2 Apr 2012

The truth has no price - visiting @Verdade in Maputo

Daraja's Simon Mkina, Managing Editor of our Kwanza Jamii local newspapers visited Mozambique recently. He was there to learn from the experiences of the @Verdade newspaper, a weekly newspaper that like Kwanza Jamii, puts the community first. Unlike Kwanza Jamii, however, @Verdade is distributed free of charge. In this post, Simon Mkina tells us what he found.

By Simon Mkina

THERE is no way, one could walk around Maputo City without seeing  busy shopelas (three wheeler tuk-tuk,  in Shangana vernacular)  stopping by the road sides embarking or disembarking passengers.

Shopela, yellow tuk-tuk do that in all busy streets in Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique, from Monday to Thursday, but not on Fridays or Saturdays. Those two days are reserved for something else.

So what are they doing in the mornings on those two days? Simple, they are busy distributing heaps of newspapers to various areas in Maputo and in the locations.

The newspaper is distributed with shopelas that drive around the city, going to slums and suburbs of Maputo, delivering the paper to people who reach out to grab a copy. People come running, often whistling to get the attention of the shopela drivers so as to get a copy.

'Obrigado' (in Portuguese) – Thank you, in English,  is the word that follows after one gets a copy, and immediately opens the paper to read the insides as the front page carries only headlines, pictures and a few paragraphs of text taken from Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Welcome to the world of free newspaper in Maputo called @Verdade. The paper carries a slogan in Portuguese – A Verdade não tem preço, "the truth has no price".

On Fridays and Saturdays, almost everyone in the streets, in private or public transports is seen reading @Verdade. Young women with babies, women carrying baskets with fruits on their heads, street hawkers and the like are all busy burying their heads in the paper- reading @Verdade.

I am told some of the people with a copy of @Verdade in their hands don't know how to read or write, but they just carry the paper as a sign of prestige, that they are not illiterate.

People shouting- 'verdade, verdade, verdade', to the shopela I was in while driving  on streets and suburbs on Friday and Saturday, told me that  the paper is the only hope for a source of information to the large mass in Mozambique as other papers are expensive and are often unavailable in their neighbourhood. All other papers are sold in the city and one has to pay between 20MT - 30MT (1.20 USD)  which is close to the price of a kilo of maize flour or two hygienically packed breads.

Why free copy? The brain behind the project, Erik Charas (38), a civil engineer trained in South Africa says that for Mozambicans it is not only illiteracy that hinders them buying a newspaper but also poverty.

"People cannot afford to miss their meals just because they have bought a paper which cost more than food to feed a family of eight people for a day, a lot of people live by one dollar a day, so one has to choose, buying news or food", he says.

Charas was motivated by his own passion of seeing people being informed and fight for their development and that of the country, he believed (and still believes) that through the power of the media people could easily fight poverty, hence he raised $500,000 to start a media project in 2008. He says the main goal was to 'feed the brain' of people who barely manage to 'feed the stomach'.

Like any other newspaper, @Verdade largely depends on advertising and other businesses like distribution partnerships with other firms. The print run is now at 25,000 copies every week and the paper is printed in South Africa. It has a readership of 500,000 each week, making it most read newspaper in Mozambique.

Charas believes the paper has given the mass a larger platform  to air their voices and giving them the necessary information on different issues concerning their rights, economy and above all their well being.

"Verdade gives Mozambicans the ability to be heard by putting  their demands, grievances and opinions across that at last would put pressure on the relevant authorities to take actions," he adds.

Aderito Caldeira, who is the second in command  at the paper, says @Verdade is the symbol of  helping the public to fight poverty and is widely read not only is free but also is written in fairly simple Portuguese with a loud  social, economic as well as political oppositional voice, a lot of participatory journalism and articles often focusing on social issues of high importance to the development of Mozambique.

Aderito who is a trained TV programme producer, just like Charas seems to be so adamant to the sustainability of the paper  even at the this time when a good number of government-connected advertisers pulling off, saying the few patriotic and nationalists advertisers will make the paper live.

He says some advertisers are cancelling their contracts with @Verdade because of the writing style and its position – to fight for the people which eventually is not of any good taste to the government in power.

"It is true that advertisements are now setting a big challenge to our sustainability but we will surely survive and our biggest circulation puts us up there, so serious and result-driven advertisers will still coming to us," he says.

Apart from having a strong distribution team, the paper is now putting more efforts in online platform. Currently it is the first in breaking news, having a very active Facebook page (corrected 4/4/12) and good traffic in its Twitter account (@VerdadeMz). Through this online energy, @Verdade is now used as a trusted source even by other daily newspapers and electronic media.