ONE of the newspapers that gave Zimbabweans an alternative to the state-controlled press during the darkest days of President Robert Mugabe’s clampdown on the free press has announced its closure.

Next week’s copy of The Zimbabwean will be its last, the paper announced on its front page Wednesday.

Set up in 2005 by Wilf Mbanga, the newspaper offered a different – and very critical – view of Mugabe’s government to that given by the state-controlled Herald and Sunday Mail newspapers, and the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

Tough press laws had forced the closure of the popular Daily News two years earlier. Mbanga got round the restrictions by publishing outside Zimbabwe and trucking his publication in.

In May 2008, after Mugabe lost the first round of presidential elections, a truck carrying 60 000 copies of The Zimbabwean on Sunday was hijacked and set alight. Soon afterwards, just ahead of the second round of elections in June, the authorities imposed a 74% “luxury” tax on papers brought into the country.

‘Opposition press’

“Sales never recovered from this,” the paper said on Wednesday.

The Zimbabwean, now a weekly newspaper, is to continue as an online news service and a community information platform, it said.

The paper published an insert in Wednesday’s edition with photographs of 36 front pages from its 10 years in print.

Zimbabwe has a number of other independent newspapers, including Newsday, The Zimbabwe Independent, the Financial Gazette and The Standard.

The Zimbabwean newspaper has been criticised in some quarters for its perceived bias towards the opposition, earning it – and other publications – the controversial label of “opposition press”.

“We have reported our nation’s darkest hours and also some wonderful stories of human courage and endeavour in the face of enormous difficulty and suffering,” Mbanga said in a statement.

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