Voices from the Acre

HARARE - Not having attended any of the crucial sessions of the last congress in Harare, I had to rely on despatches from reporters and correspondents. But I also thought back to veterans of such confabs and tapped into the minds of two of them.

Now, I know some people will doubt that these two can be relied upon to provide first-class information on such palavers. But, believe you me, these are not ordinary people, as they know as much about the party as anyone alive can.

You will have surmised that, in choosing these two, I was careful to satisfy myself that they are absolutely reliable, capable of dissecting any complex analysis and laying bare its meaning in language even the simple-minded would understand.

Moreover, these are two people long schooled in politics and, much more essential, seasoned journalists whose talent for unfolding the seemingly intractable is enormous.

By the way, these two are interred at the Heroes Acre in Harare. Their presence there is of enormous significance, for not only were they political heroes of a certain significance, but their professions as journalists of the first water places them in a position of such significance that no-one can dismiss them out of hand.

Willie Musarurwa and Nathan Shamuyarira were known to me from 1957, until they died, the first in the 1990s, the second only this year.

Before that they had been pioneers in the newspaper business, which began at African Newspapers, where Musarurwa was editor of The African Weekly, before Shamuyarira weighed in as editor of The African Daily News.

Of enormous significance for me is that the two men went into politics after the political atmosphere in what was then Southern Rhodesia sizzled into what became the liberation war in which 40 000 people perished in a 15-year-old conflict.

After independence, the three of us were back in the country, one a cabinet minister, the other a former politician-turned journalist, and the third still a journalist.

I was, at the time, Assistant to the editor of The Herald, Robin Drew.

Robert Mugabe’s new government had taken over the newspaper company previously owned by the Argus group of South Africa.

One urgent matter was the replacement of the editor of The Sunday Mail by a Zimbabwean. Shamuyarira was the new minister of Information and the matter seemed to have been settled that Musarurwa would be the man for that job.

But George Capon, managing director of the company, and Drew himself, had other ideas. I had become acquainted with the two men during meetings of the Commonwealth Press Union.

I had mentioned to them I would be interested in a job at their company.

By the time we met in Harare, they had decided my name would be put forward as new editor of The Sunday Mail. I wasn’t certain if they were aware that Musarurwa was a “certainty” for the job.

When I saw Willie go into Shamuyarira’s office, I was satisfied the game was over. What remained for me was a job as editor of The Sunday News in Bulawayo.

Musarurwa’s tenure as editor ended rather abruptly, with a denunciation by Mugabe which was highly explosive. But he was declared a national hero after he died in a mysterious “poisoning” incident at a hotel in Harare. But what we all now know is that Musarurwa’s editorship of The Sunday Mail was award-winning, in a manner that might not win medals in the ordinary scheme of the profession.

But in the realm of gutsy journalism, he scored significantly. No editor, so far, has outdone him in that respect.

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