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Treat president's dinner table like a buffet

By unknown | Sep 21, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Here is a famous apocryphal story on journalism: the rookie reporter assigned to cover a celebrity wedding.

Here is a famous apocryphal story on journalism: the rookie reporter assigned to cover a celebrity wedding.

He arrives at the venue on time. Then the protagonists turn up, all dressed to the nines. A man appears, guns blazing and, with clinical precision, shoots dead the bride and the groom.

The reporter shuts his notebook and returns to the office. "There was no wedding after all, sir, " he tells the editor. "Some nutcase shot dead the groom and the bride before the ceremony started."

"And?" asks the editor, in a deadly whisper.

"So . I guess there is no story, sir?"

The story is not entirely apocryphal. There have been variations, but the theme remains the same; it's the unexpected that makes the news.

There is another scribe story, though not apocryphal. A big-time columnist is invited to dinner by US president John F Kennedy.

The White House is stunned when his initial response is a cryptic: "I am considering the invitation, Mr President ."

Eventually, he turns it down. In the version which I have heard many times, he says the dinner might jeopardise his objectivity.

He might discover in the president the most honest politician he ever met, a man so wrapped up in democracy he is almost a saint.

He might find the president's wife to be the wittiest raconteur, the epitome of the charming hostess, a whiz with the one-liner.

I too have taken liberties, but the theme remains constant; don't swallow everything at the president's dinner table. In time, it might choke you into a starry-eyed admirer of the person, a downright idolater.

I have met the two Mbeki brothers, Thabo and Moeletsi, in entirely different circumstances. But at each meeting we have talked first of The Peasants' Revolt, Govan Mbeki's book.

Thabo was the ANC representative when I was deputy editor-in-chief of Times Newspapers in Zambia in the 1970s. In Lusaka, we talked of the book and liberation struggles.

At the time, the PAC had gained wider acceptance in Zambia and Tanzania than the ANC. Since our papers were expected to reflect these preferences, Thabo's task was to persuade us to be more pragmatic or level-headed, to give the ANC a chance.

Incidentally, I had a similar visit from Willie Musarurwa, speaking on behalf of Zapu, which was allied to the ANC, while the PAC was buddy-buddy with Zanu-PF.

I was personally never conscious of preferring one movement to another. I had friends in all of them, but perceptions can be subjective when you are engaged in a life-and-death struggle, even for noncombatants. The Times offices in Lusaka were hit by a rocket one night. There were no casualties.

Moeletsi worked with me at Zimpapers, on the features desk. We got on swimmingly.

It's largely because of my view of the pioneering role of Govan Mbeki that I find myself being kind to the Mbeki brothers, as an African keen to preserve the best of our history.

There are standpoints on which I am adamant. I haven't swallowed everything offered to me at the president's dinner table.

For one thing, I think the African renaissance is much like Kenneth Kaunda's humanism: its complexity seems designed to boggle everybody's mind. So, there!

l Bill Saidi is a deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe


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