Bango: The porcupine that always stung

"It's shocking how the MDC leadership is increasingly becoming reason-proof.

William Tagwireyi Bango
William Tagwireyi Bango

Imagine, at one time they ejected my colleagues at the policy unit and from a meeting simply because we pointed out flaws in the party's political strategy."

These direct and brave words were said by William Tagwireyi Bango one drizzly evening towards Christmas last year when I visited his Marlborough home.

It was my first time at his house and we sat on garden chairs on the veranda, just inches from the spitting drizzle, as we discussed politics in MDC-T, which had suffered a heavy but contested election defeat in the July 31 polls.

Bango spoke honestly and without bitterness, but it was easy to notice the frustration; he punctuated his statements with a roving shake of the head as he knocked ashes from a cigarette and sipped whisky.

I was drinking water after politely declining a Castle Lager pint he had offered me, but we later went on an overnight binge at one of his favourite clubs in Marlborough that day.

"(Morgan) Tsvangirai will regret it one day; he chooses to listen to the wrong people most of the time. There are so many guys at the top who pretend to like him but all they actually like is power," added the man known by many as Nungu, after a newspaper column he used to pen, "Nungu at Large". I had also learnt that "nungu", Shona for porcupine, was his totem.

Clearly, there are people out there who can talk about Nungu with far greater authority, seeing as it is I belong to a younger generation of journalists, but for those years I knew him, he struck me as an incisive, nice but abrasive and intelligent man who was also a fountain of wisdom.

From my first encounter with him in early 2006, I appointed him my role model. He had visited my office at a now defunct daily to complain about a story we had published but I have forgotten the detail. I apologised to him verbally, he smiled and, abruptly springing from the visitor's chair, said: "Never mind, don't do a retraction".

Now that he is no more, the Zimbabwean media can only sit and count the losses. News of Nungu's death in a head-on collision on Tuesday, February 25 along the Wedza road near Dema shook me–for two reasons.

Three days before, my own car hit a pothole and overturned near Headlands along the Mutare highway but no-one suffered even a scratch. Bango's death in a separate accident made me realise that my family and I could have easily died too.

Second, I could not come to terms with the reality that I would never see him again, after several telephone promises to do another visit and then a late night drinking spree as we did on the first occasion.

William belongs to a unique, creative and resourceful generation of journalists which Zimbabwe will not know again. Those were the guys who pounded their fingers sore on the typewriter, never dreamt there would be Google and spent hours in the library researching around a story but kept deadlines as if their life depended on it.

He belongs to the crop of journalists that started their careers just after Zimbabwe attained majority rule in 1980, having trained at the now Harare Polytechnic's Division of Mass Communication. Later, he studied for a Master of Arts degree in Journalism at the University of Wales in Cardiff, and another masters in Public Administration at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

His flair for academic studies and research was pronounced; his Marlborough home library, when he proudly showed me around, was somewhat disheveled but it heaved with literary material, particularly on journalism and politics.

Nungu at one time worked at The Herald and was later to become the founding News Editor and then Training Editor at the Daily News when it was formed in January 1999, to remain in that position until September 2002 when the publication was banned by President Robert Mugabe's government for allegedly failing to register as required by the law.

He was well respected in the local media, where he was a president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists at one time. Many journalists hailed him during his tenure at ZUJ for aggressively fighting to promote the welfare of journalists. He had carved a niche as a media trainer too, but his political career at the MDC after the closure of Daily News made it difficult for him to train journalists as much as he would have wanted to, so he confessed to me.

Nungu joined the MDC immediately after the Daily News was forced out of business, becoming Tsvangirai's spokesperson until February 2008.

Between October 2009 and October 2013, during the Government of National Unity, he was the Policy Director in the Office of the Prime Minister.

In 2008, he contested the Chikomba East constituency where he lost the parliamentary battle to a Zanu (PF) candidate by a narrow margin of 20 votes. After the loss, he put contesting for political office aside, leaving his wife, Charity, an MDC-T councillor for Marlborough, to do that with success.

He ghost authored "At the Deep End", Tsvangirai's memoirs of his political career and fight for democracy that was published by Penguin in 2011.

A jazz fanatic, Nungu bore the scars of political battles with a Zanu

(PF) government that many accused of intolerance and brutality. During one of our meetings last year, he told me how he had become dependent on medication after one of his kidneys failed following torture by the police in 2007.

On that fateful day, he was part of the MDC entourage that was arrested while on its way to attend a Save Zimbabwe Campaign rally in Highfields just outside the capital. Tsvangirai was also assaulted by the police and the attack on the MDC leader upped international pressure on President Mugabe's government for flagrant human rights abuses.

Just as he was forthright with the MDC leadership when we met at his house, Bango is considered one of the most honest and direct journalists of all time in Zimbabwe. He will be remembered for his wit and down-to-earth approach to life.

He leaves behind his wife Charity, four children and several grandchildren. The media fraternity and Zimbabwe at large will miss him sorely. May his soul rest in peace.

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