BY JOHN MASUKU
WHEN my friend, businessman Obert Sibanda, and I opened BES School of Journalism in April 2001, the first of its kind in Bulawayo, we invited the late veteran journalist and retired diplomat Kingsley Dinga Dube, who worked for the privately-owned African Newspapers (Pvt) Limited, publishers of the Daily News in the 1950s to the early 1960s, to address the first intake.
His attentive audience of youngsters included those who were to become prominent local and international print and broadcast journalists like the late Gift Phiri, Ntungamili Nkomo, Sifiso Mpofu-Tshaka, Hilton Mavise, Dumisani Sibanda, Valentine Mabhugu, Mqhele Tshuma and filmmaker Davison Mohlomi Mudzingwa, among many others.
On this historic occasion Dube, our guest speaker, brought with him Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu, his friend and fellow journalist from the yesteryear Daily News, which targeted black readership and was not connected with the current Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe publication by the same title.
At the end of his speech, Dube asked Gwakuba Ndlovu to also offer some words of advice to the pioneer intake and the liberation journalism icon, who died on July 16 this year, did not disappoint as he gave frank and valuable advice about truth-telling, accuracy and fearlessness to the aspiring scribes.
Before the BES event, I had not met Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu, the nationalistic prolific writer, in person although I had known and read his smuggled written liberation struggle works since the mid 1970s.
So, on the sidelines of the occasion I reminded him about some articles he had written in the Zimbabwe Review, a magazine of the former vice-president Joshua Nkomo-led Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) as well as his book, Zimbabwe: Some facts about the Liberation Struggle, stories he wrote in the Chronicle and in Tiny Rowland’s Observer in Swaziland. He was so amazed.
Thereafter, I rarely met him in the City of Kings for further conversations until I relocated back to the capital city, Harare, in 2002 at the end of my 27-year career with ZBC, my last stint being as controller at Montrose Studios.
I was immediately engaged by Radio Voice of the People (VOP) as executive director in which position around in 2014 I assigned one of our Bulawayo-based BES-trained journalists Pindai Dube to carry out a wide-ranging radio interview with Gwakuba Ndlovu focusing on his journalism career.
It is from that interview that I highlight his most notable wartime and post-independence writing prowess from 1961 at the Daily News under African Newspapers owned by a Mr CAG Paver, including going back to his humble beginnings at Kutama College and later Alexander township in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“Two major incidents which I was involved in led to the closure of our newspaper group in 1964.
“First I wrote an innocuous commentary about the role of African chiefs in the African society and got arrested.
“All I had said was that African chiefs ought to remember that they are the ears and eyes of the African people and were not messengers of the government.
“In the second incident, we went to interview Nkomo at Gonakudzingwa where he was detained together with other nationalist leaders.
“We fitted our editorial motor vehicle with an intercom system that reached a 500-mile radius.
“As soon as we started filing our news report, police intercepted us and asked for our licence.
“No one had ever thought about procuring a licence.
“The two incidents were enough to enable Clifford Dupont as officer administering the colonial government to move a motion in Parliament to have our newspaper company closed down except the Central African Parade magazine, which could not sustain itself for any longer.”
Thereafter, still in 1964, Gwakuba Ndlovu was called by James Chikerema, who was then vice-president of Zapu, who worked with George Nyandoro and Tarcisius George Silundika at the party’s Lusaka, Zambia offices, where as director of publicity and information, he started The Zimbabwe Review, a Zapu publication which was cyclostyled and distributed widely all over, then Rhodesia.
“I had, while I was still here, written down addresses of as many schools throughout the country as I could get, so I used to post initially from Lusaka to the headmasters, but later on the security authorities intercepted those papers and would destroy whatever I tried to send that way.
“I started with a weekly review and later on produced an edition in French in Algeria under my deputy editor Mbulawa Noko who was a representative of Zapu in that country.
“Later, I also produced a Spanish edition in Havana, Cuba, and an English tabloid in London where my deputy editor was the late Nelson Samkange who was also the party representative.”
Since Gwakuba Ndlovu was practicing his journalism in a war situation while in Zambia, in 1967 he underwent military training to equip him with basic defensive skills.
“Later I went to the Soviet Union for further military training before being sent to Berlin in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to attend an advanced journalism course for senior journalists from various countries,” said Ndlovu, who returned to his Lusaka base to continue fighting the bitter bush war through writing Zapu Patriotic publications.
