.

"We've been amazingly lucky with the number of people who're prepared to speak to us even in that climate of fear and intimidation, and that increases as we go along," Jackson said.

The station, funded largely by an American institute, is criticised by the Mugabe regime as being one-sided.

But if SW Radio Africa is becoming the voice of opposition, that's hardly surprising. At first Mugabe ministers would talk to them. Now they won't. And it does take two to converse.




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