Iconic anti-apartheid South African poet, Donato Francisco Mattera, affectionately known as Don, died on Monday July 18, 2022. I only heard about it through the SABC who covered his burial. I have had to put aside what I have been writing for this week in order to pay homage to Don.
I want to celebrate Don through his poetry and less through my own words, because poetry was his life and he loved his people. In an interview with the City of Johannesburg, he was asked how he would like to be remembered. He replied: “I would like to be remembered as a man who loved his country and his people.”
He had a way with words and he wrote with deep passion about freedom, friendship and the dream for a better South Africa in which people of all races coexisted.
Don’s case is very interesting if you consider the situation in apartheid South Africa. He is of a diverse heritage, having been born to an Italian grandfather, a Xhosa grandmother and a Tswana mother. He was classified as coloured. Nevertheless he became very strong in the anti-apartheid movement.
It is apparent that he felt he had got caught up between the races. No wonder his son said at the cemetery, “Don was not a nationalist. He was an African!’
Don Mattera was born in Sophiatown where he also grew up. From 1973 to 1982, he was banned and for part of that period, he was under house arrest. He had been tortured and abused for his anti-apartheid activities in South Africa, which included being one of the founders of what became known as the Black Counsciousness Movement.
The South African poetry of the Black Consciousness movement, for which Don was part, has innovative shifts of language-register, image and rhythm, ranging from contemplative verse to deep irony, from global references to tsotsi-taal.
This is the poetry of what has been called the South African urban writers. This refers not to writers in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, but to writers particularly in the black satellites; Soweto, Langa and Kwa Mashu.
These poets include, but are not limited to Mongane Wally Serote, Sipho Sepamla, Oswald Mtshali, Mafika Gwala and others.
These poets were variably spurred on by the political ideals of anti-apartheid popular movements. South Africa during the 1970s was fertile ground for a literary revival of the silenced black voices withering under state repression.
This was a defining period for the evolution of political consciousness among blacks and all non-white South Africans. Later in life, Don also joined the African National Congress Youth League. Sophiatown was a vibrant place culturally as Don grew up. In his very emotional autobiography “Memory Is the Weapon,” Don writes: “Sophiatown also had its beauty; picturesque and intimate like most ghettoes…. Mansions and quaint cottages … stood side by side with rusty wood-and-iron shacks, locked in a fraternal embrace of filth and felony…. The rich and the poor, the exploiters and the exploited, all knitted together in a colourful fabric that ignored race or class structures.”
This “multiracial fabric” did not conform to the separatist policies of apartheid and so the suburb was destroyed and the people forcibly removed.
The Black Consciousness Movement poetry, which Don was a part of, is characterised by a focus on the experiences of the downtrodden of apartheid South Africa and relevant themes. Much of this poetry is characterised by an examination of the historical place of the black people of South Africa with regards to the future. This poetry asks the question: where has the black person been and where is she going?
Don was awarded the PEN Award for his poetry collection Azanian Love Song in 1983, and the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa for his children’s book The Five Magic Pebbles in 1993. His much acclaimed autobiography Memory is the Weapon was awarded the Steve Biko Prize when it was first published in 1987.
He has worked as a journalist on The Sunday Times, The Sowetan, and The Weekly Mail (now known as the Mail and Guardian) and trained over 260 journalists.
Don was deeply rooted in poetry although he participated in other artistic forms. In one of his iconic poems, he demonstrates that his poetry was part of his being and the way he felt and responded to the world:
I feel a poem
Thumping deep, deep
I feel a poem inside
wriggling within the membrane
of my soul;
tiny fists beating,
beating against my being
trying to break the navel cord,
crying, crying out
to be born on paper
deep, so deeply
I feel a poem,
He felt deeply. He was passionate about the world around him. You have an idea that by the word poem, Don meant an idea, an opinion dying to be spelt out so that one feels at peace again with his environment. In that poem he is also suggesting that poetry is his form of choice.
Don was a committed poet, more like David Diop and Agonstinho Neto. Don often felt that, if need be, the poet, the artist, may just have to pay the supreme prize. Coming from a background of strife, segregation, arrest, banning and many ills during apartheid, he saw art not as a luxury but something that often brought the artist to the brink. He felt that “the poet must die”:
“The poet must die
her murmuring threatens their survival
her breath could start the revolution;
she must be destroyed
Send her to the Island
Call the firing-squad
But remember to wipe her blood
From the wall,
Then destroy the wall
Crush the house
Kill the neighbours
If their lies are to survive
The poet must die.”