Back in Zimbabwe at Independence in 1980 after 16 years of freedom journalism, Gwakuba Ndlovu worked at the Chronicle and later Munn Publishing whose titles were Prize Africa, Mahogany and Look and Listen magazines as their Bulawayo contributor.
He also went to Swaziland to take over editorship of The Observer newspaper owned by Tiny Rowland’s Lonrho company, succeeding Chiza Ngwira, who he had known during his stay in Zambia where he also assisted in the formation of the Zambia News Agency (ZANA) at the request of former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda’s government.
How did Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu enter the field of journalism in the first place?
“My entry was by shear chance. Leaving my home in Dombodema, Plumtree, after my sister had secured a place for me at Kutama College in Mashonaland West, I was to meet and make friends with former Lonrho executive Herbert Munangatire my classmate, who I also shared the same dormitory with.
“Herbert used to receive newspapers and write sports reports and send them to his cousin Nathan Shamuyarira,who was chief editor at African Newspapers in Salisbury, deputised by Philip Mbofana, another cousin of Munangatire.
“He encouraged me to write and to my delight my first stories were published in 1951 while I was still at school although I contributed more frequently in 1952,” he revealed.
At Kutama, a young and brilliant Saul also helped produce “The Echo”, school newspaper whose ultimate editor was Brother Ralph, an English teacher, and upon leaving the famous Catholic-run institution where many former nationalists including former president Robert Mugabe, Chikerema, Bernard Chidzero and Dumiso Dabengwa were educated, Gwakuba Ndlovu headed to South Africa.
“Down south there were two prominent monthly magazines. One was called Zonk and the other was the well-known Drum.
“Zonk asked me to write sports articles when I was staying with my brother at Alexander township, while also doing Journalism studies in the evenings.
“Our English teacher was no one other than Oliver Reginald Tambo, former president of the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa. During weekends I continued with my sports writing for Zonk,” he recalled.
Recognition, fame and monetary incentives motivated an enthusiastic Gwakuba Ndlovu to enjoy and continue writing.
“The feeling of being a journalist was fascinating because we were seen as a class apart, very knowledgeable and well-informed.
“At one time my cousin, the late Wadi Msimanga, introduced me at a well-attended party in Alexander and I received a standing ovation when guests were told that I was the young man who wrote interesting, widely read sports stories in Zonk magazine.
“But what I noticed as early as that was, there was no job security in Journalism with the likelihood of low income, closure of your media house by police or being arrested.
“In South Africa in those days police were interested in anybody working as a journalist,” reflected Gwakuba Ndlovu,who during his stay was registered as a South African citizen born in Zululand before returning to Rhodesia to work as a teacher.
While today there are so many journalism training institutions right up to university level but surprisingly with many traces of very low standards than in olden days yet during Gwakuba Ndlovu’s time there were a few training colleges.
Journalists usually branched from various professions like agriculture demonstrators and teachers to start writing very well after receiving on-the-job training and mentorship.
“Shamuyarira was an agricultural demonstrator and taught at Tegwani Mission (Thekwane).
“It was only afterwards that he was taken by CAG Paver to write about African agriculture then.
“Because of his ability, he was promoted to be editor. That was the same with Mbofana.
“Munangatire, despite being a published writer from our schooldays, first trained as a teacher before going into fully-fledged journalism and later public relations.” explained Gwakuba Ndlovu.
He stressed that reading and knowledge gathering should be a journalist’s second nature.
“During our heyday we had to read a lot in order to fully know our environment.
“Today you will be shocked to meet journalists who are ignorant even about basic things.
“My message is to have the courage to say the truth and nothing, but the truth.
“You must have no fear whatsoever to say what is happening in your environment. Don’t fear criticising any wrongdoing by authorities.
“You must criticise fearlessly, otherwise if you are a fearful person don’t get into journalism. Read, read and read avidly,” advised the departed doyen of freedom journalism Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu the father of Wonder, Leo Gwakula, Millenia Takateya, Namati and Chipo.
John Masuku, a broadcast journalist, is a media consultant/trainer and executive director of Radio Voice of the People (VOP). He is the co-founder of BES School of Journalism in Bulawayo.