The Sunday News
Dumisani Nsingo, Guest Writer
AS I sat down to scribble this piece, I thought to myself and really introspected — asking myself, should I write about the times and moments I and my colleagues spent with this wonderful woman?
One of the thoughts that crossed my mind is that those that saw her much earlier than me would probably say, I’m not fit to write her obituary, for there are better scribes who she worked with, throughout her more than three decades in the newsroom at the Zimpapers, Bulawayo particulary at Sunday News.
Believe me, journalism is one such profession where one’s ability and quality of work is always gauged and put under the microscope by fellow tradesmen. Rarely do you hear a colleague(s) acknowledging one’s works. A number of great writers’ names, whom I had opportunity to see their works and those that I worked with during my tenure at the Sunday News, ran through my mind, as best suited to ink about Mrs Thenjiwe Dube (nee Mdlongwa)’s lifetime. Sadly, some of these cadres have passed on, just like her.
Today, I’m paying tribute to this strong-willed woman, who shaped the lives of many journalists in the country. I told myself, I just had to do it (write her obituary), of course in reminiscence of her popular words of encouragement, “you can do it my child, nothing is impossible”.
Indeed, Mrs Dube or Masalu (SiNdebele colloquial language for mother) as I used to fondly call her, was someone who had words of encouragement for everyone in the newsroom, be it work-related or personal. My first encounter with Masalu was when I joined Sunday News in 2005 as a Hwange District Correspondent. I vividly remember that day. It was sometime in July. It was extremely cold and had come to sign a contract to write for the Sunday News as its correspondent. I had to pass through her cubicle office since she was the secretary to the then Editor, Brezhnev Malaba.
I was a ball of nerves and Masalu realised that, and politely said: “You seem to be shivering are you feeling cold or you are nervous? Don’t worry you are only entering Mr (Brezhnev) Malaba’s office to sign an employment contract as our official correspondent,” she said.
From that time, I felt her motherly instincts, which was later to be attached to me up until the time she breathed her last breath.
When I joined Sunday News there was fairly a young crop of reporters although they were my seniors, the likes of the current Chronicle editor, Lawson Mabhena, Reason Mpofu, Mehluli Sibanda, Nqobile Bhebhe, Mernat Mafirakureva and Bright Madera. Mafirakureva and Madera are both late.
During that time, the way these guys conducted themselves in front of her suggested that they regarded her as a mother.
In 2007, I permanently joined Sunday News as a junior Business Reporter together with the likes of Nqaba Matshazi, Nothando Ndlovu, Mthokozisi Dube and Fortune Dlamini. Thereafter came Khanyile Mlotshwa and Vincent Gono (who had served for four years as a Masvingo Correspondent), our treatment of Masalu was squarely the same as that of those we succeeded.
A few years later in came another group of rookies, the likes of Stanford Chiwanga, Peter “Bvaru” Matika, Robin Muchetu, Roberta Katunga and Vusumuzi Dube, to mention but a few, all these had done their internship at Sunday News and were synonymous with the culture of its newsroom, one of them being ultimate respect for Masalu.
For the better part of her stay at Zimpapers, Masalu had to endure the troubles of controlling raucous young men that had just passed teenage years, a task she likely met and had to deal with at home, as she had sons of our same generation.
Believe me, it is not an easy task to control a cub reporter (a term used in journalism to refer to rookies in the profession), but no matter how difficult it was, Masalu always succeeded to “whip us into line”.
For most of us it was our first formal employment and the egos and pompousness was visible, yes we were already some cult heroes in our neighbourhoods. Why not, we had the privilege to interact with virtually all the luminaries and prominent people locally and internationally, something our peers could not.
Even at home our parents were now holding us in high esteem and we were some demigods to our siblings, someone had to bring us down to earth, before our newlyfound fame could swallow us and that someone was none other than Mrs Dube.
If there is one thing that has failed and haunted us as journalists, it’s our love for beer, among other miscellaneous activities. These have really been a mainstay of many scribes’ woes and misfortunes and seems there’s no panacea in sight, as the faux pas appears to be passed from one generation to the other.
As someone who had been in the media industry for a while, Masalu knew where we erred, “it’s your binging and philandering habits, which led to the downfall and demise of those that came before you, and if you are not careful you risk falling into the same trap,” she would say with sadness written on her face.
Masalu was quick to identify those that came to work under the influence of alcohol and would call the culprit for a 30 minutes or an hour’s lecture about the dangers of coming to work in such a state. She would ask one to go and rest before the superiors could take note.
One thing I realised in my close to 20 years of knowing Masalu, she had a soft spot for the boy child.
“Lani Dumisani kanti amankazana eliwathathayo liwadobha ngaphi (where do you get these girls whom you’re marrying), you should go to church and find a proper wife. Omunye laye nango sethethe okungunkazana okungakhanyiyo lokuthi kuyini and kulitshapha kanti liyabe likhangele ngaphi,” she would gleefully say to me.
Apart from tirelessly offering parental guidance to the young turks in the newsroom, Masalu had another fight in her hands of ensuring that one of her siblings, the late Sifiso “Buju” Mdlongwa (may his dear soul rest in peace) also toed the line.
Most of the times after pay day, Buju would go on a two or three-day drinking binging spree and fail to turn up at work and more often than not Masalu would put her head on the block in saving him from being fired.
However, despite his short comings, Buju was one character who was astute when it came to labour issues especially the rights of workers. He did not want to see rights of employees being infringed upon.
Again a day would seldom pass without him cracking a joke, making the entire newsroom to burst out with laughter.
There’s also one thing I noted with Masalu, she always volunteered that the “Famous Sunday News” parties were hosted at her home and each time some, especially those of nefarious acts, would turn down her pledge, although we did have it there once or if not twice. I now realise why she wanted the parties to be hosted at her home, simply “she wanted to see all her children mingling and being joyous together”, her biological children and us from her workplace.
Some might not know that Masulu also wanted to be a team player, she didn’t want to be recognised as one of the backroom staff, she wanted to be involved in the production of news and as such she studied for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Media Studies.
“I can’t say I work at Sunday News and fail to have any related qualification in media. One day a source might come and you’re all out on assignments or not around, I have to interview that source and write a story. I should be part of the news crew not just a mere secretary,” she once said.
Masalu finally retired in 2015 and at her farewell party after I had taken one too many I couldn’t hold my emotions, the thought of working in the newsroom without seeing her presence was just too much, l burst into tears, actually I wailed.
As I cried I told her, “Masalu sebezasixotsha manje (Masulu they will now fire us)”, for she had been a shield for most of us.
A few days later she called me and I met her outside our workstation and she told me the reason she had called it quits.
“I’m not getting any younger, I now want to concentrate on my farming business. You came here as a boy and I’m glad I left you a man. Now teach those younger than you how I taught you to behave while at work,” she said.
Rarely did two weeks pass without her calling to find out how I and my workmates were coping. When I left the Sunday News, she was one of the people I broke the news first and she would again call to find out how I was managing at my new workplace.
The last I saw her she was at her familiar territory, at the vegetable market in the central business district of Bulawayo. Sadly, this Iron Lady has passed on and was laid to rest last Saturday. What pains me is that I didn’t get time to see her when she was unwell, I never got the news that she was in poor health. I don’t know if my words of encouragement to hold on and brave the sickness would have helped just like hers worked wonders in shaping my career path.
Masalu is no more, we won’t be getting any of her parental guidance anymore. We are now on our own. Rest in peace Masalu, we will forever remember you.
Dumisani Nsingo is now working as a public relations practitioner with a local authority.