In that piece above, written for James Matthews and Gladys Thomas, Don says that after killing the poet, you may as well destroy the environment which has actually given birth to the poet and her ideas. This was tantamount to saying that while the system may deal with the individual poet or activist, the ideas cannot be equally destroyed because ideas are organically rooted amongst people. An idea whose time has come cannot be killed.
Don himself went through the worst. He said, “My house was raided more than 600 times, I was detained more than 200 times, for one hour, for 10 hours, for three months. I was tortured on more occasions than I can remember – electrical wires were put into my penis and anus, two ribs on both sides of my chest were broken, my fingers were smashed.”
In his autobiography, Don indicates that since he was coloured, he tended to receive the worst treatment from both the blacks and whites in apartheid South Africa. They tended to see the result of their violent contact enmeshed in him! He writes more elaborately about it:
“I had many brushes with the police. Like the time I alighted from a train on a visit to my mother in one of the African townships. A tall, African policeman stopped me. His huge hands gripped my belt, pulling my trousers against my private parts. ‘Pass’, he shouted, so that others heard.
“I’m a Coloured,” I answered, knowing this to be the password of privilege and temporary safety and immunity. It would work now, as it had several times before.
“Half-caste Boesman, is what you mean,” he said in Afrikaans, tightening his lethal grip, so that my testicles moved into my bladder, and consciously aware of his power, he pressed harder. Urine ran down my thigh, wetting his hand. A blow stunned my senses. Half-blinded, I sagged and his grip loosened. As I was coming to another shot crushed into my ribs. Darkness. When I looked up there was a Boer policeman poking his baton at my exposed testicles.
Don’s mother told him that he was lucky to be a coloured man in South Africa because it was humiliating to be black but Don told her that he would give anything to be considered black. In his desperation, Don prays for both black and white people. His lines show that he sometimes shed tears over this matter:
“God bless the children
of South Africa,
the Black and the White children
but more the Black children
who lost the sea and the sand
that they may not lose love
for the White children who took the land
Sea and sand
my love my land
God bless Africa
but more the South of Africa…”
Don wrote with a sweet sadness about his dreams for freedom and that of seeing people of all races of South Africa coming together. When he thought he could die before the birth of a new South Africa, he wrote words that have become iconic and have been read across the world to describe the spirit of sacrifice:
“Remember to call at my grave
When freedom finally
walks the land
So that I may rise
To tread familiar paths
To see broken chains
And when my eyes have filled their sight
Do not run away for fright
If I crumble to dust again.
It will only be bliss
Of a long awaited dream
That bids me rest
When freedom finally walks the land.”
Mattera wrote beyond poetry. Besides his autobiography, he wrote plays and children’s stories. For the record, Don was awarded the Steve Biko prize for his autobiography The University of Natal offered him an honorary doctorate in literature (DLitt). He was a gifted orator who also worked as a master of ceremony at different events.
Now that he is dead, his poem “Departure” has a totally new meaning:
“I grow tired
and want to leave this city
seething in unrest and injustice
I am leaving
No I have left
Look for me on the banks of the Nile
or under some spreading palm
I shall be sleeping the sleep of freedom
Do not wake me
leave me to dream
my dream of departure
from a city of seething unrest
void of pity
for I have grown weary
of eating the brine
and long for jungle fruit…”
South Africa and all Africa are poorer without Don Mattera! Poetry has lost one of its giants.
Punching above their weight!
Patriarchy is a structure of society or government in which the male is the head and descent is reckoned through the male line. The issue of patriarchy was and is still not practised in just the families and societies but in government too.
Women are underrepresented in politics, in Lesotho, and this is a result of patriarchy and it seems to be a global tendency. It is true that some countries may have relatively more women involved and active in politics as opposed to some countries but the eminent truth and fact that women are underrepresented remains unchanged.
This behaviour is however rapidly changing as women are being elected to participate and go in parliament all around the world.
Nevertheless, equality is still a long way off and it will be a while before more women grow confident enough to break down the patriarchy custom and throw themselves fully into politics.
Just like any other “male related” roles, politics as a set of activities associated with decision making and power has always been seen as a male field. Trends are however changing but for women to enter politics, such attitudes about womenfolk still make it harder for some to succeed in politics. This behaviour still exists all over the world up to this day.
