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Zimbabwe journalist Mark Chavunduka, 1965-2002. (Nieman Notes).

Mark Chavunduka was one of journalism's heroes. In 1999, Chavunduka and a colleague, Ray Choto, withstood repeated beatings and other forms of torture during nine days as military officials in Zimbabwe tried to force them to reveal the sources of a story they had published in The Standard. The story, relying on unnamed sources, said that 23 members of the Zimbabwe National Army had been arrested for plotting the overthrow of the government of President Robert Mugabe.

Chavunduka and Choto were beaten and kicked. Live electrical wires were placed on various parts of their bodies. A bag filled with water was tied around their heads. They were forced to roll naked on a hard tarmac while officers beat them with planks. But Chavunduka and Choto never revealed their sources. They never backed off of their story.

Mark was a member of my Nieman class, the class of 2000. Mark's case helped bring our Nieman class together at the beginning of the year. His story reminded those of us in the United States how easy we have it--and how difficult it is to practice journalism in much of the world. Early in our year--not long after he had been released--I asked Mark about doing investigative reporting in such a hostile environment. "We do it because it has to be done," he said. "It's our contribution in the fight against corruption and bad government. That is the correct thing to do."

In the fall of 1999, Mark told me that he was still hurting from a perforated eardrum and that he had eye problems from being forced by military officials to stare into a bright light during questioning. More troubling, he said, were the recurring nightmares he suffered. "There are times when you wake up in the middle of the night really sweating, almost as if you've been taking a shower," he said. "You can't think. You just start crying."

But Mark felt that something good came out of his case and the international attention it drew. It had emboldened the independent media in Zimbabwe. "It has made them stronger," he said. "It proved to the government that it can't just arrest folks. The public outcry, both locally and internationally, was so overwhelming."

Mark Chavunduka died November 11. He was 37 years old, and he left behind his wife, Abigail, and three young children. In April, he had taken over a controlling share in an independent magazine publishing business. The cause of Mark's death was not announced, but reports out of Harare indicated that it was not believed to be related to his torture. His father said Mark complained of pains in his side before he died at a Harare clinic.

Bill Krueger, a 2000 Nieman Fellow, is a staff writer for The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Author:Krueger, Bill
Publication:Nieman Reports
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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