The death of Willie Musarurwa on April 3, 1990, brought gloom to the fraternity of journalists and his many admirers in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
The many tributes and eulogies that poured in were a reflection of what Willie stood for.
Willie was a witty, uncompromising journalist and a fighter for human rights. He stood for the truth at all costs and had a soft spot for the underdogs. He hated and despised opportunists and cowards. It was because of his commitment to democracy that he spent 10 years in Rhodesian prisons. At the time of his death, he was chairman of the Children’s Protection Society. It was in this capacity that he championed the plight of little girls who are used as peace offerings in attempts to appease vengeful spirits.
Willie has made an indelible contribution to the media in Zimbabwe. He travelled a long road: from the days he edited the African Weekly, the Bantu Mirror and the Parade during the heydays of African nationalism in Rhodesia, to the post-independence contributions. He became the first black editor of The Sunday Mail and engaged in scintillating television debates like “The road to socialism”.
He wrote in-depth articles for publications such as Parade and the Financial Gazette. Willie emerged a journalist par excellence. What he wrote and what he said reflected the society of his dreams and many identified with his ideals.
Willie was born in a family of nine boys and five girls on November 24, 1927, in the Chinhoyi District.
His early life was not different from that of other boys of his age, except perhaps that his dislike for herding cattle led him and his brother Morris to run away from home and work as tobacco graders for a season in the Darwendale area. He later worked for a farmer called Maggison in Trelawney. It was at this farm that he experienced exploitation of man by man and the fighting spirit in him was ignited.
He began school at Nyamangara before moving to Marshall Hartley Mission for standard four. The next two years were spent at Howard Mission, near Mazowe. Because of his academic prowess, he was chosen to be part of the pioneer group of students to enter Goromonzi Secondary School, the first co-educational African Government School for those who had excelled in their Standard Six examinations. At Goromonzi, Willie was popular with teachers and other boys because he operated a bush barber shop from where he earned some pocket money during his spare time.
After completing his Cambridge School Certificate, Willie trained as a teacher at St Augustine’s Mission, Penhalonga. He later taught at Epworth Mission in 1952, while at the same time regularly contributing articles to the Press.
Willie’s life was always an uphill struggle. Being one in a large family of 14 children, he was toughened and learnt to fend for himself at an early age. It also taught him to understand other people’s view points and, to be tolerant. He made friends with both the young and the old.
He talked fondly about his mother Chibagu, who died when he was in prison, but rarely about his father Jack Goto.
That Willie was not allowed to attend his mother’s burial is reminiscent of the insensitivity and cruelty which prevailed during the time of the, Smith regime. This inhuman act incensed Willie and propelled him to fight on.
Willie was a founder member of the National Democratic Party (NDP). Before then he had been a supporter of the Youth League and the African National Congress (ANC) from 1954 to 1959. When ANC was banned in February 1959, he and others went underground to form the NDP.
In 1962 to 1963, he attended Princeton University in Jersey, USA as a Parvin Fellow. On his return to Rhodesia in 1963, he became active in the liberation struggle which led to his arrest in 1964 and was subsequently detained until 1974. During detention at Gonakudzingwa, he edited Gonakudzingwa News, Home News, Zimbabwe People’s Voice and Zimbabwe Review.
Between 1974 and 1979, he took part in numerous meetings aimed at bringing about unity among various political movements, particularly ZAPU and ZANU. This culminated in the formation of the Patriotic Front in 1976.
He took part in all major conferences to end the Rhodesian conflict-Victoria Falls conference; Salisbury talks; Geneva Conference; Malta Conference and the Lancaster House Conference where he was co-spokesman of the Patriotic Front alliance.
Willie had lived in exile in Zambia from 1978 to 1979 and was ZAPU’s secretary for publicity and information. After the Lancaster House Conference, he came back home and continued as PF-ZAPU’s publicity secretary. He stood for election in 1980 Mashonaland West on the Party list system, but was not successful.
In 1981, he was appointed editor of the Sunday Mail and later appointed to the Board of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation as deputy chairman. He was asked to leave the weekly following editorial controversies.
Later he teamed up with one of his best friends, Cde Cephas Msipa to form a public relations consultancy MT & BS (Private) Limited. He was managing director of the company up to the time of his death.
Willie Musarurwa’s name will always be remembered and linked with enquiring, responsible journalism in Zimbabwe. His distinguished involvement in the media which spans nearly four decades made him an unparalled authority and media houses counted on him for well thought out contributions. He was often invited as a resource person on various journalism courses.
One of his last renowned works of Willie was his article which reviewed the press in Zimbabwe during the country’s first decade of independence. It was published in the Parade of April, 1990.
He cherished the achievement in December, 1987 of unity between PF-ZAPU and ZANU-PF for which he had worked tirelessly behind the scenes and never claimed credit for. He was a true patriot who loved his country enough to die for it. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife Elizabeth and six children.