Research shows that women’s representation in Lesotho’s parliament dropped by two percent from 25 percent to 23 percent after the 2017 general elections. The vast number of these women were or are from the urban areas and only a few of them are from the highlands. No one is strange to the fact that patriarchy is still strong and very much alive and ruling in the highlands hence the low representation of women from the highlands in parliament.
However, over the last two decades, the rate of women’s representation in parliament has incrementally increased from below 11 percent to 24 percent and we are talking globally.
In the 2017 general elections where we witnessed the 2 percent drop, the Reformed Congress of Lesotho (RCL) was the only woman-led party in the country and the first ever in the coalition government. This party is led by ‘M’e Keketso Rantšo who broke the stereotype and proved to many that women can really prosper in politics.
Today we have three more women-led parties that will be participating in the 2022 general elections.
These women surely are determined to change the trend of having only men participate and lead political parties. Although their fellowship is not really plentiful, these women are very much confident in being given a chance to represent women in parliament.
Many of them have achieved quite a number of tangible things that prove that women can take charge of affairs and are capable of making decisions that are binding to everyone.
The 2% drop of women’s representation in the 9th parliament says a lot about the need for a review of all political parties mandates. Our politicians should consider encouraging women’s representation in decision-making as the retired and the currently elected women MPs have been working effortlessly to ensure that the challenges they face as women in politics are addressed accordingly.
These challenges include discrimination and gender based violence among others.
More research shows that “Currently women MPs represent just 22 percent of the total number of parliamentarians globally, about 4 percent increase over the past 5 years. This is still falling short of the critical milestone of achieving a minimum of 30 percent female representation in politics – the target which helps to ensure the presence of a critical mass of women in politics.”
This is according to People’s Assembly blog of South Africa.
In the same South Africa, the role of women in politics has increased since the end of apartheid. The South African government says one of the success stories of e democracy is that of the representation of women in political and decision-making positions.
The promotion of gender equality, not just in politics but in all spheres of life can really help develop a lot other countries as it did for South Africa.
In August of every year since 1959, South Africa has been celebrating women who were brave and active in calling for change. These women made sure that their rights as women were re-discussed and included in the country’s constitution.
Our women politicians should really do something about increasing their number in parliament if they really want to be well represented and included when reforms are made. Also, the people in the constituencies should give these women the benefit of the doubt, give them a chance to represent them and see if they can achieve everything they set.
Political parties should also conduct a sexual category inspection that will show how assortment and the participation of women can help parties in the political arena. Special mentoring programmes should also be developed to support women with gender role reservations from more experienced women politicians.
I am talking the likes of ‘M’e ‘Mathabiso Lepono (former minister of gender, youth, and sports), ‘M’e Mamphono Khaketla (former minister of finance), ‘Me Pontšo Sekatle (former minister of Local government), ‘M’e Mphu Ramatlapeng (former minister of health and social welfare), ‘M’e Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa (former minister of justice) and more others who never feared the “big politics”.
These women proved to many that women too are capable of handling power and responsibility. These women ignored the patriarchal values that are reinforced by societies that refuse to believe that women can take charge of affairs and make big decisions.
This arrangement will help improve many women’s skills that are interested in politics but are restricted by the social norm that politics is a man’s world. In the coming general elections we want to see more women in parliament and this can only happen if we all give them a chance and remove the gender tags.
In the best interest of development
Ke tsoha ke nyoretsoe puso ea Ntate Mathibeli Mokhothu. Ka nnete e tlo ba kanana. Che, eseng ena ea SR. Kanana straight! (I wake up with a craving of Ntate Mokhothu’s governance.
It really is going to be a forcible revolution. But I do not mean that of the SR. A forcible overthrow of a government.)
I understand that Ntate Mokhuthu has promised to open thirty new diamond mines if he’s elected to power in the coming general elections on October 7, 2022. 30 mines! Hee, re tlo ja re paqame. (We are going to have it easy).
I had to re-emerge from my winter hibernation in order to put a few topical issues on the national agenda. Well, for those with a bit of energy left to go through opinion pieces amongst the clutter of political campaigns, big promises and blatant lies.
I have been in and out of Durban over the past few months, just to get a bit of warmth during the winter season. However, my working visit in Durban on the 22nd and 23rd July coincided with the ANC KZN elective conference.
Jesus! ANC ‘Comlades’ were at their worst behaviour and all hotels in Durban were fully booked. They were noisy, rowdy and just utterly disrespectful. They reminded me of members of certain political parties back home named ‘ABC’ and ‘XYZ’.
