BY NOAH POMO
I WOKE up on Monday 20 to the news that Raymond Muzambiringawezvokwadi Matikinye had collapsed and died at his home in Bulawayo on April 19, a few hours after another veteran journalist, Gift Phiri, had passed on in hospital in Harare.
It is the easiest thing in the world to claim mutual fondness with the deceased. They are not there to deny it, after all. But for posterity I write. For closure.
His arrival at Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), 55 Trustee House, was a breath of fresh air. He worked closely on the features desk with the now late, but equally loved Sam Munyavi.
“Laughing It Off With Baba Bruce” was Sam’s legendary column in the Sunday Mail Magazine. To say it was popular is an understatement. His reading glasses perched precariously on his nose. What I recall the most from this visit to Zimpapers was the row of typewriters and their operators in the mid-1990s. Sam was one such specialist.
A couple of years later Sam moved to ANZ, the move was fraught with its own challenges. Landed recently at ANZ were green eMac computers with 500MB memory, an equally miserly RAM for US$1 000 each. From centuries of the typewriting era, this was a big jump. No information technology (IT) department. No support. Nothing. Sam and Ray were to unite and form the features’ desk. Granted, by 1999, computers were already in wide use, but typists manned these on behalf of journalists. At the turn of the millennium, writers found themselves on their own work station. Teething problems were not uncommon.
At 22, I gave up on figuring out typewriters. I grasped new technology comparatively faster than my erstwhile friends as is normal for the young. I was the youngest in the building. My peers in editorial were Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi and Eugenia Mauluka being mentored by the late John Mauluka, the esteemed photographer. They spent their day in the field.
The best editors write editorial comments, commission and edit stories at times re-writing them or re-configuring whole pages, in their stride, until the novice, who wrote initially, realises he deserves a raise, perhaps a promotion while we are at it, after inspecting his edited work. The editors’ input can’t be quantified.
My unofficial job in 1999, though, was to solve potentially embarrassing IT problems for the likes of Bill Saidi, Leo Hatugari. Thomas Deve was soon put in charge of IT. Admitting defeat and accepting assistance from IT was too humbling for the typewriter specialists in the operating system era. Inviting a 22-year-old, sharing jokes, correcting my English was mutually beneficial for our walking encyclopedias. They indulged me while busy editing and writing editorials that were consumed by 100 000 readers on average, and a peak of 120 000.
A few humbling computerised moments for experienced hacks did not mean they were mugs. They knew their work, alright. Between Geoff Nyarota, Davison Maruziva, Saidi (the late), Leo Hatugari (the late) and others they could stitch classic editorial comments seven days a week, all year round, only rising in standard. Not all of them had computer challenges. Certainly, the remainder improved. Education at the feet of these men could not be bought with money. Or sold, either!
Most of that generation are dead.
Ray was humble. He had a thorough command of English, human nature and a keen sense of humour. Features, was his area of expertise. He laughed through crisis, kuseka nhamo kunge rugare, as they say in Shona. His best years were punctuated by the peak of crises in the economy, the media and the company. He laughed though it all.
Ray wore glasses and was forever clean shaven. His family stayed in Bulawayo. Through the perils of practising journalism, he raised his family. As one of his sons entered school it was a proud moment. And yet through company-induced austerity measures one had to soldier on, at times for months without payment. Twice the Daily News was bombed. The presses were smashed. They were replaced with much financial deprivation to the workforce, a sacrifice perpetually ignored.
His confessed anxiety was always to hear from his children. If you asked: “Ray, how are your children?” The sardonic answer: “I have not heard from them, so they must be okay!” Same joke. Same laugh. He would later become a proud grandfather.
He retold a chat he overheard between his two small children in a loud whisper: “Shhhh! Don’t tell anybody. I overhead that Daddy’s name is Ray!” Media people have the weight of the world on their shoulders, but their families are never far from their minds. The pressure for the scoop has its own terrors. And in the middle of one of the greatest stories of the century, COVID-19, he died.
Our sentimental newsroom is being dismantled, person by person, by causes premature and at times natural. Sadly, Ray has died during a time of rigid social distancing. This will deny him the decent burial that was our only universal guarantee, but his memory lives on un-isolated. One of the most loved media personalities in Zimbabwe media history as much for his personality as his work.
Ray was a prolific writer of features, the stuff in the middle of a newspaper that makes you buy papers again tomorrow. He wrote for posterity, defined our existence, probed our conscience, tickled our fancy and reminded us of our absurdity. Lest we forget. His job was not just to remind us what happened, but how we felt about it then and why. In reviewing his published work online it’s easy to see he was a great success in fulfilling his job description.
A husband, father, friend, workmate, but lately also, a proud grandfather.
In terms of one liners and turn of phrase few came close.
We are given to glorifying the dead, unwisely at times. But the clamour for this man is real.
Sad was the nature of his departure from ANZ as was the departure of so many before and after him. Perhaps there are lessons for us to honour or at least respect those who installed the presses, in their lifetime. Journalism tends to devour its own children. The legacy of Muzambiringa, his given middle name, will live on. We just endure the fallout.
Eternally young at heart, Matikinye died 68 years young, an adoring father of four, husband to Christine and grandfather of six.
He departed with immense institutional memory and an impressive turn of phrase. A hard-working father, he let fatherly compassion influence his approach when dealing with younger workmates. Never once in our association was I ever warned to ‘mind the gap,’ being 26 years younger than my departed friend.
On behalf of his friends, I want to thank his family for nursing his dignified retirement ended prematurely in its third year, for their efforts to revive him and tending to his burial in the straits of isolation times.
He will be missed by more than just his cherished family, especially those who simply called him Ray. Even at 68.