Freedom can make you a crook, a pauper!

HARARE - For a number of Africans, the day their countries achieved freedom turned into one long nightmare.

For others, it turned into paradise. They made obscene fortunes — left, right and centre. Most died of diseases related to obesity.

Still for others, freedom meant being shackled into poverty…for an eternity. Yet there were those contented with what they had.

For others, the land of milk and honey they had been promised turned to be rotten meat. Even the stray dogs would not touch it.

One Zambian, a freedom fighter and intellectual had mesmerised audiences with his fluent OxBridge English accent. One Independence Day, October 24, was a humiliation, though.

He was walking to the stadium in Lusaka. A journalist he remembered from his halcyon days offered him a lift in his car — not as posh as the one he had driven in his days as a cabinet minister, but a beautiful monster nonetheless.

They recognised each other instantly. “You are walking to the stadium?” asked the journalist.

“How perceptive of you, sir!” the man replied humbly.

The conversation ended. The journalist would not remind the man of his firing, and how he was now on his suppers.

The man had fought for his country and served it, until something went awfully wrong.

To this day, I have no idea how he ended up — buried in an obscure grave in Lusaka’s Matero high density suburb, or in his village in the outback?

There was no large-scale liberation war in Zambia. But people died, not on the scale of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. But they died.

At independence, this man had been rewarded with a Cabinet post.  Years later, he lost the plot.  He did turn up for work. What did he do? In fact, people at the top asked: What does he do?

In the end, they released him. Yet, even how thoroughly soused he was, he would  remember Independence Day.

For me, Zambia’s independence was an unforgettable experience. I arrived in 1963 to work as a journalist.

But by 1975, I was spectacularly fired, not through a routine polite letter from the managing director.

I was fired by the President of the Republic in 1975.  I had become deputy editor-in-chief of Times Newspapers, now owned by the government, after independence in 1964.

The story received worldwide coverage: an African president had just fired a senior editor, another African.

It was an amazing story. Did a president routinely fire a senior journalist, even one working for the government?

Over the years, I have learnt to be rational about that episode. I spent more than a year without a job. I was reinstated in 1977. In 1980, after Zimbabwe’s independence, I was persuaded to return to the country of my birth.

I have written elsewhere about working as a journalist, beginning under such illustrious scribes as Lawrence Vambe, Nathan Shamuyarira, Kelvin Mlenga and Richard Hall.

I doubt that journalists will ever have a decent time in Africa. In South Africa, there will soon have a law to bar journalists from writing on certain security matters. If they dare to, it could be the jail for them.

There are similar laws for Zimbabwean journalists. In 2001, I was one of four journalists locked up for breaking such a law.

There is no chance I’ll give up journalism, because of such laws. I’ve been at it for too long to give it up now.

What else would I do? Sell airtime? Become a politician? Not on your life!

    Comments (1)

    Bill, you could campaign for political office. You'd be surprised how many Zimbos would vote for a candid person like you.Your newspaper articles of old were and will always be the best!

    Johno - 31 October 2014

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