BILL SAIDI: The Journalist who believed in free press, freedom of expression

Bill Saidi

He is gone, but not forgotten…

Charles Mabhena

William [Bill] Saidi, the man who wore a happy face at all occasions and described as an artery in Zimbabwean journalism, has left an indelible mark.

Saidi [79] who was born at St David’s Mission in Marondera came to journalism limelight in the 70s after brushes with the then president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, believed that muzzling the press was an evil that would arrest progress and development.

He narrated in his memoirs “Old friends come calling” I had resigned from The Times Newspaper in circumstances which somehow bore the hallmark of my 17-year stay in that country. President of the republic, Kenneth Kaunda, had for the second time, taken extreme umbrage to something I had penned in The Times of Zambia. He took such umbrage he made a public display of his fury at a press conference at state house in Lusaka.

‘I was denounced by name. Milimo Punabantu who was special assistant to Kaunda sat there with the president as I was pilloried for an editorial I had written on how the law handled erring VIPs and erring ordinary people,’ he said.

He said that the President himself read the editorial aloud and that he suspect on Punabantu’s advice-haltingly, pausing rather dramatically as if to highlight a grammatical faux pas. “Listening to all made me angry, but the denouncement clinched it for me. Why doesn’t he go to his own country?”

The altercation made Saidi come back to Zimbabwe in the 80s where he formed a formidable team at independence with the likes of Geoff Nyarota, Tonic Sakaike, Stephen Mpofu, Tim Chigodo, and Farayi Munyuki to raise the profile of journalism in the country.

Saidi passed on while Zimbabwe is still struggling to attain press freedom and freedom of expression.

For  the past 14 years, the Zimbabwean government has failed to licence a single community radio despite passing the broadcasting Services Act in 2001, which recognises the three tier broadcasting system and sets the criteria and licensing process.

Journalists have been abducted, arrested arbitrarily, disappeared, while restrictive media laws have made it difficult to practice independent journalism despite the country’s constitutional provisions.

According to Amnesty International, the government of Zimbabwe’s failure to licence a single community radio station since 2001 despite the existence of a legal framework which allows for such licensing constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of expression which is guaranteed by the country’s constitution and enshrined in regional and international human rights treaties to which Zimbabwe is a state party.

“The failure to grant licenses to community radio stations by the government undermines the ability of communities to participate in national debates,” said Amnesty International.

About the author

Is interested in Zimbabwe and African politics, writes from Bulawayo