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How false stories are created

I am not in the habit of responding to negative stories written about me, but assessing from the number of calls I received from the public about an article written by arts reporter Tawanda Marwizi in The Herald of May 16, despite my reluctance to do so, I thought I would take this opportunity to put the record straight. The article was titled Chaos at Bob Marley Commemoration As Transit Crew Members In Near-Fist-Fight.

in the groove with Fred Zindi

Transit Crew on stage
Transit Crew on stage

I would not have bothered to respond to the article had it been written as an opinion piece . However, the story was packaged and presented as a news article, which sends the misleading message that it is a factual narrative.

It is therefore, my view that such an approach towards journalism as a profession weakens the tenets of expression, which in actual fact are sacrosanct and protected by the Constitution of Zimbabwe. I take it that factual errors and speculative reporting characterising the article are not part of Marwizi’s professional mistakes but rather, a reflection of other ulterior motives that are aimed at damaging reputations for reasons best known to the journalist.

A lawyer friend who knows my background well also called me and said: “Fred, I know this is a fake story. Let’s take The Herald and Marwizi to the cleaners. Let’s sue them for libel. This is damaging to your reputation. I will offer my services free of charge to you.”
I said to him if Marwizi cannot afford $5 entrance fee, how will he pay us if we win the case?

After seeing that there were so many people reacting to the story as it was also broadcast on Radio Zimbabwe, I decided to respond.

I will not dwell too much on the story itself except to say that the article Marwizi wrote about me was profoundly and cynically dishonest. It is full of many untruths and it is based on second hand hear-say information as he was not present among the journalists we had allowed free entry to the concert. First of all, although I have been with Transit Crew since 1988, I have never at any time collected money at the gate. Secondly, my wife has never been to any night club in Zimbabwe. Thirdly, I have never been physically involved in a fist-fight or a near-fist-fight with anyone in my whole life. Lastly, I am not a music professor. This scribe failed to do his research well. I teach research methods at the University of Zimbabwe and Marwizi can do himself a favour by attending a few of my lectures. I will pay for them. In my opinion, he was bitter about not being allowed free entry into the Bob Marley Commemoration Concert, so he grabbed the opportunity to use The Herald to seek revenge.

Earlier on, before the gig started, an editor at Zimpapers called me to find out if we could allow free entry to all the journalists who were drinking at the Quill Club. I told him that this was not possible but we would allow only three. The editor later came with two other journalists and we allowed them in, free of charge. Later on, a freelance photo journalist came and begged me. I allowed him free entrance, but when the rest of the group of journalists which I guess numbered up to 15 arrived at the door flashing their press cards, we told them that they had to pay if they wanted to get into the concert. Marwizi was among them and I am sure he was angry at being refused free entrance. Some of them were shouting obscenities at me. One remarked “Zindi, we will sort you out. Who do you think you are?” I said to him, “Go and take some groceries at Pick n Pay supermarket, then flash your press card telling them that you are a journalist who should not pay for anything because you are able to write favourably about the supermarket. See what their reaction will be”. I asked him if he was not on a salary at his workplace.

The truth is, there was no near-fist-fight at Ambassador Hotel last week. Yes, I did shout at one of the Transit Crew band members who I felt was short-changing the paying fans by leaving the stage earlier than the closing time. That was the end of the story. No fist was raised. I am not sure where Marwizi got his story from.

Every manager has a few behaviours they are particularly sensitive to. I have assisted many musicians in times of crisis by telling them to remain calm and make a conscious decision to redirect their emotions when they get riled up by others. Only last week, Sam Mataure, Oliver Mtukudzi’s manager, was complaining about the same Marwizi on the bad press Tuku received about his performance at the just-ended Harare International Festival of the Arts. I advised Mataure to ignore him. I also often tell my band members to respect their fans because they are their paymasters. Why would I not practise what I preach?

Last year, at Theatre in the Park, I bumped into one journalist, who said to me, “Prof, are you aware that there is a ‘Zindi Must Fall’ campaign at Zimpapers because you want to expose the journalists there about their corruption?” That statement became true after the H-Metro labelled me Mambara of the Week for not allowing journalists free entrance to Transit Crew concerts and for repeating the story I had written before. According to the reporter, I was subject of discussion at the Quill Club. I told him that he should tell his colleagues that I will not allow them to pull me down in their attempt to get more unmerited recognition from the public.

What these guys do not know, is that I am aware of their corrupt activities. Some come so cheaply that they ask for as little as $10 bribe and two pints of lager to write a “favourable” article about upcoming music events. The promoters see that as cheap advertising and the journalists’ organisations lose out on possible advertising revenue. I am friends with many music promoters who tell me what goes on between them and some reporters. One promoter told me that he refused to give free tickets to one journalist (name withheld) and was threatened with bad press in future. This is how many false stories are created. For instance, Marwizi in 2015 wrote an unconfirmed story about Chris Musabayana where he suggested that the music promoter had attempted suicide after a show which involved Alick Macheso, Soul Jah Love and Peter Moyo had flopped. Musabayana later said that he had fallen into the swimming pool accidentally. These unconfirmed reports and corrupt journalists are the kind of stories which put some media houses into disrepute.

I write in this column because I have a passion for music and not for financial gain.

Only last week, an upcoming musician from Mt Darwin came to my office and presented me with his debut CD and he said that if I wrote favourably about him he would give me $50. I looked at this poor young man with his worn-out shoes and said to him, “Forget the $50. I know you can’t afford it. Even if you did, my conscience would not allow me to accept it. I will listen to your album. If it is good, I will review it”.

Some journalists who are on decent salaries would have taken advantage of situations like this and exploited the struggling musician.

There is no family on this earth which has never had disputes. As Transit Crew, we have our faults and transgressions as a family, but this does not mean that journalists who have run out of stories to write on or who are seeking vengeance should go out of their way to look out for these misunderstandings and start to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Instead of pursuing principled journalistic excellence, some of these music scribes have made this habit of pulling others down their core business.

Feedback: f_zindi@hotmail.com

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