Now, you can imagine the amount of management one had to go through when travelling with kids, by covering their eyes and ears. So they wouldn’t see and hear some of the obscene behaviour from the comrades around the hotel lobbies and rooms. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
Haai! Black people! Even though we claim to be looked down by white people, ka ‘nete sometimes, our behaviour is questionable.
Questionable in a sense that, one really wonders whether we batho ba batšo (black people) fully evolved in the Homosapien evolution process or whether we are stuck somewhere between stage three and four. Feel free to Google search the Homosapien evolution process. More so, for students that may be reading this piece.
So, I felt the need to start writing after reading an article in one of the weekly newspapers from Lesotho. I have been begging my editor to start circulating thepost newspaper in South Africa and he always says, “Yes, I’ll look into it as of next week”.
This has been a plea for the past three years. As Basotho rightfully say, “‘Muso, ha o tate”. (The government takes its time to make developments). I guess it has also spilled over into the private sector but I’ll wait patiently.
In any case, the story that caught my attention has to do with a case that has been lodged by one big parastal to halt construction of the Queen II Hospital, on a piece of land that is adjacent to a site formerly known as Sanlam Centre.
The story at hand is that the land under dispute was transferred to the Ministry of Health in the year 1999 and that is where the eye clinic is currently being constructed. However, the parastatal is disputing this claim hence the legal action.
Now, one wonders whether officers at the parastatal realise the repercussions that may occur should the courts decide to grant a halt on construction as a result of boardroom squabbles.
Look, here is my point, how long has it been since Sanlam Centre was burnt-down in the September 1998 political riots? Yes, 24 years! Now, tell me, why is this issue being raised now that construction is well under way? Why not before construction began? Why now?
By virtue of lodging a case to halt/suspend construction of Queen II Hospital, a lot of jobs are at a risk of being lost.
Second question, how long did it take for the grant funding for construction of Queen II Hospital from the People’s Republic of China take? Some people claim it took well over ten years to tie the deal.
So we would rather risk losing part of the grant funding/investment from China Aid because of our fixation on winning an argument on who is right or wrong? Is that the risk we are willing to take? Let’s spare a thought for a second.
Why am I raising this topic? When construction at the Pension Fund House development (Letsie House, Constitution Road) was completed, construction workers from LSP Construction were ordered to start work at a new construction site for a seven-storey building that was originally meant be the new Nedbank Headquarters.
The development was named Park Square Development and the site was at the old Square One site, across the road to Pioneer Mall.
A construction crane that was erected at the Central Bank site, was dismantled and relocated to the new Park Square site across the road to Pioneer Mall. Literally a week before construction was about to start at Park Square, boardroom squabbles rumbled behind the scenes until the deal collapsed. Literally a week before construction was due to start.
Now, when construction work gets interrupted (halted) because of petty squabbles, victims that suffer the most are innocent poor people. I am talking about a brick-layer that is trying to feed his family.
It affects a taka-boy that is trying to make ends meet. A street vendor selling fat-cakes at the gate of the construction site. These are the people that get affected, hence the rampant unemployment rate.
To reactivate the construction process is not easy at all once it has be halted. It comes with very heavy additional costs. Google a case of the Amazon headquarters in Cape Town.
As a last point, in the year 2015, I approached KEL Properties (LECSA) to develop a filling station on a vacant plot adjacent to Sefika Shopping Centre.
At the time, the site had a few shacks on it and the idea was to develop a world-class service station with public toilets and street vendor stalls.
I secured funding from Total Lesotho to cover all the capital expenditure for the project. A fully funded project! When I approached Maseru City Council (MCC) for a building permit, tsa qala likhathatso. (Squabbles started).
Ao ntate, I tell you, I was informed that the site is actually owned by the Maseru City Council (MCC) as a result of a ‘verbal’ agreement that was undertaken around 1997/’98 between the MCC and the National University of Lesotho, which was the property developer of Sefika Shopping Centre.
This has to do with a servitude that was created behind the shopping centre site, to make an access for a service-lane to Shoprite Sefika. This was ‘a verbal agreement’ because it didn’t exist on paper and was no-where to be found in the MCC filing system.
All I said was, let’s put development first. Whether that agreement was made or not, there’s no reason for petty squabbles. Let’s create a concession agreement with new terms and conditions.
