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Billboard activism on the rise in South Africa
Lance Guma, SW Radio Africa
November 26, 2007

A group known as 'Zimbabwe Democracy Now' is causing quite a stir in South Africa after putting up over 5 large billboards in Johannesburg, all with a call for action on Zimbabwe's crisis. Washington Times journalist Geoff Hill told Newsreel that the billboards seem to have been put up between Saturday and Sunday this weekend, although officials from the organisation are unwilling to confirm the exact date. Hill says he accompanied someone travelling to Zimbabwe and dropped them off at the Park Station bus terminus. There he was met by a huge billboard with the words, 'Zimbabweans Demand; POWER TO THE PEOPLE; We demand, one citizen, one vote, independently run elections and an end to political violence.'

Several journalists have also confirmed sighting similar billboards in a number of other Johannesburg locations including Orange Grove suburb, Thembisa Township and Diepsloot in Soweto. The other design for the billboards reads, 'There is a reason so many Zimbabweans are in South Africa: FREEDOM.' The message ends with the same demand for independently run elections.

Hill managed to speak to a woman activist who is part of Zimbabwe Democracy Now and she confirmed they were behind the first billboard that was erected in Musina in October. At that time armed South African police, accompanied by 9 soldiers in a troop carrier, swooped on the two advertising workers erecting the billboard. The billboard read, 'We know why you are in South Africa: Life in Zimbabwe is Murder; But please go back to vote in March. We can all be free.' Musina city council allegedly ordered it to be pulled down, before a backlash from the media, politicians and the courts forced a u-turn and the billboard was left alone.

It's now unlikely the authorities will tamper with the wave of new billboards sprouting up all over Johannesburg. Hill says it will take a very bold politician to try and get them pulled down. The people behind the campaign want to remain anonymous but the one who spoke to Hill said Zimbabwe Democracy Now is a coalition of church and NGO groups that work in and outside Zimbabwe. The publicity surrounding the first billboard in Musina has apparently helped them secure more funding to put up more billboards in South Africa.

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