For eight years Ray Mwareya has covered Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, and even Germany. He now works as the southern Africa correspondent for InPerspective Media, a nonprofit based in Berlin, and editor for Women Taboos Radio. He also does regular investigative work for Thomson Reuters, The Financial Times, the Equal Times website, and GroundUp News South Africa, and his work has appeared in the Guardian, The New York Times, and dozens more publications.
Mwareya’s country, Zimbabwe, regularly features on Reporters Without Borders’ annual list of countries most hostile to press freedom. The state owns all national broadcast media, and journalists, whether in private or public media, avoid certain sensitive political, security, or economic topics for fear of offending the political elite.
He became a journalist, then, to be an independent voice, to explore the brutal links among his country’s top politicians, shady businesses, and religious scams, without fear or favor. For this he has been persecuted and in 2016 was forced to flee Zimbabwe temporarily for Germany, where he was awarded a Rest and Refuge Scholarship by the national branch of Reporters Without Borders.
Mwareya seeks to inform audiences in Zimbabwe and the region about, for instance, how the vicious reality of climate change, failing rainfall, and vanishing bodies of water will create new climate refugees in the country, tip hungry rural girls into sex work, and spark water conflicts between livestock farmers and land developers.
Among his notable work was a 2015 expose for Britain’s online Ecologist magazine about political elites and well-connected farmers draining swamps, clearing sensitive forest, and diverting rivers to expand tobacco farms and cash in on China's appetite for Virginia leaf tobacco. For this investigation he was nominated for the 2015 European Union Lorenzo Natali Media Prize for reporting on development issues and poverty.
He has also written about immigrant mothers living illegally in South Africa who conspire with Zimbabwe and South Africa’s immigration police, international bus drivers, and crime cartels to smuggle their infants back across the border and into the care of family members. For this story, he was the one of the first recipients of the International Labor Organization’s award for reporting fairly on labor migration in 2015.
The next year, Mwareya covered the plight of 20,000 young Mozambicans who were sent to East Germany in 1979 with the promise of training and travel, only to be trapped working in slaughterhouses and coal mines, and to receive only a fraction of the pay that was due them. For this investigation, he was among the recipients of the UN Correspondents Association Awards in 2016.
Zimbabwe is a difficult place for independent reporters. They can be sued for not being accredited with the state media agency and can even face violence and harassment. But poverty is perhaps their greatest foe. In Zimbabwe’s moribund economy, advertising funds have disappeared, press clubs are bankrupt, journalists’ jobs have been cut, and reporters’ pensions go unpaid. Desperate, they become vulnerable to politicians’ bribes that sometimes amount to no more than a cheap meal or a bottle of whiskey.