The government announced today the takeover of the major newspapers in Zimbabwe from a South African chain, ending white domination of the press in the newly independent black African nation.
Information Minister Nathan Shamuyarira told a news conference that a government-appointment trust has purchased the 45 percent controlling interest in the five newspapers for $4.3 million from the Johannesburg-based Argus Co. effective next month.
He said the newspapers in Salisbury, Bulawayo and Umtali would be run by the newly created Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust, which would be "nongovernment, nonparty and non profit-making."
The purchase was aided, the Princeton-educated Shamuyarira said, by an $8 million grant from Nigeria, which is understood to have stipulated that the papers continue to be run as a commercial operation.
The government "will neither publish nor edit any of the newspapers," Shamuyarira said, and it "will not interfere in the management and running of the trust."
There is little doubt, however, that the new black-majority government of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe will gain firm control of the papers. The members of the trust are to be appointed by the government.
Shamuyarira said that eventually the trust will dismiss the all-white senior editorial staff of the papers, the Herald and the Sunday Mail in Salisbury, The Chronincle and the Sunday News in Bulawayo, in the southwest, and the Umtali Post in the eastern provincial capital near the Mozambican border.
Eric Richmond, editor of the Sunday Mail, said in an interview that he was concerned about the future freedom of the newspapers, although he acknowledged that they had been subject to severe censorship under white rule.
"I think they will follow the pattern of the rest of papers in Africa, which is not the Western pattern of a free press," he said.
He said that the press has been freer in the nine months of black-majority rule than during the two-decade rule of white prime minister Ian Smith.
Shamuyarira said the government had been dissatisifed with "certain kinds of pollitical reporting" in the papers, although he said they had improved since independence. He said he was especially irritated at a story critical of Mozambique, a key ally of Zimbabwe.
Citing an aritcle that said "hordes" of Africans attended a ceremony, he said, "you don't say hordes of Africans. That's a colonial, racist kind of attitude that has been built into the press."
"We are completely nonracial," he said, repeating government policy that "we want everybody to stay in the country."
He said a majority of the new senior editors will be veterans of the independence struggle but not necessarily all members of Mugabe's ruling political party.
"The media, he said, "can now look north to other independent African states instead of south to racist South Africa."
"We have brought to an end nearly 90 years of domination and conditioning of our people by South African mining interest," he added.
It was the second major move by the goverment to end the South African orientation of the press. Several months ago the government bought the Inter-African News Agency, the only press service in the country, from the South African Press Association.
Despite efforts to change and run more African news, the daily papers have remained mainly white-oriented. The front page of today's Herald was dominated by a picture of Diana Spencer, the latest rumored mate for Britain's Prince Charles.
The Sunday Mail, the largest of the papers with about 160,000 circulation, ran a special supplement in November on Durban, a popular South African beach resort.
The Mail claims that a majority of its readership is black, but the supplement never made any reference to the difficulties blacks would experience in Durban because of South Africa's apartheid policy.