No, it looks like I was talking nonsense because certain individuals from the Maseru City Council (MCC) were adamant to prove a point and win the argument.
The question is, at what cost? At the ultimate cost of losing funding from Total? Indeed it was because the then incoming CEO of Total from France, just said F-it, this is a waste of my time.
That’s how Total was subsequently sold to Puma Energy in 2018. Now, who were the ultimate losers in these squabbles? The average young man and female desperately seeking a stable job. Street vendors without proper working conditions and commuters without adequate toilet facilities at the Sefika Taxi Rank.
If you have time, please go have a look at the public toilets at the Sefika Taxi rank and tell me what you saw.
To cut the long story short, the argument between KEL Properties and Maseru City Council is still raging on and the site has become a dump that is infested by rats and spilling sewerage.
Now, you can imagine the amount of devastation this issue caused to the average construction workers. The promises for jobs went up in smoke because of boardroom egos.
If only people would pay careful attention to the people that really suffer when we make arguments between who is right or wrong.
These are innocent people that just want to put bread on the table to feed their kids. Those are the poor people that don’t have a privilege of munching biscuits and sipping tea all day in comfortable offices.
Lastly, poor people can’t afford basics anymore. We’ve all seen how paraffin sales got affected in the current winter season. The point I am trying to put across is that, over and above everything, let’s all act in the best interest of development because development equals jobs.
Zambian influence in journalism
Zambia, just like Tanzania, occupies a lofty place in the narrative of the liberation movements of many southern African countries. Zambia has intricate transnational connections and solidarity that proliferated from the early 1950s into the 1990s.
Zambia’s then President Kenneth Kaunda welcomed a number of liberation movements and their leaders in the country and his government also established the Liberation Centre on Chilimbulu Road in Lusaka with the full support of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
These liberation movements included the African National Congress, Pan Africanist Congress and the Unity Movement of South Africa, Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, Mozambique Liberation Front, South West African People’s Organisation of Namibia, the Zimbabwe African National Union and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union. Some members of these movements trained and practised journalism in Zambia.
It is therefore not surprising that two veteran nationalist journalists of Zimbabwe, Stephen Mpofu and Desmond Khumbuka, indicate through their autobiographies that their links with Zambia during the struggle for Zimbabwe’s independence are crucial and could be typical for many other journalists in the region. Their stories intertwine with events and key personalities of Zambia of the 1970’s.
In his autobiography Creatures At The Top, published 2012, by Spiderwize, Stephen Mpofu has done justice to his memories. The book will speak for journalist Mpofu long after he is gone. His grandchildren and their children’s children will be able to see Rhodesia and newly independent Zimbabwe through his eyes and not through the eyes of Mpofu’s enemies or even that of his friends!
He does not claim that he was right in whatever he did or omitted but he leaves you with a feeling that life is a journey with a twisting path and one’s enemies and friends are just sign posts on that road. What matters is one’s own indefatigable ideals and principles and to know that at least one has them.
Using a pen name, Sam, Stephen Mpofu writes about a black boy from Mberengwa in Rhodesia of the 1960s who embarks on the archetypal journey crossing into Zambia to train as a journalist, only coming back to an independent country after two decades, serving in the media during a critical period and eventually being forced to quit when the heat became too much.
This is a book that takes a cross sectional view of Zambia and Zimbabwe, two nations in transition. The point of view here is that of a humanist nationalist journalist. He wants justice and prosperity and he knows and sometimes is happy that this will bring him down.
It is a story about exile and consequently about Zambia and its hate-love relationships with exiles and war combatants from across the region. This is a story about the Copperbelt, Chimwemwe Township, the Northern Star, Sam Nujoma, Kenneth Kaunda, the Times of Zambia, Tererai Gapa, Philemon Ngandu, Vernon Mwaanga, William Saidi and others.
“In their rather harsh and but well intentioned exhortations, the Zambians however failed to acknowledge the role played by Zimbabweans whose votes had contributed to UNIP’s sweet electoral victory.”
Later on, this becomes a no holds barred story about the power games and the relentless dynamics at Zimpapers, Elias Rusike, Willie Musarurwa, Tommy Sithole, Charles Chikerema, Moeletsi Mbeki, Henry Muradzikwa, Tonic Sakaike, Davison Maruziva, Gareth Willard, Geoffrey Nyarota and others.
