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Beat that beat like 'Drum' did

By unknown | Jul 06, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

I am looking forward to the film of Henry Nxumalo's work as an investigative journalist for the pioneering South African magazine, Drum.

I am looking forward to the film of Henry Nxumalo's work as an investigative journalist for the pioneering South African magazine, Drum.

As a wet-behind-the-ears reporter at African Newspapers in Salisbury, Rhodesia, I was in a permanent state of awe of the magazine and its journalists.

All of us young reporters craved the fame of the Drumjournalists. Their bylines alone conjured up visions of daring, fearless searchers for the truth. Journalists who made a difference.

I had an opportunity to emulate them when, for an all too brief stint, I became acting editor of The African Parade, launched by the publishers of The African Daily News, as a challenge to Drum, which had cornered the market among the literate Africans of Southern Rhodesia.

I tried to be Nxumalo, Can Themba, Moses "Casey" Motsitsi, Todd Matshikiza and Lewis Nkosi, all rolled into one.

All of them were great writers under Jim Bailey. They blazed a trail, not only for South African investigative journalism, but for us as well.

For me, the brief sojourn offered a glorious opportunity to probe in-depth what we called "the real issues".

My crowning glory was a feature about the near-mortal struggle between an African chief, Munhuwepayi Mangwende, and the colonial government.

I called it The Tribe That Lost Its Head, from an international bestseller of the time. Mangwende incurred the wrath of the government because of his unflinching support for the nationalist struggle.

My article unabashedly supported his struggle. This, incidentally, always reminds me of the terrifying history of African media struggles since the independence of Ghana in l957.

After 1957, it appeared as if there would be a a new animal called African journalism. This would be different from the journalism of other countries.

This journalism would hear no evil and see no evil in African governance. It would praise the leaders until kingdom come, or until they died, either of natural causes or by the bullet of a soldier or a hired assassin.

Some leaders would not admit they had no stomach for the truth. Today, few countries have let the media operate with unfettered freedom. Most have crafted Draconian laws that restrict the freedom of the media - all in the name, weirdly, of protecting the sovereignty of the nation.

South Africa remains unique, an oasis of sorts in a landscape of media turbulence. Yet we discern rumblings of discontent from the new rulers. It's almost as if they are as discontented as the Afrikaners were of the anti-apartheid media.

In the mid-1990s, I chaired a journalism workshop in Blantyre, Malawi. In an introduction to one session, I waxed rather lyrical about the heroes of Drummagazine. The response from the audience, who included young South African editors, was blank-faced. Were they not aware of the heroic history of their predecessors?

This same indifference is evident in Zimbabwe, when you mention Lawrence Vambe, Nathan Shamuyarira, even going back to Nofas Kwenje.

There seems to be no proper appreciation of the heroism of those journalists who confronted colonialism and apartheid head-on.

Perhaps it is because the new African governments are headed by closet fascists: they would prefer people not to know the truth.

There can be no such thing as African journalism: the governments must make the African media partners in good governance, rather than accomplices in the crime of bad governance.

lBill Saidi is deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe. His column appears every Friday.


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