Scribes: The Defiant Brigade

HARARE - There must be a number of journalists in Africa who believe there is a Great Someone in the Great Somewhere looking after their welfare.

Each year, many of them are killed in the course of their duties, seeking out the truth all over a war-torn continent.

Some are journalists who have remained faithful to the search for the truth, despite being shot at, spat at and generally reviled as no-good so-and-sos out to rubbish every African leaders’ name.

Some believe their consolation is this: as punishment for killing innocent journalists, many African countries remain mired in poverty — because the journalists’ Guardian Angel is wreaking revenge on their behalf.

In many African countries, again poverty continues, with people living on less than a dollar a day —  20, 30 or 40 years after independence.

It’s no consolation for the journalists, but they must take heart from the fact that SOMEONE is punishing the governments for persecuting and killing journalists for daring to tell the truth about their corruption, murder of innocent critics of the denial of education for most of their children, and jobs for able-bodied citizens.

I have been compiling a list of what I call The Defiant  Brigade of the African journalists.

As far back as 1971, I met Boaz Omori, the editor of an independent Kenyan newspaper.

A few years later I  met a Kenyan journalist at another conference and was told Omori had died in suspicious circumstances.

Most of his Kenyan colleagues believed there had been foul play — the chilling implication being that this principled editor had been silenced. I knew I did not have to be Sherlock Homes to find out the  identity of the culprits).

John Musukuma was a young sports editor when I met him in Lusaka in 1963, when I arrived there to work as production editor of the independent weekly, Central African Mail.

In 1977, when I was re-instated as deputy editor-chief of Times Newspapers, having been fired in 1975, Musukuma was named as my new editor-in-chief.

Before I had moved into my old office in Ndola, he visited me at home.

He would not work as my senior, he said. I had taught him most of what he knew as a journalist when we worked together at the Central African Mail.

I asked if he was going to resign. No, he said, he had an elaborate plan to engineer his dismissal from the job.

An editorial he wrote for the paper so angered the government, he was summoned to appear in the Parliament to answer charges of either undermining the dignity of Parliament or of calling the government leaders a bunch of no-good so-and-sos.

In what we, in the fraternity, considered to be their ashen-faced embarrassment, they fired him from the job the next day.

Among those congratulating him for his gutsy reaction to his appointment, was Dunstan Kamana, the first Zambian editor-in-chief of the Times Newspaper group.

He had worked at the job for a number of years before they transferred him to a job as general manager of a parastatal company dealing in dairy products.

He flatly rejected the job, to which he had been assigned.

They had intended to punish him for not running the newspapers of which he was in charge in the exact manner the government wished them to be run — as government mouthpieces.

His new job was an ambassadorship. He too belongs to what I have always called The Defiant Brigade.

There are more of them than you think. But like Omori, Musukuma and Kamana they died young.

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