Nathan Shamuyarira – The Humble Giant

By John Gambanga

It would be amiss for anyone to profile black journalism in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe without mentioning the key role that the late Dr Nathan

Shamuyarira played in the noble profession.

The tall and serious gentleman with a deep voice left an indelible mark on the profession that is regarded as the fourth estate.

He was a pioneering black journalist in the 1950s whose contemporaries include Jasper Savanhu, Lawrence Vambe, Enoch Dumbutshena, Stanlake Samkange, Willie Musarurwa, Noel Mukono, Masotsha Hove, Charlton Ngcebetscha and Cephas Msipa.

He was an astute academic, an unwavering politician and humble but eminent and respected journalist, who rose from a cub reporter on the African Daily News in 1953 to become Editor-in-Chief of the African Newspapers group six years later.

African Newspapers was owned and run by the Paver brothers who were viewed as liberal whites compared to their racist peers of the day.

According to Dr Shamuyarira, the Pavers allowed the black editors of their papers liberty to articulate the black man’s issues such as land, hunger and general racial discrimination, especially in urban centres like Salisbury and Bulawayo. 

The other newspapers under this group were the African Weekly launched in 1943, the Bantu Mirror, The Harvester for farmers, and the Recorder, which targeted teachers.

The flagship in the stable was the African Daily News where Dr Shamuyarira honed his writing skills and earned himself great respect.

The paper was banned in 1964 by the Rhodesia Front regime under Ian Smith.

Dr Shamuyarira attended Princeton University in the USA and attained a Ph.D in Political Science before moving to the University of Dar es

Salaam in Tanzania where he lectured in political science.

He also lectured at the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

He was part of the early political movements, the National Democratic Party, Zapu, Zanu and Frolizi and held various senior positions.

At independence in 1980 he became a Member of Parliament and was appointed the first Minister of Information who used his experience to bring about sanity and respect to journalism, which had been hitherto a preserve of

the whites. 

He invited senior black journalists working outside the country, like Bill Saidi, Steve Mpofu, Farai Munyuki, Tim Nyahunzvi and others to return home and take up the senior jobs on state newspapers that were being left by the whites who could not work under a black government. 

Shamuyarira also spearheaded the formation of the Mass Media Trust, which was the policy making body for state media.

I remember him as a sober and no nonsense, fair minister who fought very hard to protect journalists at every turn.

When I was working as a sub editor on the ZBC Radio desk in the formative years of independence, he forced one senior government official to write an apology to the state broadcaster for threatening a journalist with dismissal after he had not used one particular story on radio. 

His house was very close to Pockets Hill. One day when I was on night duty on the Radio News Desk he came jogging during the night.

The Night duty superintendent was an old white man, a retired policeman in the Rhodesian system who did not recognise the humble minister when he asked to go into the newsroom.

The superintendent telephoned the newsroom.

“Hey, there is an old man here who wants to go into the news room; come and talk to him.”

I went to the reception and was surprised to see the honourable minister. He had been jogging and was dressed in a blue track suit and I walked him into the newsroom.

“He doesn’t even recognise me yet he has a television set in front of him,” quipped the minister to me. 

He asked for two stories to work on and we gave him telex copies of news agency stories to rewrite for radio.

He sat behind an old Remington typewriter and subbed the stories to a reasonable length and gave them back to me to use.

“Check if I have done a good job before I go,” he said. 

I read the stories and nodded, pleased that I had checked stories subbed by the veteran scribe. It gave me a sense of pride.

“Okay, you can go Cde Minister,” I said with a laugh and I walked him out of the newsroom.

For me this was a most humbling experience.

Dr Shamuyarira frowned on heavy drinking and womanising, saying “Alcohol and drug abuse undermine the precision of the brain.”

When the Zimbabwean government introduced the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme-ESAP in the early 1990s, he and Dr Callistus Ndhlovu spoke against the foreign policy which they said was a recipe for economic doom and had never succeeded  anywhere in Africa.

Time would later prove them very right.

Dr Shamuyarira’s book, Crisis in Rhodesia, published in London in 1965, is a narrative of the struggles that the early black political parties in the country faced in their quest for majority rule.

The younger generation should emulate and celebrate the life of this gallant fighter and nationalist, a humble giant who ran his race with distinction.

May his dear soul rest in eternal peace.

ZBC

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.