By Innocent Gore
The Southern Times newspaper, the regional SADC weekly newspaper formed in September 2004, celebrates its 15th anniversary this month in what is a milestone towards the promotion of regional integration.
A joint venture between New Era Publications Corporation of Namibia (NEPC) and Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Limited (Zimpapers) who each hold 50 percent shareholding, the newspaper’s objective is to be the leading publisher of SADC regional news from an African perspective.
The Southern Times hit the streets across the SADC region in September 2004 after NEPC and Zimpapers created a company, NamZim (Pvt) Limited, which publishes the newspaper.
Already there are plans to revamp the newspaper into a fully-fledged SADC newspaper with distribution and marketing agents in various capitals across the region. The newspaper’s digital footprint has grown tremendously with its readership now extending beyond the SADC region. It is a great source of information for academics at universities in the SADC region and beyond.
The newspaper has done a lot in terms of promoting SADC’s agenda of regional integration and industrialisation. Over the years, it has carried stories that promote African values, development and understanding among countries of the region.
The Southern Times seeks to provide news, feature articles, analyses, and opinion pieces from African perspective as well market the SADC region’s tourism and investment opportunities. The newspaper is guided by the journalistic core values of balanced reporting, truthfulness, objectivity, and timelessness of information. It seeks to promote SADC regional integration and the promotion of unity and co-operation amongst the people of the region.
The Southern Times was launched to fill a growing demand for news of the SADC region and beyond, a demand that has been sadly neglected for far too long. It seeks to challenge the imbalance in the flow of information from the Western media to the global south, where Africa is always portrayed as a dark continent filled with poverty, diseases, war, hunger, and tin-pot dictators.
Based on the principles that knowledge and information are key to bringing people together, the newspaper’s mandate is to unite the people of the SADC region through celebrating their diverse cultures and traditions, telling their own successes and highlighting their challenges as well exploring ways in which the region could benefit from its vast mineral resources, prime agricultural land, as well as good climate.
Most countries in the SADC region share history dating back before colonialism, which was cemented through their armed struggles against settler rule, up to independence and developments thereafter. The formation of The Southern Times was therefore to enable the countries of the region to continue strengthening their bonds and bringing their peoples together.
The newspaper is headquartered in Windhoek, Namibia, where its main newsroom is, together with a team of journalists which is supported by marketing and advertising people, as well as distribution and accounts teams. The other newsroom and a team of reporters as well as distribution, advertising and marketing people are based at the Zimpapers head office at Herald House in Harare.
The Southern Times has a team of correspondents dotted across the SADC region in Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, South Africa and Zambia. Plans are underway to recruit writers in Tanzania, Comoros, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar
The SADC regional integration story is still only known and understood by a few government officials and those who deal with regional issues on a daily basis.
The majority of SADC citizens are broadly unaware and clueless about the work of SADC and the results of its regional integration efforts.
Lack of information about SADC has limited active participation of citizens in advancing forward the integration agenda of SADC
It is, therefore, critical for the region to ensure that the right environment is provided for the existence and flourishing of the regional media such as The Southern Times to ensure that citizens remain educated and knowledgeable about the various benefits and opportunities of belonging to a shared community in Southern Africa.
Failure to do so can render SADC’s longstanding vision of a united, prosperous and integrated region elusive as regional integration issues will not be covered by the media.
In fact, it is important for the media to play an active role in supporting regional integration in SADC because gone are the days when political leaders could single-handedly pursue regional integration without the backing of public opinion, the media and its citizens.
Most of the media in the region are nationalist in approach as they tend to focus more on national issues at the expense of regional news.
This approach, while justifiable has, however, resulted in most media in the region turning a blind eye on regional integration issues, thus making SADC and its work less known to the majority of citizens.
The Southern Times seeks to not only provide a platform for SADC citizens to actively participate in the regional public debate and discourse, but to also successfully highlight that the regional story is more than just reporting about the SADC Summit.
For example, the paper was able to unpack the different facets of integration in SADC including profiling the industrialisation agenda and the push to put in place a vibrant infrastructure base that works coast-to-coast.
Furthermore, The Southern Times highlighted a lot of success stories of the integration agenda of SADC such as the establishment of the dry port facilities provided by Namibia to Zimbabwe and Zambia, the One-Stop-Border Post initiative at Chirundu Border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as efforts to market Southern Africa as a single but multi-faceted tourist destination.
The newspaper continues to highlight the importance of sound infrastructure such as roads, railways, ports, as well as provision of water, electricity, telecommunications services across the region.
Another landmark achievement for The Southern Times was realized at the 34th SADC Summit held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, when the paper published the first daily bulletin of the meeting.
The SADC Summit daily bulletin has become a feature at most SADC Summits, with the latest having been published during the SADC Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.