Ode to Oliver ‘Vato’ Gawe
Funny Mushava Correspondent—
“Copy, copy!!!” That was your usual chant soon after leaving the evening diary conference with the Editor and other line editors. Evening conference was no easy matter for you and other line editors.This is where the newspaper is brewed. More often than not, you, as News Editor had to come up with a story that sold The Herald.
And it was no joke. Circulation then was more than 100 000 copies a day.
For millions of people, The Herald was a paper of record and therefore you had to come up with a product that paid our salaries through advertising and street sales.
You did not disappoint.
For seven-and-a-half years, we got used to this “copy” chant because in the end we knew you would have been “roasted” in that meeting.
Still, you maintained your usual cool and would call on your star reporters to find a lead.
You told us to phone our sources to get something that could be a possible lead.
As News Editor you did not go home without a lead story no matter how dry the day was.
To do it for seven-and-a-half years — the longest in independent Zimbabwe — showed that you were something special.
That is the Oliver Gawe, News Editor and reporter that I knew for over 10 years.
Your journey into journalism began in the early 1980s when you enrolled at the Zimbabwe Institute of Mass Communication with other luminaries like the late Ndaba “Ndashto” Nyoni, Ray Mawerera, Tendai “TNT” Nyakunu, Sam “Uncas” Mawokomatanda, David Masunda and Jahoor “Jags” Omar among others.
I was to follow in your footsteps.
Being among the pioneer black journalists in independent Zimbabwe, it meant that your group be posted around the country to cover what was happening.
You found yourself in Mutare working for Ziana.
Your news gathering did not go unnoticed by the powers that be at Herald House and in no time you moved back to Harare.
There, under the editorship of Tommy Sithole and his team comprising Keith Simpson, Tendai Khumbula and Steve Mpofu, you blossomed.
You managed the Municipal Desk and through your incisive reporting, a lot of graft and incompetences of the city fathers were exposed.
You left no stone unturned in your search for the truth.
You made Harare City Council be accountable to ratepayers.
You had your moles among the councillors who kept you well informed, something that I learnt from you.
You always told me that to run a successful beat, you needed inside information.
Among your most trusted sources in council, were the late Richard Nyandoro, Noel Chaya, John Evans, Susan Colquohun and Dr Timothy Stamps.
You often joked that this quintet was always deliberately at each other’s throats during council meetings that they wanted to be ejected from the chamber so that they could enjoy their drinks in the bar.
Nevertheless, they provided you with enough information to run a successful municipal desk.
In no time, with the early retirement of then news editor Elton “Koki” Mutasa and promotion of the late Tim Chigodo to head Manica Post and Pascal Mukondiwa to The Sunday Mail as news editor, you were the natural choice to be deputy news editor to Gareth Willard, who was now news editor.
Masunda was the assistant news editor.
This was the beginning of your rise at The Herald.
Soon, Gareth was appointed night editor and you took charge of the news desk full time.
While I cannot prove it, I am sure you and Gareth did have a say in my subsequent elevation to assistant news editor and later deputy news editor because you were always encouraging me to work hard, hinting that something big was in store for me.
We worked well for years as a team.
To get the best reporters who would have escaped us during attachment, we would often go through rims of copy from Zimbabwe Information Service whose reporters were in every district and see who was good.
This way, we captured Ray Mungoshi, Isdore Guvamombe and Nyasha Nyakunu among others.
I remember one morning when you woke me up at home after my late shift as your deputy.
You were so excited and I wondered what was going on.
You then told me that I was going to be running the paper for the next couple of days.
Shocked, I asked why and you said “Chaputika! The Gulf War (the first one) has begun and Tommy (Sithole) wants a second edition and you are producing the local edition.”
Now that was a tall order for a rookie line editor.
I wondered to myself how I was going to cope, especially with what I had heard about Tommy Sithole that he took no prisoners in the conference room. You comforted me and told me not to worry as you and Gareth would be with me all the way, but that I had to be confident and compile my own diary and present it to the editors.
You and Gareth made my first diary conference easy.
I am sure Tommy could see I was nervous and did not want to go for the jugular early in my career.
Oliver you were a news person through and through and I remember the chuckle at the headline “The mother of all battles has begun-Saddam”. You knew you had a seller in that headline.
I also remember your anger at Saddam two days later when he literally surrendered.
“Why give us this hype that he is a fighter when he knew he was a coward. Kungo uraisa vanhu for nothing”, you fumed. I knew where that statement was coming from.
A few years earlier you had done such a wonderful job in reporting about the atrocities of the rebel Renamo movement in Mozambique.
You had seen and reported the bad side of the war and seen the conditions of refugees in camps.
It was no pretty sight you told me.
Your reportage and pictures by the late Fidelis Zvomuya touched many Zimbabweans.
The civil war had led to the formation of the Zimbabwe-Mozambique Friendship Association (Zimofa) that raised millions of dollars to aid refugees.
Locally spearheaded by the late Colonel Gaza and Mr Dave Poptlal, food, clothes and medicines found their way into refugee camps.
For your efforts, you won third prize in the Reuters News Reporter of the year in 1988.
You showed me the ropes of how to become a war correspondent and when I ventured into Mozambique, Somalia, the DRC I was all the more wiser, thanks to you my brother.
When you left for a public relations post with the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association, you came into my office where I was business editor, and told me you had recommended me for the post of news editor and it seemed the powers that be were in agreement. You wished me the best.
You were also a socialite.
We would often take a stroll around town at lunchtime, window shopping for the latest trends.
You liked your suits and you were always smart.
I remember as news editor you were notorious for telling reporters to go back home and change if you felt they were not appropriately dressed.
One such victim is now quite high up at the ZBC.
We were referred to as “the boys around town” as we moved from one shop to the next always with one hand in the pocket.
If it wasn’t for your bulk we would have been called twins.
To this day we don’t know who was more elegant. There was no competition but just friendship and openness towards one another.
You showed your caring side too.
I was there when we advised the Editor’s secretary Mai Dzimati and editorial secretary, Lizzie Banda to enrol for a journalism course at the Christian College of Southern Africa (Ccosa). I remember us telling them that they had seen us rise from cub reporters to line editors and were not calling us “boss” when they had actually been at The Herald much longer.
To our delight, they both did.
I can still see that infectious smile, one that charmed many a people.
Most Friday nights we would drive to Sagma House which played mainly rhumba music.
There was this group Super K from Zambia and boy could you get down.
At times we would just chill at Sisi Irene’s place where we would dance with friends to Simon Chimbetu’s songs, especially Boterekwa.
You also liked Mbilia Belle and when I brought from Kenya, Kanda Bongoman’s latest Hinde Monie, you couldn’t get it out of your car cassette player.
Sadly you are no more.
As one of our friends Victor Chitongo said, we were like a three-legged pot as we travelled the length and breadth of the country.
Now we are a two-legged pot and have to put a brick to prop it up.
You did not deserve to die in a foreign country all alone after what you did. What about the dinner we promised at each others’ houses after you attended my mother’s memorial?
Farewell my friend my brother. You always called me Sekuru Mashev and I don’t know where the sekuru came from and I always called you “Vato” while others called you “Mazimdollar”. You were such a diehard Black Aces fan and I, an Arcadia United fan, that when both our teams disbanded we never went to watch football again except to support the Warriors.
Now I envy you as you will be watching them play in Gabon from a birds’ eye-view. Lucky fellow you!