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Literature and poesy

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Poesy has always given literature its staying power. Poesy is that manner of writing that uses rhythm, vivid philosophic language, and often rhyme and rhythm to provoke an emotional response.

Today we recall Shakespeare’s Hamlet through his extraordinary “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. That is the height of poesy! The melancholic “To be, or not to be” is found in Hamlet: Act Three Scene One. It is the opening line of a soliloquy in what is called the nunnery scene. Hamlet is contemplating death and suicide while waiting for his lover Ophelia. He bemoans the challenges of life but contemplates that the alternative —death — could be worse:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep…”

The speech explores Hamlet’s confused mindset as he considers murdering his Uncle Claudius, who killed Hamlet’s father and then married his mother to become king in his place. Throughout the play, Hamlet has hesitated to kill his uncle and avenge his father’s death.

Hamlet was likely written between 1599 and 1601; by that time, Shakespeare had honed his skills as a writer and learned how to write introspectively to portray the inner thoughts of a tortured mind. He would have almost certainly seen versions of “Hamlet” before writing his own, as it pulls from the Scandinavian legend of Amleth. Still, the brilliance of Shakespeare’s poesy is compelling:

“The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action….”

The philosophical nature of the speech also makes it perplexing: None of us know what comes after this life and there is a fear of that unknown, but we are all also aware at times of the futility of life and its injustices. Sometimes, like Hamlet, we wonder what our purpose here is.

Some argue that Hamlet’s speech of whether to endure the tortures of life or just end it could offer insight into Shakespeare’s own thinking in his time of grief. Perhaps that is why the speech is so universally well-received — an audience can feel the real emotion in Shakespeare’s writing and perhaps relate to this feeling of helpless despair, rendered in very high language of poesy.

Poesy is the other word for the whole subject that includes making or writing of poetry. It is often said that poesy must not be drawn by the ears: it must be gently led, or rather, it must lead, which was partly the cause that made the ancients affirm that poesy is divine. It is the route of thought and wit. Poesy expresses itself through a piece of poetic writing, which is written with an intensity or depth of expression or inspiration greater than is usual in prose.

Good novelists use poesy too and through it, we find their work stunning and memorable. Imagine Thomas Hardy’s description of a popular beer mug in one of his novels. The mug was called the God-forgive-me:

“Jacob stooped to the God-forgive-me, which was a two-handled tall mug standing in the ashes, cracked and charred with heat: it was rather furred with extraneous matter about the outside, especially in the crevices of the handles, the innermost curves of which may not have seen daylight for several years by reason of this encrustation thereon—formed of ashes accidentally wetted with cider and baked hard; but to the mind of any sensible drinker the cup was no worse for that, being incontestably clean on the inside and about the rim.

It may be observed that such a class of mug is called a God-forgive-me in Weatherbury and its vicinity for uncertain reasons; probably because its size makes any given toper feel ashamed of himself when he sees its bottom in drinking it empty….”

In Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy gives an amazing description of one of the drunkards called Mark Clark:

“a brisk young man — Mark Clark by name, a genial and pleasant gentleman, whom to meet anywhere in your travels was to know, to know was to drink with, and to drink with was, unfortunately, to pay for.”

The poesy above marks a high position in English literature. It means that if you were to meet the likes of Mark Clark at any place in the world, you would immediately decide to want to know him better, for some strange reason. In this life we often meet people whom we decide to know better.

However, with Clark, you would end up sharing a beer with him and yet; the guy always had no money and it is you who would buy the beer!

Mayombe, the novel which was written by one of the major Angolan writers of fiction, Pepetela, between 1970 and 1971 but published only in 1980, is a novel of high poesy. The statements of Fearless about the revolution and love affairs are often most stunning.

In a novel that sets out to show the tensions and conflicts in a liberation movement which had people from all ethnic groups of Angola, the language is most compelling. Besides Fearless, there is a Comrade Muatianvua who represents universalism and broad minded leadership skills that accrue from his wide travel and experience.

In high language, Muatianvua says, “I was born in the midst of diamonds without seeing them…I sailed the sea for years, from North to South, to Namibia, where the desert joins the sand on the beach, as far as Gabon and Ghana, and to Senegal…in every port I had a wife, in every port I had a row…where I was born there were men of all tongues…now they want me to be tribalist!

From what tribe, if I am all tribes, not only of Angola, but of Africa too? Do I not speak Swahili, did I not learn Hausa like a Nigerian? What is my language, I, who do not say a sentence without using words from different languages?”

