Chakaodza: A life of commitment

Bornwell Chakaodza (BC), the seasoned media practitioner who succumbed to cancer of the bowel last week, exhibited a profound commitment to attainment of better working environment for media workers in Zimbabwe.

It is this commitment to the welfare of workers in the media which drew him closer to the work of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ).

Chakaodza died at a private clinic in Harare on February 1 2012 aged 60.

While director of information in 1997 during Chen Chimutengwendes term as Information, Posts and Telecommunications minister, Chakaodza was able to mediate in and resolve a long-running strike by workers at Zimpapers, publishers of The Herald, The Sunday Mail, The Chronicle, The Sunday News and The Manica Post.

As a result of his intervention some workers at The Chronicle, for example, received increases of as much as 300%.

When he was appointed editor of The Herald in 1998 and subsequently managing director of Zimpapers newspaper division the following year, Chakaodza promoted the idea of incentives for workers through introduction of a profit-sharing scheme and bonuses.

While at Zimpapers Chakaodza championed empowerment of media workers. For example, the empowerment resulted in the recognition of Ruth Butaumocho, Victoria Ruzvidzo, Catherine Mauyakufa, Ropafadzo Maphimhidze and Ivy Ncube among others.

Ncube went on to become one of the best writers on issues of health and HIV and Aids in particular. When I last spoke to her she had gone regional.

Chakaodzas commitment to recognise women was in part moulded by his upbringing. He used to tell colleagues that after the death of their father it was left to their mother to successfully raise her five children.

Chakaodza was also concerned that media workers should enjoy better living conditions.

When ZUJ secured housing stands of up to 4 000 square metres (one acre) each in Norton for its members, Chakaodza was quick to realise the obstacles many of the ZUJ members would encounter in raising the required deposit to secure the stands.

He negotiated with the Zimpapers pension fund to assist. The amounts were to be deducted from the workers salaries. About 180 workers benefited from the Norton housing scheme. Chakaodza did the same for 21 other ZUJ members offered stands in Ashdown Park.

When Ropafadzo Maphimhidze and Sam Munyavi, a former features and supplements editor at The Herald, who is working in the United Kingdom, nearly lost their houses in Tynwald North because someone at Zimpapers had forgotten to submit their forms, Chakaodza took up the matter and ensured the forms were duly submitted and today the two are proud home owners.

He demonstrated that he could be a true friend, a brother and colleague.

Chakaodza was such a down-to-earth person. He always came on the side of the underdog. For example, he took a deliberate decision to employ a young journalist with disability against the advice of his male colleagues. He declared that no person with a disability in the newsroom would suffer at the hands of colleagues who were insensitive.

Chakaodza was caring, even to his own detriment. Chakaodza travelled 510km to attend Freedom Moyos burial in Esigodini, even though his health continued to deteriorate.

He did so unaware that only days later his time would be up. The last two columns he wrote for The Financial Gazette were penned from his hospital bed. Such was his drive and determination.

His role at ZUJ and the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), where he was vice-chairperson, intersected, demonstrating his interest in strengthening and improving the capacity of journalists. He was vice-chairperson of the VMCZs media complaints committee.

He would happily volunteer to be part of the VMCZ teams criss-crossing the country even though he clearly was unwell. He kept going on until the very end.

Chakaodza is the third loss the Zimbabwean media fraternity has suffered inside a month. First it was Freedom Moyo, then Makuwerere Bwititi and now BC as he was affectionately known in media circles.

The lasting image I have of BC is of someone who marvelled at explanations wide-eyed usually followed by mirthful laughter and his trademark retort: Precisely, precisely my brother.

The system can be very cruel. Chakaodza defended the establishment robustly during his term as director of information, but once he was out of the government he trained his critical eye on its short comings. The system, however, does not forget. The system does not forgive.

For the media, this has been a devastating start to 2012.

Chakaodza is survived by his wife Elle, four children, Gordon, twins Nashville and Natasha and Bornwell (Jr). He had one grandchild.

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