However great a work of art is, it initially comes to the artist at a particular moment in his life and is inspired or triggered by something.
Every painting, poem, novel, song, drawing etc is a product of that special initial moment of inspiration in the life of an artist.
I agree with Wayne Shumaker who said, “In the lives of some poets, however simple or various, the works grow naturally out of the recorded events, or are in themselves simple events…”
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by famous African American poet Langston Hughes is a case in point. It is considered to be one of the most amazing poems from the black world which was instigated by one identifiable moment in the life of the poet.
It is said that Hughes wrote this brief poem in just about fifteen minutes, with a shivering hand in July, 1920 when he was aged 17. He had just graduated from high school, and was on a train heading to Mexico City where he would spend just over a year with his father, a man he barely knew.
Hughes says that he was crossing the Mississippi just outside of St. Louis when inspiration struck. The poem came to his mind and heart after looking down into the muddy water of the Mississippi which was turning golden in the sunset. The poet suddenly turned the memory of the history and survival of his people into brilliant lines.
In that breathless poem, Hughes traces the critical historical moments in the lives of the black people. He indicates that black people have always been around and they are, in fact, as ancient as all the major rivers of the world.
Hughes shows that the Negro has always been around the great rivers like the Euphrates and the Congo. The Negro participated in the construction of the pyramids of Egypt along the Nile. The Negro was involved in both the founding of the US and the American Civil war:
“I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi
when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans,
and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn
all golden in the sunset.”
In that poem, Langston Hughes finds the black man rooted and original as he continues to write:
“I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
Hughes honours the wisdom and strength which allowed African-Americans to survive and flourish in the face of all adversity, most particularly the last few centuries of slavery. This poem was first published in June 1921 in a magazine.
Langston Hughes is a famous African American author and poet, who lived from 1902 to 1967. He wrote in a modernist style during the time he was an author, which was from the 1920s to the 1960s. The Harlem Renaissance inspired him a lot and he became one of the key voices of this movement.
Jorge Rebelo, is the great Mozambican poet who participated in the war of the liberation of Mozambique in the 1970’s. He and others wrote poems during that war. Rebelo will most likely be remembered for his poem titled “Poem.” A work of genius, “Poem” is important for arguing on why and how revolutionary poetry should be simple and useful. Jorge Rebelo said he would “forge simple words” that “even children can understand and:
“Come, tell me all this, my brother.
And later I will forge simple words
Words which will enter every house
like the wind
and fall like red-hot embers
on our people’s souls.
For in our land
bullets are beginning to flower.”
In the poem, Rebelo was responding to why his poetry seemed simple and rather pointed. He said it was the war itself that gave birth to such a literary tradition.
Written on the move or at the spur of the moment and between battles, there was the pressure to record a thought, a philosophy about the struggle. Yet the seeming simplicity and innocence of Rebelo’s poems were the diamond-hardness of his poetic vision.
When Rebelo says “in our land, bullets have beginning to flower,” he probably means that the revolution is now beginning to bear fruit and that victory was certain. He also means that the war is now all over Mozambique.
Talking to a journalist in 2007, decades after the war that inspired that poem, Rebelo said he wrote the poem when he was still an activist and leader in the information, policy and propaganda unit of the liberation movement called Frelimo. Through Frelimo, the guerrilla fighters managed to push the Portugues to grant self rule to Mozambique.
Rebelo’s actual words were “We used to have a tradition, to send end of the year messages, and this year we sent cards where I penned this poem. I reflected on the struggles of the past year and this was the outcome. Later some comrades translated it into English. In the recent past, I have published other poems of mine in Portuguese, called appropriately, Messages.”
Considered as one of the greatest novels to come out of Zimbabwe, Charles Mungoshi’s Waiting for the Rain, published in 1975, is a book that was saved by a moment in the life of the writer. This novel is a story about Lucifer Mandengu who has been to mission school and is now considered elite and very educated. He has just been offered a scholarship to go abroad and train as an artist. Before he leaves, he boards a rural bus towards home to bid his people farewell.
Mungoshi says when he began writing Waiting for the Rain, he actually had a short story in mind “about Betty and her unwanted pregnancy and her understanding brother, Garabha. It was all in a once upon a time tense. When I brought in the other characters, the story kept on expanding and before I knew I had over 100 pages of script on A4 on my hands.” And yet, at some point, Mungoshi felt the short story was dull and he actually abandoned it for some time until one crucial moment that pushed him back to the story.
Mungoshi says: “Then one day I went to my local beer hall and there I watched that Jerusalem drum expert and the people. Looking at them, I was suddenly touched by – the sense, their feeling of being family, and seeing each of them with his or her problems and the drummer trying to assuage these with his unifying drum… Anyway, through them at that moment, I had found out that this story was as urgent as the message of the drum…”
Mungoshi continues about the moment of inspiration: “The landscape, the physical life of the book became much more alive, much more present because I was living it as I was writing it and I have never felt as blessed as I felt writing (or re-writing)Waiting for the Rain.(I do not think I revised –not much, any way – this second version.)”
The essence of this prize winning novel is about grappling with the issues of home, identity and belonging in the changing times. Through it, Mungoshi is constantly asking key questions: Do we truly belong to this land? Is it possible to belong here and elsewhere? What must we change and what exactly must continue and why? Is there any space for the individual in our quest for collective glory? Are we right? Are we wrong?
Then there are also two interesting cases of inspiring moments and situations between two black American writers; Lawrence Dunbar and Maya Angelou. This is a story about how one’s moments of anguish as a writer could cause another writer to respond to the first work, lighting a fire downstream!
‘Sympathy’ is an 1899 poem written by Paul Lawrence Dunbar. He was one of the most prominent African-American writers of his time. He wrote the poem while he was working under unpleasant conditions at the Library of Congress.
Dealing with the dust and must of books in a hot, closed space was unpleasant for the tubercular Dunbar and that strained his health. This may be reflected in an October 26, 1898, letter to Young, in which Dunbar notes an ongoing illness that kept him from the Library for two weeks and requests a leave of absence.
As a result of reflecting on this, Dunbar wrote the poem that is often considered to be about the struggle of African-Americans. The iron grating of the book stacks in the Library of Congress suggested to him the bars of the bird’s cage. The torrid sun poured its rays down into the courtyard of the library and heated the iron grilling of the book stacks until they were like prison bars in more senses than one. During such a moment he wrote
‘Sympathy’. Parts of the poem go like this:
“I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats its wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!”
On the other hand, Maya Angelou’s poem entitled “Caged Bird” was inspired by Paul Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy.” The major theme of both poems is freedom.
Just like Dunbar’s, Angelo’s poem is famous for its intimate description of freedom, and for the role of personal voice as a true element of it. In the ‘caged bird’ Maya Angelou talks about how a free bird wastes her time and wallow in her freedom.
She says a free bird flies everywhere daring both the wind and the sun in its flight. But she writes that a caged bird can seldom see through the cage because its wings are clipped and its feet are tied and all the caged bird can do is sing while in the cage.
That kind of a bird sings about its desires for freedom. Meanwhile the free bird gazes at the lawn and the trees where she can go at will. The caged bird’s voice goes across the hills and plains because she wants to be free:
“A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing…”
Maya Angelou, born in April 4, 1928 as Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, was raised in segregated rural Arkansas. She was a poet, historian, author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director.
The cases above demonstrate that some artists actually seize the unusual moment in real life and transpose it into art.
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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