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Persistence, preparation pay off in all-formats Mugabe coverage

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A collaborative AP effort produced outstanding images and powerful storytelling surrounding Robert Mugabe’s death, and explored the hardships of the people he left in economic crisis.

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Mourners stampede after the arrival of the coffin carrying former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe at the Rufaro Stadium in Harare, where Mugabe was to lie in state for public viewing, Sept. 12, 2019. – AP Photo / Themba Hadebe

The distinctive work done by AP’s all-formats team of photographers, video journalists and writers in Zimbabwe was due in large part to the efforts of photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, whose skills which go well beyond photography. His tireless negotiations with Zimbwabwean authorities over the preceding months meant AP staffers were already accredited to work in the country and could fly into Harare soon after news broke of Mugabe’s death. AP was reporting the story while other news organisations struggled to get journalists into the country, with competitors’ teams languishing in the airport.

Mukwazhi’s persistent face-to-face contact with the information ministry was crucial for obtaining press accreditation for Johannesburg-based Africa News Editor Andy Meldrum. Until that point, Meldrum, AP’s foremost expert on Zimbabwe, had been on a blacklist for 16 years for his reporting on Mugabe’s rule. Meldrum arrived on the next available flight, and his personal reporting from the ground defined AP’s coverage.

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Africa News Editor Andrew Meldrum poses at the entrance to State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, Sept. 13, 2019. In the wake of Robert Mugabe’s death, Meldrum, AP’s authority on Zimbabwe, was reporting from the country for the first time since he was forcibly expelled by the Mugabe government in 2003. – AP Photo / Ben Curtis

Mukwazhi also helped set up meetings for video senior producer Rob Celliers with bosses of state television ZBC,leading to AP negotiating clear access to ZBC’s multi-camera live operation on the main day of Mugabe’s state funeral ceremonies.

AP’s photo team of Mukwazhi, Nairobi acting bureau chief Ben Curtis and Johannesburg photographer Themba Hadebe delivered compelling images from day one, ranging from the official funeral ceremonies to daily life coverage of Zimbabweans struggling to get by.

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Widow Grace Mugabe wears a black veil as she follows the casket of former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to a helicopter for transport to a stadium where it will lie in state, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Sept. 12, 2019. – AP Photo / Ben Curtis
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