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Farewell Chairman VK: Reflections of a dear friend

18 Jun 2024 at 14:54hrs | Views
The late Vimbai Kamoyo (VK) was quite a character.

They buried him last week in Chiunye village, Mt Darwin, Mashonaland Central.  

Between him and I, the title of "Chairman" took turns depending on who used it first in reference to the other.

In the midst of a binge party at some hotel in Harare, we had debated who deserved the chairmanship of all drinking journalists in the capital. He thought I lasted long on lagers while I disputed he was one guy who could not say no to nursing a beer. He loved his beer, passionately.

When he came from UMAA Institute as a greenhorn breezing through the corridors of building number 19 Selous Avenue which housed  New Ziana formerly Zimbabwe Inter Africa News Agency(ZIANA), I had been there months before, trying to cut my teeth in a dog-eat-dog world of journalism.

It marked the genesis of a life-long friendship that stood the vicissitudes of life. Human nature is fickle and most relationships are won't to not withstand the test of time and distance. Ours did. Warm and quietly reassuring in the later years. He was one guy I knew would stand for me in any room anyday whenever my name  got mentioned.

' Chairman!' This was how he usually announciled himself to me once in while. In most instances, the conversations took interesting twists and turns, reflections and dreams. We shared so much, paragraphs upon paragraphs,  audio notes infinitely.  

But it was the laughs that stood out. I would literally cry myself in laughter.

New Ziana was revered. Names like William Bango and many others had graced the place.

The newspaper library at the ground floor was testament to this. It had all manner of newspaper cuttings that even media and research students from major universities came to visit and absorb themselves with gusto for tidbits of information they could glean out.

Remember these were the days when Google was more of an academic tool and not much of a world phenomena as it is today. Information came from thumping through acres of media pages and mountainous dossiers.

What made New Ziana newsroom interesting was the old gramophone radio that always played the formerly Radio One frequency. The music was good. But it was exciting to listen to our news pieces read and credited to us on national radio.

Fellow reporter Nyamayaro from Murehwa had an unmatchable knowledge of music genres and artists from far- flung corners of the universe. He would have morsels of information on almost any artists of the day.

"That's Bon Jovi, the son of a grave digger," he would exclaim to everyone' s amusement as soon as notes to a Bon Jovi song blurted out on radio.

Moreso, the environs around Selous Avenue set up numerous close encounters with presidential security teams escorting Bona Mugabe to and from school at the diametrically adjacent Dominican Convent School.

Black SUVs would come hurtling down the streets to fetch this only daughter of the former first family.  It was a sight to behold. The Mugabe family never left nothing to chance. Young as we were , we envied the life of being behind closed gates and big walls with dozens of security man in dark glasses milling about in a remarkable show of strength.  Later on, she went on to study  further in Asia where she graduated in the presence of her doting father, Mugabe.  

In addition, the Roman Catholic Cathedral is a stone' s throw away to the east. The late President Mugabe would come to church in all his presidential glory, military landcruisers , security bikes and an ambulance in tow. This is where he would come to ask for forgiveness from Jesuit priests for his worldly sins. Jesuits had groomed and shaped who he was from when he was a little boy at Kutama college in Murombedzi.

However, as for me a freshman from the Christian  College Of Southern Africa (CCOSA), having earned my stripes at the insatiable beast that is Zimpapers( The Herald in particular), together with 'The Don' Donald Chakamanga I found a niche writing analytical pieces at this somewhat derelict building that housed war veteran and Chimurenga Files supremo Happyson Muchetetere as head of New Ziana TV department.

He later went on to Head ZBC causing untold damage at the national broadcaster' s purse drawing a humongous salary and benefits that most chief executives could only dream of.

Muchechetere enjoyed obscene benefits at the Hill that included a lofty salary for the house help, fuel coupons while the journalists, producers and administration staff went for months unpaid for their toil.

When news filtered on the street Muchechetere was living it large, some of us who had rubbed shoulders with him at New Ziana as a media manager were not surprised at all. Journalists at New Ziana were a pitiful lot, underpaid and in bad shape while Muchechetere and company got coupons to visit their farms every weekend.

