For 37 years, it was the official newspaper of Robert Mugabe. Then, this month, the staff of the Zimbabwe Herald got an impossible assignment: They would have to cover the downfall of their benefactor.
In the days after Mugabe was detained by the military, editors and reporters gathered in a wood-paneled newsroom in an old office building downtown, trying to figure out what to do. Should they back Mugabe or the military takeover? Did they still have to echo the party line? What was the party line, anyway?
Suddenly, a newsroom that had been the mouthpiece of the regime was without a censor.
“In the past we could never criticize the president,” said Felex Share, a political reporter, in the hours before Mugabe’s resignation. “Right now, we can touch anything.”
The rapid descent of the world’s oldest head of state came as a shock to many Zimbabweans who assumed that Mugabe would rule the country until his death. The Herald, which is owned by the government, had advanced the idea that his rule was untouchable. Until two weeks ago, the paper was printing laudatory stories and editorials about the country’s despotic leader.