In the new Zambia, Sam had noticed that “there is a tendency among some aides (of the leader) to ingratiate themselves with a leader by telling him only those things that they think will please and pacify the boss. Such aides always want to think for the leader as though he were in that position by default and not on account of a demonstrated capacity to think for his nation and himself.”
His return to Zimbabwe after nearly twenty years of exile leaves Sam in a dilemma. He had long experienced freedom in Zambia and coming back to one’s newly independent country was like ‘stepping back in time.’ And seeing people repeating the errors one had seen committed in newly independent Zambia became an excruciating experience.
This is a book about what Stephen Mpofu thinks about the role of journalists in national development. For instance, editors within the public media must be strategic thinkers who provide input towards national problem solving, Stephen argues through Sam.
Where editors blindly kowtow to pressures from outside the newsroom, their crucial advisory role is compromised and moral decay sets in. For instance, the Zambian scenario had demonstrated to Sam that errant individual ministries may intimidate newsmen not to expose them, claiming that any publicity would be an attack on the government.
In this book Stephen Mpofu does not claim any heroics. He had gone to Zambia in the early 1960’s clearly to seek an education and a good job in a free environment. It never occurred to him to go for military training alongside the many young people who came from troubled Rhodesia.
He however never lost touch with the main characters in the liberation movement whom he openly supported in real life and in his writings. In fact, they counted him as one of their own.
In the final analysis, Stephen Mpofu is unique in that despite what he sees as his eventual sidelining in independent Zimbabwe, he does not break ranks with nationalist ethos. He remains positively within the ideals of self-rule.
Stephen Mpofu was born in Mberengwa District. He trained at Africa Literature Centre, Zambia in 1963 and lived in exile in the neighbouring country for 17 years. From 1965 to 1980, he worked for The Times in Lusaka where he rose through the ranks to become Assistant Editor.
He returned to Zimbabwe to become the first black News Editor of The Herald in 1981. He rose to become Senior Assistant Editor until 1987 when he became Sunday Mail Editor for two years.
Mpofu was then moved to the Chronicle in Bulawayo where he headed the paper for 12 years until his retirement in 2001.
He taught briefly in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the National University of Science and Technology and later left to concentrate on writing his latest book. He remains a writer, as he is a columnist at The Chronicle while he is also a member of the Board of Directors at New Ziana.
Creature at The Top is his third book after Shadows on the Horizon (1984) and Zambezi Waters Run Still, a sociological novel published in 1996.
On the other hand through his autobiography, ‘Misquoted’: a Personal Experience in Journalism, published in 2020 by Passpoint Private Limited, Desmond Kumbuka indicates on the blurb that his book is “not a journalism textbook and does not pretend to be one.”
I agree with him entirely. I however think that this memoir becomes many other things, becoming even more useful than the ordinary journalism textbook. This is a story about what journalism has taught one man. It is a story about the good and bad goings on in the back stage of journalism.
For those into Media in Africa studies and the connoisseurs of journalism in Zimbabwe, Kumbuka’s book offers what I could call an intelligent peek into the who is who of key media personalities in Zambia and Zimbabwe, in the past forty years.
The rich thread takes you from the mournful doe eyed Emmanuel Nyirenda, the irascible Vincent Mijoni, Adam Hamiwe, Giles Kuimba, Eric Richmond, Keith Simpson, Bill Saidi, Tonic Sakaike, Gilbert Mawarire, Stephen Mpofu, Davison Maruziva, Bester Kanyama, Douglas Takundwa, Chen Chimutengwende, Willie Dzawanda Musarurwa, Bornwell Chakaodza, Geoffrey Nyarota and many others. It is more of an evaluation sheet through which you see the rise and fall of an array of characters and organisations in the local media.
I could not put this book down from the moment I first held it. Sometimes I took a break just in order to laugh or to shake my head in disbelief. Here is a book that reads like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
A book with the capacity to arm many young journalists with the do’s and don’ts of journalism, albeit in very subtle ways. In this story, the hero (Kumbuka) seems to be always falling into one misfortune after another, just like Pimbirimano from the Shona folklore, but always getting out of trouble through his own resourcefulness, only to fall into a much bigger misfortune – on and on, without the possibility of a happily ever after.
Look at this: sometime in 1976, young reporter Desmond Kumbuka, who is coming from a nasty pub fight, walks home with a very ugly black eye. He is asked by his editor to attend a press conference at President Kenneth Kaunda’s State House.
