HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsSaturday dialogue: Women journalists suffer in silence

Saturday dialogue: Women journalists suffer in silence

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The raging sparing over Jonathan Moyo’s assault on the private media has rekindled memories of events that resulted in the suffering of hundreds of journalists, particularly the womenfolk, who were left homeless after losing their jobs in the media.

So ruthless, and heartless, was the purge that many female journalists succumbed to chronic stress disorders.

I also know of male journalists that got so depressed they died. Elliot Mahende is one journalist that comes to mind who was reduced to a cobbler. He died a pauper.

Norman Tirivavi, a committed and patriotic journalist, was booted out of his job and suffered a stroke years later probably from stress related to his downfall.
The list is endless.

However, the pain and suffering of women journalists hardly got any space in the media and this is mainly because many moved to public relations work or left the country to do menial jobs in overseas countries.
The majority suffered in silence.

Some broadcasters like Brenda Moyo, Praxedes Jeremiah and Caroline Gombakomba started freelancing for Voice of America because, like everybody else, they had to eke a living and raise their children.

They eventually had to go to the United States of America as it was becoming dangerous to report from Zimbabwe.

Gombakomba unfortunately passed on in the US a couple of years ago, but her body could not be buried in Zimbabwe as she had been allegedly declared an enemy of the State.

Most of these women are single parents in their own right and with no alternative employment; they had to do something to ensure their children received a decent education and to also take care of their extended families.

These veteran women broadcasters, news readers and presenters of programmes had worked at the then Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) for a better part of their lives.

So where else could they have been accepted as broadcasters when all roads to freeing the airwaves were sealed?

The women I am talking about are nationalists and flag-wavers in the true sense of the word. We would argue about national events and how best we could air or publish them in the newspapers.

We were proud journalists that placed ethics high up on our day-to-day agenda.

But just like them, I too was labelled a double agent, a member of the opposition party and many other accusations that were so ridiculous.

That is when I realised that journalism in Zimbabwe was no longer a matter of ethics.

Some notorious woman from the Ministry of Information once called me and said: “Ropafadzo, I know that most of you people working in that newsroom are members of the MDC.

Tichakudzingai mese ikoko manje manje (We will fire everyone there very soon because you are members of the opposition party).”

You could feel the vibrations of uncertainty and a dark cloud that continuously hovered over us. The message was so strong and I knew what that meant.

I had to make my way out before I was rendered jobless.

There was a deliberate move to rid the “old guard” because this group of people could not be indoctrinated into writing propaganda.

I never really wanted to leave State media, but events around that time were such that if I did not, I would collapse from either stroke or diabetes due to constant worry.

Edna Machirori, the first woman to become editor of a newspaper in the Zimbabwe Newspapers stable, was once described as a “stupid, old woman” and that she was confused because of the onset of menopause.

Such abuses became a pastime to mock women journalists using such insensitive words.

So frustrating it was for women that one of them, Pina Mweemba, a veteran Tonga broadcaster, became so unhappy after losing her job with Radio Zimbabwe. She died and left two young children.

Sandra Nyaira, a political writer of the defunct Daily News, was hounded out of the country when the newspaper was shut.

She fled to the United Kingdom where she initially did odd jobs in the care work sector. The State media in Zimbabwe ridiculed her, describing her as a BBC (British Bum Cleaner).

But surely what alternative job could she have in the UK? And how was she going to fend for her ailing mother who suffered life-threatening chronic conditions?

Violet Gonda of SW Radio was also described as a traitor and so did the many women broadcasters who now grace Voice of America in the United States of America.

The manner in which journalists were psychologically abused has no doubt cast a permanent stone in their lives. So much talent lies idle and yet these experienced journalists can add value to and close the gaps that are so glaring in these news media organisations.

I heard one journalist say recently: “How do you forgive someone who kicks you out of a job and expects you to live in Zimbabwe where there are no prospects of ever joining the only electronic media? I am in America not because it is the best of places to be. But then what has Zimbabwe got to offer me in terms of broadcasting?”

Good question.

I personally never had any personal encounter with Professor Jonathan Moyo, but I would like to let him know that I was panic-stricken, scared, and anxious during his tenure as junior minister of Information.

I, however, remain a proud child of the soil, daughter of a prominent Buhera war veteran who fought for the liberation of this country and a supporter of a vibrant media space that gives women a voice.

The approximately 500 employees from the ZBC that were dismissed in an operation code-named “Vision 30” in 2002 was the worst era in Zimbabwe’s news media history.

That was tragic.

Feedback: rmapimhidze@newsday.co.zw

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