New Ziana was in the pits running on a shoestring budget and mostly abused students coming in from tertiary colleges on internships. How on earth can a newsroom have 12 reporters yet only two were permanent and paid employees. That was New Ziana for all its glory.

However,  when life throws lemons make lemonade. As arrivalists, a coterie of ambitious youngmen and women including me hit the ground running on a daily basis churning out beautifully written articles covering every part of government from courts,  parliament , sports and rurals. We were were a formidable team with Clarkson Mambo holding the forte in business news. We had Chipo Musoko, the former immigrant to Germany. There was Nyamwanza the former cop and there was Gretinah Machingura, the best to guide us rookies of the trade then.

Justice Sirikah and the man who loved steamed bread from Food World Thomas Chidamba, the two Macdonalds, Tafadzwa Chiremba, and Mr Chikanya the IT man who had trained computers in Russia together with the late Judith Makwanya were somehow the permanent faces at New Ziana.

But VK was unforgettable. Sleek and snappy and quite affable. He had a way with expensive suits for a trainee newsman.

I can safely say he was the only journalist I remember wearing a catalogue of brand new Van Hussein( VH) shirts and Giovanni shoes.  

He is one guy who introduced me to fine clothing.  When he had had one too many, he would take off the suit jacket and preen like a peacock claiming his shirts were anti- wrinkle.

"Chairman we can drink all week from selling off this one," he would brag.

 I was intrigued. Imagine a villager like me from Bikita, I had only come to Harare for school and work, so eager to impress my parents oblivious to the finer things of life.  

In Bikita from whence i came from, dress only meant a hand-me -down jacket and shirt from an uncle or a pleated trousers from Power Sales most of the time if not some cheap Chinese sh#!t from the flea makert at the GP.

VK spoke much about the family farm but I remember him mentioning his mum a lot whenever there were issues to do with money.
Nonetheless, many interesting things stand out during my forays in the world of journalism with VK. Oftentimes, journalists are at the front row seat witnessing history. VK was by my side in the early years.

Disclaimer. He was not a womanizer but he loved hard. At New Ziana. He fell so hard for another newsgirl across the streets at The Herald. I will not mention names for respect and for want of letting sleeping dogs lie. The affair was so intense and being a close buddy , VK would confess over beers in befudllement that he was so much in love and was looking forward to a lifelong marriage with a fellow newshound.

But Whoa! Wait for it, things went pear-shaped along the way and VK was in denial. He could not believe it when he was told it was over. He got depressed. For want of a better explanation to the abrupt end, VK had been stalking the woman and trying to get an audience with her to the extend that things degenerated to brute punches and slaps from the lady.

VK was so broken and madly in love. It took witnesses to sit him down, knock some sense in his head to never force a woman to love him but word on the street said he pulled a knife on the day.

Over the years when he had finally gotten over the affair. We spoke about the incident in fits of laughter. He denied ever pulling a knife. "Chairman How can I. You know I loved her" he would always maintain.  But thenceforth I would jokingly refer to him as 'The Last Samurai Warrior' in reference to some Asian movie i watched in my youth days. It had the same name and the bayonet was a weapon of choice.

I am quite sure some journos of my era during the turn of the millennium at The Herald, Sunday Mail and New Farmer have a recollection of this incident.

But like I said earlier, VK was snappily dressed, always. Clean. This made him confident and I am incomparable to the amount of chutzpah he oozed. He dripped of it and oftentimes we would gate-crash, uninvited, government  functions with easy. We never got quite so dry throats in Harare. VK, Dimbo, and the late Clemence Tashaya almost always knew who was doing what and where, which government department or bank was holding a dinner or reception across the capital.  

We called these 'magejo' insinuating the free beverages after the main business of the day.

Today VK would be sipping a double viceroy the rocks, tomorrow he nursed a pilsener in one hand while gesticulating to the waiters for more peanuts to the table.  I never got to know which was his best poison. But we had fun. We had our fair share of nights out in all manner of places. We had dinner with army generals where we would stand up as they entered dining rooms and dropped forks amd knives in unison when these army bosses stopped eating. It was standard practice we were told. Nobody eats after the big boss has finished the meal. We learned to stuff ourselves furiously when in the company of these camouflaged men.

We also had lunches with leading sportsman and bankers of the day. Days were never the same, the memories great and the camaraderie grew with each passing day.