To hide this embarrassing injury, Kumbuka hurriedly acquires a pair of dark glasses on the streets of Lusaka. But President Kaunda singles out the suspicious young man with ill-fitting dark goggles in the crowd and loudly offers to help him acquire appropriate spectacles.
The President genuinely thinks that the young journalist has a real eye problem. Later, Kumbuka writes a letter thanking Kaunda for his kindness for he went to see the offered eye specialist. But Kaunda is not done.
He writes back to poor Kumbuka, saying the young man’s letter was sincere and that “I (Kaunda) value your letter so much that I am asking you to sign it for you forgot to do that. I would wish to have it back for my personal file.”
Journalists rarely receive such attention from heads of state.
It is while at the Zambia Daily Mail that Kumbuka is accused of actually misquoting a whole Police Commissioner of Zambia, one Fabiano Chela. Kumbuka’s story had made it on the front page of the daily, claiming that the Commissioner had actually said that the Zambian police force was full of criminals! The tragic headline read: “CRIMINALS RECRUITED IN THE POLICE FORCE – CHELA.”
Kumbuka is dragged before the feared police commissioner, regardless of the fact that the commissioner himself had told Kumbuka that “it is very possible (that criminals could be recruited into the Zambian police). We are not God. So how would we know whether one has criminal tendencies unless they have a criminal record on our data-base? It is possible to recruit criminals as police officers…”
Desmond Kumbuka is instantly dismissed from the Zambia Daily Mail. And the lesson learnt? “In the complex game of politics and corporate gamesmanship, it is not uncommon for a supposedly responsible national leader… to vigorously, and usually with a straight face, disown reports of actions or words attributed to them in the media, if such reports or actions expose them…
Kumbuka also admits somewhere in this book that reads like a thriller that as a young journalist, he had the rather romantic notion that you find in most young journalists that a good reporter is that brusque, rough living, hard drinking and roguish character who causes the authorities headaches with probing and incisive questioning and articles that leave government officials with the proverbial egg on their faces.
He admits too to having a long affair with crime literature, through reading the likes of Spaghetti thrillers, James Hardley Chase, Mickey Spillane, Oliver Strange, Wilbur Smith, Mario Puzo and others, leading Kumbuka to enjoy crime reporting.
At some point Kumbuka would actually join the police during their patrols so that he is acquainted with the crimes and the criminals he so much liked to write about.
Clearly, this means a reporter ought to have an inherent interest in an area of his chosen specialisation.
But discipline was not one of the strong points of young Kumbuka. In his next post at the Mining Mirror, a newspaper based in Mufulira, a small mining town bordering the then Zaire and Zambia, Kumbuka joins colleagues to drink regularly across the border in Mokambo.
They have a nice time with buxom Congolese women “with their ample bosoms and rather accommodating proclivities.” It turns out that the guys are spending the proceeds from the sales of the paper, with the hope of repaying the money on the Monday, which was a pay day. On a Saturday, way before pay day, the Editor-in-Chief in distant Ndola, instructs them to bring the money to Ndola “right now!” Kumbuka and his colleagues get fired for it.
He is back on the streets and the misery of a man in a foreign country is evident.
But Kumbuka’s life has not only known the down turns, which include sleeping in the open and noisy 24 hour bars due to lack of accommodation. Life has taken Kumbuka to many very respectable stages.
It is a life well lived. After Zimbabwe’s independence, Kumbuka finds himself at the eminent Sunday Mail in Harare, where he quickly establishes himself as a reporter and columnist, later taking over from Henry Maarsdop, a prolific columnist who penned a popular Sunday column called ‘Henry Maarsdop on Sunday.’ Kumbuka’s own column became known as ‘Muongorori’s View’ and it ran side by side with the one by Maarsdop.
For several years, Kumbuka branched off into public relations. At the inception of the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), Kumbuka founded The Express Newspaper in Chitungwiza along with several other weeklies.
He also found himself at what became the Daily News and Daily News on Sunday. Prior to his stint with ANZ, Kumbuka was also involved in the establishment of another newspaper, the Daily Gazette for which he was Deputy Editor.
It is very interesting that although Geofrey Nyarota ably edited this book alongside Ruby Magosvongwe of the University of Zimbabwe, Nyarota himself is not spared in this book. He is given his due; praised here and blasted, whenever Kumbuka thinks it is necessary.
It is my view that the place of Zambia in the region is very influential and instructive, but in recent times it has been downplayed.
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