Abigail Gamanya: Life on the battlefront, victory in death

Abigail Gamanya

THERE simply was no chance of one missing the unassuming presence of media personality Abigail Gamanya, even from a distance. The choice between liking and disliking her at first glance was relatively thin. It was definitely easy to misjudge towering characters in her mold, with no sense of fear of anyone and a relatively loose tongue.   I am generally one person never short or at loss for words. But in Amai Ruvarashe or Sis Abie as I would affectionately call her, I found my match. The setting was a boardroom and in typical civic society style invitees to a planned meeting were trickling in slowly.  Everyone wants to get into the meeting at its crux after the usual pleasantries.   As is the case in such moments, meetings fail to kick off for lack of a quorum.

Small talk became the order of the day — from the difficult operating environment, personal developments, politics and latest news within the sector. It was those rare occasions that I had made a meeting on time, when colleagues broke the ‘trending’ development in the sector. 

The return of Abigail

Well, I had never met her in person but had interacted with her works and had heard lots of stories about her.  The good, bad and ugly.  There had been lots of unproven gossip on her personal life, something she was to push back and fight as a barrier to the emancipation of women in the media sector.

The hot news though was that she had left the Prime Minister’s Office, which had been established to accommodate the late Morgan Tsvangirai’s work in government in a SADC-brokered power sharing deal. Abigail was returning to her roots in the media civic space assuming her previous role as coordinator of the Federation of African Media Women Zimbabwe (FAMWZ). 

As discussions were unfolding, we began to hear bouts of laughter emerging from the other offices.  A beautiful towering lady had entered the scene greeting every person, including those she wasn’t familiar with. Then came my turn as we immediately exchanged eye contact.  In her soft but firm voice, she exchanged her trademark “hi guys” pleasantries with everyone in the room as she stared at me.  “Who is this one?” she quipped.   I was rattled.  But like I normally do in such circumstances, I burst into a loud laugh and responded by twisting facts a little.  ”My name is Nigel.  I know you.  I am sure we have met somewhere.”  She didn’t bother to respond to the obvious pick-up line.  If her first line and body language seemed to be a direct attack, the second was a knock-out punch.

“Aaah hoo ndiwe Nigel wacho.  Ndaifunga kuti hameno munhu akangwara.”  To paraphrase, she didn’t expect to see a dull person but a more streetwise one.  I was taken aback and left speechless. 

But that was to be the beginning of a professional partnership that later upgraded to friendship and ultimately family.   What was to follow was a whirl wide tour across the length and breadth of the country on a shoe-string budget but with an important message that journalists had to internalise.  It was a campaign against sexual harassment in the media that was being jointly implemented by FAMWZ (which she later branded Gender and Media Connect) and the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) where I was serving at the time.   It was such a remarkable experience that would see us board a chicken bus from Mutare to Masvingo. I wasn’t particularly in a good space but the way Abigail made me feel comfortable and providing me with survival tips on such journeys made the whole trip memorable and drew us closer.   Moments of that nature brought the best out of Abigail who was also overly protective of not only female journalists but also youths.    As a veteran journalist who had seen it all she felt a moral obligation to take the young under her wings and mentor them.  She had this awesome tact of having everyone, once in her inner circle feel comfortable to share even the deepest intricacies of their lives.  Sis Abie would identify talent, nurture the raw diamond and place persons according to their gifting even if it would come with bruises. 

But again, one wouldn’t dare mistake her otherwise big heart as basis of taking advantage of her or compromising her work ethic and path.  The iron lady in her would spring out and all hell would break loose.

Nigel Nyamutumbu is media development practitioner, currently coordinating a network of nine media professional associations and support organizations, the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ).  He can be contacted on [email protected] or +263 772 501 557

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