|Chipoyera: The untold story|
|Thursday, 07 June 2012 00:00|
Over the past two weeks or so I have heard people eulogise about the life and times of the now fallen business editor of The Sunday Mail, Brian Chipoyera.These have been interesting times as I have gone through what people have said about Brian.
Lovely statements that could ring like the new-birthed daisy flower at the foot of an old Victorian grave — serene and perfect.
Sadly, I disagree. That was not Brian Chipoyera. Not to those who knew and worked with the man anyway.
At best we can say those who have painted that serene picture just didn’t know the cap. At worst I can say they are just plain fibbers — lying about the man who everyone knew was no Mary Poppins — certainly no angel.
At the risk of sounding blasphemous, should the Lord ever have claimed not to have been responsible for making our dear Brian Chipoyera, the second immediate suspect would have been J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the atomic bomb, because the dear old chap had a temper of nuclear proportions. Rest his soul!
In traditional African culture they say the departed are always talked about glowingly. In journalistic culture, however, even Brian, in the afterlife, would be proud to know that the tenet of Veritas — truth, that guide our lives and our work, should guide the eulogies too when we go onto the other side.
I am but a baby when working with a colossal legend like Brian Chipoyera comes into play — yet for the few years that I can work with him, I saw him paint a passionate picture of the man that he truly was, much like the Rembrandt of journalism.
He left nothing to question and certainly is probably more loved for that bitter honesty than any feigned praise that may be heaped upon him.
I had first known of him when I was in Grade Five and my father, mother and I ran out of fuel when we were dashing to get me on the train to Bulawayo in time for the new school term.
Our misfortune befell us near Riverside in Mashonaland Central.
“Ndine shamwari yangu skopdhonhoro inogara kuno anogona kundibatsira but ieyeye, haa akaoma,” father had said. (I have a hot-headed friend who lives around here who I know can help me but he is quite a character.)
We went over to his house and he was quite affable. He was a smart man with a decent house and businesses at the local centre. It was actually called the Chipoyera Business Centre and it was quite an establishment. He gave us some fuel and after laughing raucously to some joke my father cracked, we were on our way.
My father then told us what he had said to Chipoyera.
Apparently he had reminded him of an incident in the eighties which he had pulled off before the then Minister of Information, Nathan Shamuyarira.
Chipoyera had been assigned to cover an event for the ministry. After taking down notes and being given a copy of the minister’s speech it was now time for dinner. When Chipoyera inquired where the journalists were to sit, he was in for a rude surprise. There was no table for journalists!
“Journalists are here to report and not to eat,” the woman had said to Brian and that was the statement that did it all.
Chipoyera caused a scene and said it was rude to think journalists were to be used then seen as sixth- class citizens. We were the Fourth Estate, he is said to have argued!
At that he is said to have said “Let me show you that we are important.” At that he tore the minister’s speech and retorted, “Udza Shamuyarira anyore story yacho ega.” (Tell Shamuyarira to write the story himself.)
The minister, noticing the brouhaha and wary of Chipoyera’s temperament, asked what the noise was about and immediately instructed that a table be set aside for the journalist. Safely because of that we can say the man was the patron saint of food for journalists (and no doubt respect) up until this day.
That was Brian Chipoyera!
When I was to join The Sunday Mail ages later I was told there were vacancies as a cadet either on the business desk with Brian Chipoyera or on the entertainment desk under Garikai Mazara.
It was no surprise then, that fearing that my copy would be torn like the minister’s speech, I chose the Guruve-raised mudhindo boy Garikai Mazara over the temper of Uncle Brian!
Uncle Brian, as we got to call him, was a strange vagabond, a free spirit that drifted and in and out of the newsroom . . . quite literally so. And in the last days that he had a dance with the newsroom, he drifted more out than in. Like a good scoop, he was increasingly difficult to come across.
Yes, he would be reserved when you said the odd hello to him and he would look at you, crack into something on a muddled smile, his lips watery with a sparkling thin layer of saliva and he would erupt into a bright greeting “Ah, ndeipi muni’nina?” (How are you my brother?)
I always found it curious how we would call him Uncle and he would call us “brother” in spite of the age gap. Maybe it was the eternal youth in him that kept him warmly connected to us.
One day when machines were in short supply in the newsroom I had been tasked to use the office of Sam Mawokomatanda, who had just departed his posting in the newsroom as Sports Editor. Few had the guts to enter that office as it would be read as a hastened “inheritance” of an office of a chap who had left on a day not half as pleasant as Christmas.
But I had a deadline to meet and had no qualms about hitting a coup on Sam’s vacant spot, so I got to work.
