‘We just get let down by our useless politicians’

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From threats, arrests and attempted demolition of their creative hub, Moto Republik, Magamba Network has seen the ugly side of the State’s repressive forces, yet they soldier on. It has been a long journey since they started in 2007 and they are celebrating a decade in the industry with a series of events. NewsDay Life & Style Reporter Kennedy Nyavaya (ND) caught up with Magamba Network co-founder Samm “Cde Fatso” Monro (CF) to get more insight into their work as well as his personal life. Below are excerpts of the interview.

By Kennedy Nyavaya

ND: Tell us about your journey at Magamba Network. Have you realised what you envisioned at the beginning?

CF: It has been a long, interesting and creative journey. Outspoken and I decided to set up Magamba to create a vehicle that could engage young people creatively and get them involved in the struggle for a new Zimbabwe.

We started off with a focus on hip-hop and spoken word, running Mashoko, which was popular at Mannenberg (old Jazz Club) and upcoming acts would perform there. Since then, we have grown in many different ways and added different forms of what we do, looking at cool new urban culture forms and new media.

ND: How did the name Magamba Network come by?

CF: You know, at that time, Zimbabwe was going through a political crisis, with the economy falling and we really felt that we needed a new generation of freedom fighters to creatively take our country forward.

I feel that Zanu PF had privatised the word magamba (heroes) and the idea that it is only them who had liberated the country and who could claim it. For us, it was like we, as the young people, are freedom fighters or magamba of today and we are out to build a new Zimbabwe when we can all thrive and prosper.

ND: Do you suppose you have had an impact in that regard, especially in view of what happened in November last year?

CF: The work we have been doing over the years has been very much focused on inspiring young people to be part of the change in their country, be it through activism or creating online content and speaking out.

I think you saw a lot of change in young people taking to the streets last year to say it’s enough, we have had enough of (former President Robert) Mugabe, as well as some mobilising in Africa Unity Square during the time of the coup.

Even before the coup happened, you had a lot of uprisings happening, including the hashtag movements the year before. What the coup did was to hijack the voice of the democratic forces, yet they used the military to solve an internal succession issue.

ND: But has that opened up space for you to speak out?

CF: Where we have got now, it seems there will be more space to operate. I think in urban areas, we have a bit more space to do things and I think it is because ED (President Emmerson Mnangagwa) is on his charm offensive, trying to show international observers we are open for business.

But this is not the Zimbabwe we fought for because if we are in a new Zimbabwe, why are we being led by a government made up of former military generals and some who participated in Gukurahundi? So we need to make sure that young people do go out there and vote for a new Zimbabwe.

ND: Briefly tell us about the help social media has been to your work?

CF: There has definitely been a major shift in the landscape from when we started, when social media was not a thing, and we would organise and connect with people manually.

Social media makes it easier to connect and I think we have seen that in the work of Magamba. It has radically increased the number of young people we can reach. Hopefully, that can translate to the number of young people we can inspire.

ND: Away from work, what are the simple things you enjoy doing?

CF: I like playing boozers football. I do a lot of sport. I like to also chill and relax when I can, as well as travelling within Zimbabwe. I always think it’s a great way to change your perspective and get you thinking differently from the hustle and bustle.

ND: And what is your typical day like?

CF: I wake up, come to Moto Republik, where I have my breakfast, seeing what the journalists are reporting locally and internationally. So, I always make sure I read the news first.

Then I get on top of what I have to do for the day and that often involves meetings with team members here on different events and activities and script writing involved.
In the afternoon, we could be shooting the episode, then I leave work for sport, which I enjoy doing in the evening.

ND: You have done a lot of comedy. Do you practice comedy or it just comes naturally?

CF: For me, it does come naturally. It is something I enjoy doing and it’s a creative release for me. I think as an artist, I started in spoken word and poetry when we started the poetry slam.

I really enjoy spoken word and we created a band, Chabvondoka, with the likes of Tendai Manatsa, and we did a lot of shows locally and internationally. More recently, I have had a lot of interest in comedy and political satire.

I have found that it is a great way in the ma1 (tough situation) and joke about it to make people laugh and think about it at the same time. For me, it’s personal and for the public. It’s about things people are seeing, but not speaking (about). By speaking truth to power, you are hopefully inspiring other young people to believe they can speak their mind and effect change.

ND: What has been your greatest inspiration?

CF: What inspires me is the country we are in, Zimbabwe. It’s my home, with such amazing potential and great people and we just get let down by our useless politicians.
Also by a lot of creative legends that have stood up for what they believe in and a culture of resistance, you know, your Dambudzo Marecheras, Thomas Mapfumos and Fela Kutis. I draw inspiration from them.

ND: Are you a family man and how does the family think about your work?

CF: I am definitely very close with my family. I do not have children, but if it’s with my wife and my brothers as well as my parents, I think it is very important to spend time with family. I’m best friends with my brothers.

We were brought up in a set up where all of us were involved in different types of social justice work. My parents were involved in different types of social justice work and human rights activism. My mother worked with street kids and disabled children, among others, so that is the space we grew up in.

ND: Have you ever feared that your family could be targeted by the authorities because of your work?

CF: Yes. I think we still live in a society where those in power feel they do not have to be accountable and that anything can happen without consequences.

They have tried to destroy Moto Republik, given us problems with Shoko Festival through to the Magamba TV project.

I think it shows that they are watching what we are producing and we have CIO [Central Intelligence Organisation] viewers in the Munhumutapa Building.

I think it’s something we have to be aware of, that we live in a State with limited freedom of expression and they come after you when they decide to. But if you know what you are doing is right, that’s where the inspiration to keep on going comes from.

ND: Some, especially within government ranks, have said you are donor-funded to abuse the government . . .

CF: I think what we have built with Magamba over the years is really an organic movement that brings together young creatives, activists and bloggers and change makers and if they thought we were a donor-funded fly-by-night thing, then how would we have gone on for 10 years? They obviously take us seriously with all the stuff they threw at us last year, we are here to stay.

ND: How have you survived over the years? Where is your funding coming from?

CF: We have got quite a diverse way of running Magamba. There is funding (and) we also get corporate support from events that we do like Shoko Festival. We have also been selling the rights of Zambezi News to DStv over the last few years.

ND: Would you say there has been appreciation for the work you do?

CF: Yes, I do. We see that through the positive feedback that we get through the videos that we post or Open Parly, as well as other events.

Even the positive feedback from people we meet, thanking us for being the voice and offering platforms that help grow the arts and generally a voice.

Of course, we also get a lot of appreciation from the State. They definitely watch us and follow us.

ND: What is the one thing that people do not know about Cde Fatso?

CF: What people do not know about Cde Fatso is that I am a damn good defender. I play centre-back, so if there are any strikers out there who can come at me defending, I will knock that ball out.

ND: And your parting shot?

CF: We have got a historic youth voter registration turnout in 2018. The fact that over 60% of the five million-plus who have registered to vote are young people gives us an opportunity to have our voices heard in the coming elections, so let’s get out there and vote and lets defend our vote.

The future of Zimbabwe is in our hands and I think as young people we need to be part of that change.