HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsChakaodza: A life marked by sincerity

Chakaodza: A life marked by sincerity

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The journalistic circle in Zimbabwe is very small. Almost everyone knows everyone because of the limited media space where there is one TV channel and radio broadcaster where the State holds sway.

That is how I came to know Bornwell Chakaodza, who died this week of cancer.

Chakaodza travelled the whole road in the media landscape in Zimbabwe. He started as an insider and ended as an outsider, from being a staunch supporter of the system to a stern critic.

He reflected the high hopes of a newly-independent Zimbabwe, but at the end became the voice of the voiceless and downtrodden majority as our erstwhile liberators became hardly distinguishable from our former oppressors.

Soon after independence, Chakaodza rose to prominence as an incisive panellist on TV discussion programmes about political and socio-economic issues of the day. His stutter did not get in the way as he was so articulate.

Yes, he would stammer, but still drove his point home. It became clear that he was both a thinker and activist.

This was during the time of the Cold War and Zimbabwe was naturally inclined to the East having been aided by that bloc militarily and politically during the liberation struggle. Chakaodza had a firm grasp of the prevailing issues.

Yes, Zanu PF chooses commentators who affirm their own convictions and position, but there was always an independent streak in Chakaodza, not necessarily loudly so, but it was detectable even then.

Thats why he never used stale arguments like Vimbai Chivaura and Co in their interminably boring TV slots for the past 10 years, the latest being the self-importantly titled Zvavanhu, where there is hardly any discussion at all as the next speaker will be merely endorsing what the previous speaker would have said, reinforcing each others perspectives, not adding any value at all to the discussion.

In sharp contrast, during Chakaodzas time, he would fire questions and force answers from a reluctant minister. ZTV panel discussions were watchable, unlike today.

So, its not surprising that Chakaodza, because of his grasp of issues and quick wit, was eventually plucked by the government in 1993 to become Director of Information. Naturally as Director of Information, Chakaodza came out strongly in defence of the government (read: ruling party, that is Zanu PF) and in the process had legendary clashes with the private media.

He could get angry, but without being necessarily insulting except on one or two occasions that I remember. Because of this combativeness, he was then appointed editor of the State-run Herald in 1998 in the mistaken or misguided belief that the previous editorial team had failed to articulate Zanu PFs wishes and demands like a bad carpenter blaming his tools.

This was at a time of rising political polarisation in the country as a strong, formidable and determined opposition rose in the form of the MDC. State media journalists from ZBC to Zimpapers became scapegoats for Zanu PFs waning popularity.

I think Chakaodza genuinely believed he could turn it all around, but like his predecessors, this was not to be. And like his predecessors, the powers-that-be soon turned on him, interfering at will for him to publish favourable stories about them not matter how far-fetched.

He then saw the falsity and emptiness of it all and resisted until he was abruptly dismissed. His editorials criticising political thuggery and Zanu PFs use of the race card against whites sealed his fate.

It is with this in mind that we, in the private media, are well aware that our colleagues in the State media are made to do things they dont want to do, such as lie and exaggerate, the latest being the complete fabrication published in The Herald last month about private media editors having been bribed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to give him positive coverage.

We have been down that road before thats why we still have respect for most of our colleagues in the State media and socialise with them.

I also dont think Chakaodza had a pre-determined political agenda thats why he effortlessly fitted into the private media soon after he was fired from the State media, a polar opposite.

Chakaodza also had a personal touch. At Zimpapers, where I was privileged to meet and know him in person, he made acquaintances across departments and at all levels from accounts to transport, from messenger to manager.

He understood the synergies between all the departments unlike some editors who think everything happens in the newsroom whereas the advertisement and circulation departments, to mention just two, are equally important links in the chain of operations for a media company to survive and thrive.

Chakaodza was refreshingly down-to-earth and blunt. He didnt have an exaggerated notion of himself as an individual or editor. He was never one to strut around majestically to assert his status.

In fact, he was an activist editor. He saw that it was not incompatible for him to run and represent the newsroom; that it was not subversive to be both boss and part of the team.

Later after I left Zimpapers, Chakaodza could spot you anywhere in town, call you and instantly engage you in discussion totally oblivious of other goings-on and passersby would stop, stare and marvel that this most public of public figures was totally without airs.

I last spoke to Chakaodza in downtown Harare last December when he typically beckoned me to where he was. He was clearly ill, but that didnt stop that twinkle in his eye and love for lively discussion. We chatted for five minutes or so, as this intellectual giant generously complimented me for this column. I felt both humbled and great.

To quote South African political scientist Steven Friedman: There is no such thing as an objective commentator, but it is important to be independent . . . we are not there to confirm people in power and their prejudices. Yes, Chakaodza was independent-minded and did not have sacred cows.

When facts change, I change, seemed to be Chakaodzas dictum; he genuinely changed without flip-flopping.

Rest in peace, dear and sincere brother.

ctutani@newsday.co.zw

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