One day he tagged me along to NetOne building where Gabriel Shumba had offices. He had gotten wind that engineers of his telecommunications company Celsys or something were owed monumental salary arrears and were being threatened for daring to speak out. We wanted to get it from the horse' s mouth.

Unbeknownst to me, the dash across town to this tall building was in the wake of a scheduled interview meeting. As we sashayed into the reception area, Shumba had been waiting for us. We found this bulky man with an infectious laugh sitting behind an expansive desk in a spacious office atop a building that gave a Gatshsmanic view of Harare. It must have been here where Jesus was tempted to salute the Devil in return of the riches of the world. That office has the best eagle's eye view of Harare.

And Shumba being a leading businessman and politician,  he quickly broke the ice complementing the beauty that was VK' s suit. He threw around exotic suit names and VK mumbled something in unison. He mentioned his favorites. But I was already in awe of the environs. But before we even got started, Mr Shumba had called upon his secretary over the phone to pack money into two separate envelopes and she brought it forward into the office. The discussion went from suits to some mundane issues including journalists salaries. I was not even on a salary. I was on a retainer. I had to work and produce copy. This man had a way to flex and get his way. As soon as the secretary came through. He stood up, grabbed the envelopes and gave each one his. I quickly stuffed mine into my back pocket.  VK gave a grin and stuffed his in his suit jacket.  The conversation took an abrupt end and I had barely  said a word when VK stood up and we shook hands with Mr Shumba as we left his office. We exchanged little pleasantries with the secretary on our way out on to meet yet another well known comrade of the fraternity bursting out of the elevator straight down towards Mr Shumba' s offices. VK and I froze like statues only to jump and hug one another in the elevator going to the ground.  This was a heist. VK said. I was taken aback. He got the paper. This was vintage VK.  

The following morning I went shopping for shirts and shoes with VK in tow. Each one of us had gotten 3 times a teacher's salary in hush money. I knew nothing of the issues at hand. I got paid for shadowing VK.

In the ensuing years. I left for South Africa.  I have lived in these parts for over a decade but the friendship endured. When our mutual friend Clemece Tashaya passed on in Namibia from covid 19 complicafions, there was a curcular on socila platforms announcing his demise, I wrote to VK and he verified the sad news from Clem ' s family.  It was such a shock. Here was a man who we had had innumerable happier times with, dead and alone in a foreign land with people unsure about his family ties. Clemence had his failings also. One night he had one too many at Meikles Hotel till the collapsed. Luckily a hotel manager knew him and had to organize a taxi for him to be dropped off at his lodgings in uptown Harare. Clem had a temper too and loved attention. Both loved suits most of the times.

Sometime last December just before Christmas, I received a terse message from VK. He was in bad shape. Harare had not been kind to him. He wanted to come over to South Africa and try a life. He had made it clear he wanted to be with me till he got to his feet. I had agreed. Vk had been a good comrade for years running.  No betrayals,  no cheating,  no backstabbing,  ours had been that friendship. I had agreed but the only huddle was I had been coming over to Zim for Christmas with family.  We agreed to make it together early this year.
When in Harare, I could not get hold of him. Messages sent through to his socials could not be responded to. When I got to learn of his demise from 'The Don' Donald Chakamanga,  i went numb. I couldn't believe it. The last conversation we had , he was looking for help. He was in dire straits.  He could not divulge more.  When I came back to him, there were no response. I gather it is the same time he had gone back to the farm he so loved in Mt Darwin. He knew of the impending demise. It is said most people  know when its time to meet the Maker. He could have felt that deep inside him. He left the city he so loved, the place he knew much about obviously as a newsman. He left everyone but he left memories. I can imagine how he felt in the final days. Bewildered and forlorn. I know the feeling,  I cheated death by a cat's whisker myself during the Covid 19 pandemic. It changes one's worldview.

It took me strength to relive memories i shared with Vimbai Kamoyo. I later got to know his other family name Chiunye, but to me he remains 'The Chairman' , 'The Last Samurai Warrior'. Forever he remains a comrade who made life in Harare colorful. Rest easy VK. You played it so well.

Josiah Mucharowana is a trained journalist living in Pretoria. Feedback:

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