Last of my Wise Men gone…

HARARE - As a journalist, I have always wondered how my career would have gone if Nathan Shamuyarira had offered me a job in the Ministry of Information in 1980.

“I’m sure we can fit you somewhere” had been his response to my inquiry by telephone from Ndola.

A raging inferno had been lit under my bottom with President Kenneth Kaunda saying publicly that he wondered why I didn’t “go back to his (my) country”.

I was then working for Times Newspapers as deputy editor-in-chief.

That formerly Argus-owned company had been taken over by Kaunda’s government a few years after independence in 1964.

I had joined them in 1969 as their chief reporter in Livingstone.
Shamuyarira and I had known each other since 1957, when I joined The African Daily News as a cadet reporter in Salisbury. 

He was my editor and an inspiration. I had always included him among The Three Wise Men who had guided my career.

The others were Kelvin Mlenga and Richard Hall, deputy editor and editor respectively of The Central African Mail, a weekly published in Lusaka, Zambia.

It was pro-African-independence and anti-Federation (of Rhodesia and Nyasaland).

They had invited me to join them from Salisbury in 1963.

For me, the three men constituted a sort of “Three Wise Men” guardianship which “someone up here” had designated to guide my career in journalism.

In Lusaka, my career, under the aegis of Mlenga and Hall, blossomed beyond my wildest dreams.

If I had remained  in Southern Rhodesia, I doubt I would have succeeded as sensationally as I did in Zambia.

My stay there  enabled me to visit most parts of the world and to forge a niche as a short-story writer and novelist. 

All three men have left the scene, but their legacies in the field of journalism remain intact. Two of them were pummelled all over by the forces of political intolerance until they quit.

Both Mlenga and Hall may have been able to live much longer had they been allowed to continue before their careers were guillotined by the intolerance of dissent.

It’s of dubious value to argue that Shamuyarira, who quit journalism for politics, “prospered” as a result of that transition.

As a journalist, he was a peerless believer in “balance”, giving each side in an argument a chance to be heard and published.

I saw an example of this in person in the 1958 elections in Southern Rhodesia, in which Shamuyarira’s newspaper, The African Daily News, campaigned openly for R S Garfield Todd’s party, the United Rhodesia Party, against the United Federal Party of Edgar Whitehead and the Dominion Party of Winston Field.

I covered a meeting of Field’s party in Hatfield and was the only African there.

It was scary for a while, but I soon realised why nobody would attack me: I was an African reporter covering an all-white meeting of a party which had little time for Africans. 

There was something romantic about my presence, they must have decided. Africans could not vote then.

Whitehead beat Garfield Todd, triggering the 1959 state of emergency, which led to the start of the struggled against white rule.
For me, covering the DP meeting was a journalism lesson of tremendous significance.

I was disappointed that, as minister of Information, Shamuyarira would not encourage the “balance” he had displayed in 1958. But I have long forgiven him.

He was a politician, not a journalist. The two can be as different as black and white. Bill Saidi

Comments (2)

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GALLERYCARTRIDGES - 14 June 2014

"I was disappointed that, as minister of Information, Shamuyarira would not encourage the “balance” he had displayed in 1958. But I have long forgiven him," said Bill Saidi. "He was a politician, not a journalist. The two can be as different as black and white." Saidi, we are talking here of the man who was the father, no more than Mugabe himself, of the system that has denied Zimbabwe their basic right to freedom of expression and a free press and all you have to say to that is that he "was a politician not a journalist"! What a feeble excuse. Coming from someone who should under-stand the importance of these basic right and freedom to a healthy and functioning democracy that is downright stupid! Shamuyarira died a pauper and so will millions of our people because of the 34 years of misrule by Mugabe and Zanu PF. One can only hope that in the late after-noon of his life, hungry and cold, people like Shamuyarira finally realised they destruction the Zanu PF dictatorship had caused over the years. And had hours to regret their role in having created this monster! Shamuyarira "a wise man"! Why is the wisdom in creating a monster that has destroyed the nation's hopes and dreams of peace and prosperity including his own hopes and dreams!

Wilbert Mukori - 15 June 2014

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