In the face of a media crackdown in Zimbabwe, Thornycroft renounced her British citizenship in 2001 and became a Zimbabwean citizen so that she could continue to report in the country. Her decision followed the passage the Freedom of Information and Right to Privacy Bill by Zanu-PF, the country’s ruling party. The bill ruled that all journalists working in Zimbabwe had to be Zimbabwean citizens.
Thornycroft is susceptible to harassment and arrest every day. She works in a country where foreign correspondents have been expelled, newspapers have shut down and independent journalists have been tortured. But Thornycroft continues to attend press conferences and political party gatherings – and to report on issues that negatively reflect the actions of the government of Zimbabwe, such as the lack of water and rampant inflation.
Well known by authorities, Thornycroft was arrested and detained in eastern Zimbabwe in March 2002. She had violated the new media law by traveling openly as a reporter after the presidential election, despite not getting state accreditation. She was held for five days even though no charges were filed against her. Thornycroft’s imprisonment was condemned by the international media community, and she was released after application to the High Court in Zimbabwe.
Thornycroft grew up in the former British colony of Rhodesia, which became independent Zimbabwe in 1980. She married a Zimbabwean and moved to South Africa, where she started a data processing company with her mother. At the same time, she developed an interest in journalism. She got a job at the Durban Daily News and went on to cover apartheid and to report from Angola and the Congo, writing about gun runners and South Africa’s secret chemical and biological warfare projects. Eventually, Thornycroft worked for white-owned newspapers that challenged South Africa’s apartheid government. She then became a full-time freelancer for British, U.S. and South African outlets.
Despite living in fear of arrest, Thornycroft has paved the way for and supported other journalists. She helped to establish the Media Monitoring Project, an independent trust that works to promote responsible journalism in Zimbabwe. She also was a key figure in the 1992 Campaign for Open Media, a movement to transform the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) into a public broadcaster. Thornycroft also helped to form the Public Broadcasting Initiative, a project that brought broadcast journalism training to journalists at the SABC. She developed advocacy and media support programs for the SABC, including its groundbreaking youth series and the launch of South Africa’s first school television service.
Peta Thornycroft is the first IWMF Lifetime Achievement Award winner from Zimbabwe, followed by Edna Machirori (2013). In 2002, Zimbabwean journalist Sandra Nyaira won the Courage in Journalism Award.
Sandra Nyaira, Zimbabwe | 2002 Courage in Journalism Award