As The Standard turns 20 this month, we have found it worthwhile to honour one of its first editors, the late Bornwell Chakaodza by dedicating this space to his memory for the next 12 months. Various writers shall have their opinion pieces published on this space which shall be renamed; The Bornwell Chakaodza Column. The inaugural article on this column shall be an orbituary of this late great man who has left a legacy as an excellent writer, a media tutor and editor of repute.
the bornwell chakaodza column BY MATHEW TAKAONA
My first presence at an International Press Freedom Day commemoration was in 1994. I barely knew what this event was all about, its importance or origin. The role of a free Press was to me still the theoretical knowledge obtained from the school of journalism.
The venue was an open space at Crowne Plaza, then Monomotapa Hotel, and there were several speeches that really incited nothing in me.
Bornwell Chakaodza, one of the guests at a gathering barely numbering 30, was invited to make closing remarks and that part I still remember vividly.
In an impish way and with his trademark stutter that many journalists would mimic out of admiration, he concluded by saying: “La-ladies and gentleman, let’s make love,” and then made a long pause that gripped his audience and then ended “and not war”.
There was rapturous laughter at the mischief of this man and some would still talk about the incident 18 years later at his burial early this year.
I observed as the years went by that Bornwell would never miss the annual Press Freedom commemorations. Two other regular faces have been those of veteran journalists Bill Saidi and Iden Wetherell, who like Chakaodza, bear scars from a media environment that can sometimes be inhumanely hostile.
I must confess that I did not miss Press Freedom Day commemorations myself because as chairperson of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) Zimpapers branch from 1995 and then president of the Union from 1997 up to 2010, I became obligated.
What boggled my mind was Chakaodza’s religious attendence. Why was he always there when, important as he was, he could have been doing better things for himself elsewhere?
Bornwell had an extraordinary CV; the most impressive from the media I have ever set my eyes on. This is one reason why I pestered him to apply for appointment as a commissioner with the Zimbabwe Media Commission when Parliament made invitations in 2009. I genuinely believed that his experience would make a difference.
He occupied senior positions at different times during his life; he was a journalist with The Herald in the late ’70s, a journalism lecturer, a researcher at the Zimbabwe Institute of Development, a renowned media consultant, a director of information who reported directly to President Robert Mugabe, Zanu PF provincial secretary for publicity (Mashonaland Central), editor-in-chief of The Herald and then The Standard and deputy chairman of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe and whichever position he held, he would still be there for May 3.
Last year, he attended a Press Freedom Day function organised by the Zimbabwe Media Commission. I am not sure if the Commission is organising one this year, but if it does and had Chakaodza still been alive then, we would be sure to be with him there.
I worked with Chakaodza throughout my entire journalism career, as his student, as ZUJ president when he was director of information, as a senior reporter at Zimpapers when he was editor-in-chief, as the chief consultant for ZUJ when I was president, as a moderator of most media functions I attended whether by ZUJ, Misa [Media Institute of Southern Africa], MAZ [Media Alliance of Zimbabwe] or the non-governmental organisation community and as the chief judge of the National Journalistic and Media Awards.
After working with him for such a long time, I did not only feel a strong obligation to give testimony on this great Zimbabwean’s life, but to do something for posterity. I found no better time for the obituary than his big day, the United Nations Press Freedom Day.
Captains of industry, including Alpha Media Holdings’ chief executive officer Raphael Khumalo, Modus Publications chief executive officer Jacob Chisese and veteran journalist and former Standard editor Davison Maruziva independently shared my sentiments on the need to honour Chakaodza.
All three men extensively worked with him in different media organisations both at the same and different times.
It is a noble idea that the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe and Misa have decided to honour Chakaodza with the Bornwell Memorial Lecture to be held on Press Freedom Day every year. However, this must be deepened by not only looking at the legacy that he left behind, but be furnished with work of other outstanding journalists whose selfless service was to the people of Zimbabwe first before anything else.
I first knew Chakaodza when he was journalism lecturer at a local college in 1990.
During that time, he was also a key panellist on ZTV’’s primetime current affairs programme — The Nation — undoubtedly one of the best current affairs programmes to come out of Zimbabwe. The moderator of The Nation was Godfrey Majonga, a brilliant young journalist then and now chairman at the Zimbabwe Media Commission.
Chakaodza endeared himself to viewers because of his hard questions, precise analysis and roasting of interviewees comprising mostly Cabinet ministers and captains of industry. Leaders were exposed on this programme. Nothing of the sort ever happened again on ZTV after the programme was stopped a few years later.
“Cde Ka-kangai, what do you thi-think of these mealie meal shortages? A-a are you-u serious you know what people are going through? A-are you s-serious you queue for meal-mealie yourself? Oh, you wanted to say it is your wife who goes into queues, can that be true Minister? Oh! your wife, standing in a queue for mealie meal?”
This is one interview that former minister Kumbirai Kangai would probably want to forget in a huff when he inadvertently said on the programme that he also personally queued for food during food shortages of the late ’80s.
When Bornwell pressed further, Kangai changed and said it was actually his wife who queued and a further query on that left the minister stammering.
Chakaodza could not survive employment in the media, particularly the state media. He was a journalist who would not take orders from politicians. His conscience was his master and it must have been for this reason that he could not take to politics despite invitations. He was against media ownership and control by the government despite that he was once the highest civil servant in charge of the media when he was director of information in the late ’90s.
He always said when politicians took control of the media, they did it for personal interests and not for the people.
Chakaodza, a charismatic and articulate journalist enjoyed immense respect but the powerful loathed him hence the publication of a derisive series of full page articles against him in the state media when it was announced that he was being appointed editor of The Standard. The attack on his person was unwarranted, unprecedented and shocking.
A week before he was dismissed from Zimpapers; he told me he had held a meeting with then Information minister Jonathan Moyo late into the night. Moyo disapproved his editorial stance and Chakaodza could see that his dismissal was just a matter of time.
“Munin’ina [young brother], so be it”, he ended the conversation.
Chakaodza had children to look after; I knew it as much as he did. He had a lifestyle to maintain. He was a very educated man and one of the best journalists in the country but at the stroke of a pen he was condemned to a life of near-destitution and no one gave a damn about that.
He took the dismissal in his stride.
This was not the only story of unfair dismissal of the time and neither was it the most touching, there were hundreds other journalists and media workers whose careers were shattered at the stroke of a pen. Young families of journalists just starting broke down, journalists and thousands of media workers became destitute and tens others died from stress.
This story may never be properly recorded but it should because those who saw the pain, suffering, hopelessness, dejection and condemnation of professionals to second citizens and menial workers in foreign lands would not want to see a repeat of such in a country so rich in resources.
Thousands never recovered after this media purge and thousands never came back to Zimbabwe, even when political and economic stability glittered at the end of the tunnel.
Chakaodza moved on and his advice to ZUJ was to keep the union’s doors open and engage the government as much as possible.
The article was finished five hours before he died. Rest in peace Borncha!
Published in NewsDay on May 3 2012.