Deported Meldrum vows to return to work in Zimbabwe

Meldrum: has covered Zimbabwe for 23 years

Freelance journalist Andrew Meldrum, forcibly deported from Zimbabwe last Friday to the UK, is determined to get back into the country he has covered for 23 years.

He is already planning to leave the UK for South Africa, for a listening post in Pretoria, where he can continue to monitor events in Zimbabwe.

His lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was this week pressing to have his ejection declared illegal.

“I am determined to get back to cover that story and to cover the place that has been my home,” Meldrum, a US citizen, told Press Gazette. “I believe that, not very far away, Zimbabwe will enter a period where this Government will have to hand over to a transitional administration that would lead to full and fair elections. I would hope at that point I would be able to get back into the country to cover it fully.”

Meanwhile, Meldrum’s life as a journalist has been severely disrupted: “Losing a beat that I have been covering for 23 years is gut-wrenching. It’s losing a whole life; my professional life is thrown way up in the open. Now I am out of Zimbabwe, the question is, will I be able to support myself through work?”

He had assembled a stable of clients – writing for The Guardian for 20 years, for The Observer and The Economist. He worked for Radio France International and South African talk radio, and, when a major story broke, organisations such as CNN and the BBC.

He recognises that he is a media celebrity at the moment, doing interviews but not getting paid for any of it: “Right now I am the story; I’m not actually covering a story. It’s awful. I feel like a performing monkey – granted, an intelligent and quite articulate monkey. It’s a tricky situation for a journalist to get into, having the spotlight on them.

“On the other hand, what I am trying to do is not focus things on poor little me, but instead to use my situation to look at the issues in Zimbabwe. I think I am getting the word across – which is dear to my heart – about the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe.”

He is in negotiations with The Guardian about work for the future and is confident something will be worked out in the next couple of days.

He wants to return, even though the Zimbabwe Government made life very difficult for him.

“But it is equally difficult for most journalists in Zimbabwe,” he said. “There is this kind of very high level of antagonism against independent and critical journalists. Whenever we go to any kind of Government event, we can expect to get harassed – sometimes physically threatened – but certainly given a hard time, treated brusquely, pushed around a bit.

“On the other hand, the opposition party and civic organisations that are struggling to keep democracy alive would give us a very warm reception.”

He found it difficult to maintain a level of professional objectivity. “We were all doing that, but it is very clear what is going on and there are issues of right and wrong that cannot be ignored,” he explained. “You want to give the Government its fair shake, but you also want to make sure it is fairly exposed for what it is doing. You have to call it as it happens.”

By Jean Morgan

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