For more than 13 years, SW Radio Africa aired nightly news broadcasts via shortwave and Internet radio and posted reports on its website. Its shortwave broadcasts stopped last month, and the Internet broadcasts ended Sunday.
The radio station was a thorn in the side of Zimbabwe’s ruling African National Union-Patriotic Front party, and its longtime leader, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe — one of a handful of leaders not invited to last week’s Africa summit at the White House. Critics, including the State Department, have frequently accused the Mugabe regime of torture, intimidation and election fraud.
“At our peak, we were broadcasting three hours a night, but with [extra] funding we could have doubled that and more,” Mr. Karimakwenda said. “People were desperate to have their say, and they used us to break stories via cellphones from the remotest parts of Zimbabwe.”
Human rights groups have accused Zimbabwean police of mounting raids in rural areas to confiscate shortwave radios — a sign of SW Radio Africa’s success in needling the authoritarian government.
A landlocked nation of about 14 million in southern Africa, Zimbabwe has been ruled by Mr. Mugabe, 90, since 1980. It has endured more than three decades of steep economic decline, widespread poverty, runaway unemployment, forcible takeovers of farms, scores of accusations of human rights abuses and crackdowns on opposition parties.
In 2000, a group of Zimbabwean journalists who had fallen out with the state-owned broadcaster launched their own radio station, only to have the government shut it down.
“I used the Supreme Court to confirm there was no law to stop anyone from launching a radio service in Zimbabwe,” said station founder Gerry Jackson. “But when we started broadcasting, armed paramilitary broke down the door and seized our equipment.”
“For our next venture in England, it was a U.S. State [Department] agency that gave us seed money to break what was then a stranglehold on radio,” Ms. Jackson said. “Although technically the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. is a national asset, it is run by ZANU-PF.”