Muatianvua is detribalised and dreams of a united Angola in which all people live together. This novel is still relevant across Africa today because virtually all Africa continues to experience sharp ethnic and ideological differences which push people from fighting for the common good of their nations. Like Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, another work of high poesy, Mayombe anticipated even the challenges of independent Africa.

NoViolet Bulawayo’s book of 2013, We need New Names, is considered a watershed novel on migration. The main character is an economic refugee from Zimbabwe to the US. She constantly delves into various mental states, trying to make sense of her not so smooth move from Zimbabwe to the US and the neighbouring regional countries.

NoViolet Bulawayo’s language, as in the blues, is both depressing and exhilarating. Her poesy is very articulate. It invites you to laugh and cry at the same time:

“Look at them leaving in droves, the children of the land, just look at them leaving in droves. Those with nothing are crossing borders. Those with strength are crossing borders. Those with ambitions are crossing borders.

Those with hopes are crossing borders. Those with loss are crossing borders. Moving, running, emigrating, going deserting, walking, quitting, flying, fleeing to all over, to countries whose names they cannot pronounce…”

And when they get to the destinations of choice, the Zimbabweans and fellow migrants find that there is no sweetness here either:

“And the jobs we worked, Jesus-Jesus-Jesus, the jobs we worked….We took scalding irons and ironed our pride flat. We cleaned toilets. We picked tobacco and fruit under the boiling sun until we hung out our tongues and panted like lost hounds. We butchered animals, slit throats, drained blood…holding our breaths like crocodiles under water, our minds on the money and never on our lives. Adamou got murdered by that beast of a machine that also ate three fingers of Sudan’s left hand… Ecuador fell from forty stories working on a roof and shattered his spine, screaming, Mis hijos! Mis hijos! on his way down”

This novel juxtaposes a tumultuous Zimbabwe against a well fed and technologically advanced America as seen by a young and impressionable Zimbabwean girl. Darling discovers that Zimbabwe and America are worlds with two very different passwords.

What Zimbabwe does not have materially, America offers but not for free! Closely looked at, America offers its own kind of turmoil to those (like Darling) who do not want to be second class citizens and who constantly claim that they have somewhere ‘my country, my people, our President, our language’ and other things.

With his first novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, published in 1968, Ghana’s Ayi Kwei Armah suddenly became a household name across the world until this day.

This is one of the earliest novels in Africa to tackle the issue of African self-rule, often called “independence.” Ghana got independent from Britain and became the first African country to acquire such a status in 1957. However, in 1966, there was a coup in Ghana. The general and often simple argument is that this coup was due to President Nkrumah’s corruption.

The images of rot, dirt and corruption are everywhere and they reach both physical and spiritual proportions, through Armah’s descriptions. Ghana has become suddenly sterile and old and the man has an intense consciousness of it that borders on naturalism.

For example the main character looks at the banister in one building and reflects deeply on the dirt that is deposited on it by people who hold it as they go upstairs: “…apart from the wood itself there were, of course, people themselves, just so many hands and fingers bringing help to the wood in its course towards putrefaction.

Left-hand fingers in their careless journey from a hasty toiletry sliding all the way up the banister… Right hand fingers still dripping with after piss and the stale sweat from the fat crotches. The callused palms of messengers after they had blown their clogged noses reaching for a convenient place to leave the well-rubbed moisture… The wood would always win.”

He is also assaulted by the constant image of the overflowing bin. There are also moments to reflect on the traveller’s vomit.

Then there is the overriding presence of the occupied toilet with all its stink: “Past the big public lavatory the stench claws inward to the throat. Sometimes it is understandable that people spit so much, when all around decaying things push inward and mix all the body’s juices with the taste of rot…

Hot smell of caked shit split by afternoon’s baking sun, now touched by still evaporating dew. Across the aisle on the seat opposite, an old man is sleeping and his mouth is open to the air rushing in the night with how many particles of what?”

The rot is so overpowering that it sucks everyone to its own centre. This is the picture of corruption’s ability to be everywhere. Even the character called Krishna has his soul eaten up by worms as he meditates.
Poesy is a tool that accompanies a good writer and his task is to apply it in specific fine doses.

It shows the depth of the writer’s genius. Every time that you recall a novel or a play, remember that it is the artistry in the words that ring back in your mind. It is the poesy that remains long after the story!

Memory Chirere

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Punching above their weight!

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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.

Bokang Masasa

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In the best interest of development

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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.

‘Mako Bohloa

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Zambian influence in journalism

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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.

Memory Chirere

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