Another chap on the business desk then walked up to me, he had a surname too — Ncube, and demanded to use the machine since the business deadline was earlier than the sports one I had been tasked by editor William Chikoto to assist with. I can be quite an idiot, too, so I stood my ground and refused. In retrospect that was not the way Albert Einstein or any other genius should have handled it. Because the big girl’s blouse of a chap dashed on and reported me to Brian; he came flying at me and was furious.
“I am the business editor of The Sunday Mail and we have a deadline to meet. Get off that machine right now,” he said as he caused a right old ruckus. For a cadet that really got me this close to setting a trickle down my leg in utmost terror. But after being told of the man’s temper by both him and my father, maybe I handled it better than someone else would have.
Later I was to revisit that day with him and asked why he had been so angry.
“Sorry hako muni’nina,” was all he said as we relaxed by the poolside at Elephant Hills Hotel.
I had woken him up so that he could make it for that trip to Victoria Falls. The door of his house was ajar and there was the smell of vomit nearby. He woke up. Smiled looking totally sober and said “muni’nina, doro rinoda wadya!” (You ought to eat before you drink) that is all he could say to explain the thick mass next to him.
And then there was Augustine Moyo. He had accompanied his then boss to a corporate function and when they got there Augustine got himself the little goodies for guests and went on to pick some juicy chicken pieces.
When Uncle Brian went to get a T-shirt, he asked to get the hat as well. The woman is reported to have said that only a choice between the two was permissible and Uncle Brian was happy with that. He took the T-shirt.
However, soon after a white chap came and asked for the T-shirt and the hat and the lady obliged with a smile. Uncle Brian was not amused and went to ask what the difference was between him and the white man and the woman said “majournalists munonyanya kuda zvinhu zvemahara!” (You journalists are too fond of freebies!). That was a grave mistake.
Uncle Brian descended into the tirade of anger that he was known for whenever people made disparaging remarks about journalists.
“I am the Business Editor of The Sunday Mail!” he declared before telling her how he wasn’t going to be made to look like a beggar by her over the case of a T-shirt and a cap. Needless to say, the whole function was disrupted as the hosts tried to calm their seething guest down.
At that he looked at his then protégé Augustine who was holding a plate of chicken with a thigh in hand and said “Augustine, siya nyama yavo, hende!” (Leave their meat and let us go!)
Augustine went in tow obviously looking puzzled and embarrassed at the same time.
The hosts then went on to hold another event specifically to apologise to Uncle Brian for the treatment he had gotten. He had been seething and may have blown the roof in anger, but the corporates got to know that journalists are not lesser beings, a belief that was greatly manifesting itself within corporate Zimbabwe.
Brian had set the record straight.
Then a certain female journalist had had her notebook snatched from her when she went on assignment and Brian had forgotten his notebook. She was new in the trade and had to fight it off the chap and asked herself who this man was. It was Brian Chipoyera and she would have quite a lot of laughs about it as she got to know the man later on in life as they worked together and got along.
He even got a rare “chance” to fire a broadside at The Sunday Mail’s Morris Mkwate as quiet as he was, leaving him like a wet sparrow on a drizzly winter morning. We all felt sorry for the chap but he understood his Uncle Brian as we did we all!
I was with him in his years of demise. Dying from the journalist’s disease. Not numb fingers from typewriters and computer keyboards. Not burnt brain cells from the endless hard work and tireless dedication. Not any of that. From the bottle, alcohol.
A friend we have embraced shamelessly in the industry but one that is not half as kind to us as we are to it.
We went to rehab with him Phyllis Kachere and I. We watched him recover. Then we watched him slip away again. We had lost him.
And one day Editor William Chikoto asked whether Brian had finally come into the office. Brian had not been sighted at all.
“I saw him downtown this morning and he looked like he was contemplating whether to come to work or not,” Chikoto had joked.
We chuckled. But he was in the dying embers of the journalism game. On his way out, softly, slowly.
I was last to see him at Riverside; the same place I had first seen him. Our life had gone full circle.
I bought him a beer; they should charge me for culpable homicide! What was I thinking? He smiled and showed me that trademark exploding smile. But he was never quite my Uncle Brian.
I had seen that smile many times before. When he had abused Roselyne Sachiti’s mug and she had said he should not bother giving it back saying he should keep it he had worn that smile. That mug with little red strawberries. Roselyne was trying to make him feel guilty and he had instead expressed gratitude oblivious to the fact the Rose was actually furious! Oh Uncle Brian. This is the real you. That explosive man that I knew. That is what we loved about you and will always remember. The temper of a buffalo and the writing prowess of the gods, a smile as distinct as that of the Mona Lisa and a personality one could not help but love regardless of past confrontations. You were quick to forgive and move on. But this time you have moved on a bit too far even for our hearts to follow.
You added colour to journalism.
Brian Chipoyera 1958-2012