Carole Gombakomba: A unique Zimbabwean voice is lost

Zimbabwe’s media has suffered much from repression, exile, and worse, and on December 18 it lost one of its most beloved and compassionate voices. Caroline Gombakomba, a reporter and radio host since 2003 for the Voice of America’s Studio 7 broadcasts to the Southern African country, died in Silver Spring, Maryland. Gombakomba, 40, had been fighting breast cancer for years and in this second round met death with her customary serenity and courage.

In Zimbabwe, Carole worked for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation as a newscaster on its Newsbeat and Newsreel programs on Radio 1 and Radio 3 in the early 1990s. Amid the increasing politicization of state media under then-Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, she eventually emigrated to Toronto, where she was recruited by VOA soon after the January 2003 launch of Studio 7. The program offers a nightly news report in Shona (Carole’s mother tongue) and Ndebele as well English. From there, she moved to the United States. Ndimyake Mwakalyele, a colleague at VOA, said that Carole had left Zimbabwe fearing for her life, saying that she had been followed and felt threatened. 

Carole’s meticulous and thoughtful reporting, her calm, authoritative on-air presence, and her determined coverage of health issues–including Zimbabwe’s devastating HIV/AIDS pandemic–made her an editorial mainstay of Studio 7 and a beloved figure among listeners.

One of her finest hours as a journalist came in 2005 when she took the lead for Studio 7 in reporting on Operation Murambatsvina (“Drive Out Rubbish”) in which the government of President Robert Mugabe evicted hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans from their shacks and then demolished the dwellings. Carole reached through the cell network to record the gripping testimonies of victims, contacting humanitarian workers who then handed their cell phones to people to recount their stories. The International Association of Broadcasters awarded Carole a high commendation in 2006 for “Operation Murambatsvina: Voices of Zimbabwe’s Dispossessed.”

Carole pursued her work at Studio 7 until shortly before her death. Following several days of mourning in the traditional Shona way of friends and families praying, singing, and giving testimonials, she was laid to rest on December 22 in Washington.

Brendan Murphy is the coordinator of the VOA Zimbabwe Project, which produces the Studio 7 broadcasts to Zimbabwe.