Bheki Mashile's Letter from Umjindi

Zimbabwe. Nothing like a good coup


As I punch away at my keyboard writing this piece, I must say I am in very good spirits. So what if the recent heavy rains we’ve been enjoying passed through my farm with winds that resembled a hurricane instead of a downpour – and said rains made half the corrugated iron on my shed look like a crushed soda can. So what, as the brothers in the States would say, “siiit, ain’t nothing but a chicken wing”. A chicken wing? Huh. I have to pay to have this “siiit” repaired.

As an African, I’m tempted to blame this corrugated crush on witchcraft, however, I think it’s mother nature paying me back, on behalf of this-here-Nosey’s admin guru Nicci, for my quip:  “Don’t worry about your drought in the Cape, I’ll send you a bottle of water”. Well who’s laughing now?

Hey I’m laughing cause it ain’t nothing but a chicken wing, definitely not with my Uncle Bob to put a smile on my face.

So sad that our liberator of Ian Smith’s racist Rhodesia ended up becoming a power obsessed buffoon. In fact my joy is not just from Uncle Bob but the highly entertaining event in which he was the star attraction, the November 14 “coup” launched by his once-loyal military brass. See what happens when you let the brass get dull or, in Uncle Bob’s case, relegate it to a bunch of toy soldiers?

Yes, yes it’s over, and Uncle has come to his senses and stepped down. But hey, his insistence on holding on to power resulting in the army’s action made my day, brought back some fond memories. But will get to that at the end. 

There is one thing about journalism that I despise: with experience, one develops a very strong sense of observation. In other words, when a journalist comes across the slightest information that is of public interest, it stays with them. Then one day, unexpectedly, the journo is reminded of that issue and simply cannot walk away without looking into it.

Sometime in the not-too-distant past my doctor was giving me healthy eating advice and one of the things he warned me to stay away from was mielie meal. Maize. Argh! not a problem there, I am a pasta and rice man anyway. However, I’ve never turned my nose up at porridge when it’s offered.

The reason my good doctor raised the red flag on the nation’s staple was because of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), the organism in this case being the maize seed. So I’ll be conducting my own research on why one should shy away from it – perhaps I’ll get round to it some time in 2018.

In the mean time, recently, while buying mielie meal to have on hand for guests, I was struck by a warning label on the packaging. It said “may contain genetically modified ingredients”.

May? My immediate reaction (that journalistic response I despise) was: “Well I’ll be damned, this is what the good doctor was talking about. Surely there must be some substance to his caution or this warning would not be on this packaging”. But herein lies the problem: the majority of people who are the largest consumers of mielie meal will not have a clue as to what GMO is – that is, if they notice or pay attention to the warning at all.

This creates a serious dilemma for a journo like myself whose Umjindi Guardian community newspaper was dedicated to informing the public about issues such as this. Surely, with the Nose having written about it in the past, and now my bringing it up again, is not going to reach the most vulnerable members of our population.

However, not all needs to be lost. This, here Nose is read by policymakers, so when we again publish findings on the risks of GMO, the Department of Health will hopefully take the responsibility of widely informing the public. A public that is now being cautioned about the very product they live on day in and day out.

How important is this information? Well, I recently read that South Africa is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa that has allowed Genetically Modified maize. All other countries  have shied away from it. Why? When I asked the good doctor what the risks were, he said: “too much you will need to research, but one thing I can tell you is there has been an increase in illnesses such as kidney failure among this country’s black population, regular consumers of pap”.

Nosey ones, clearly this (GMO) thing cannot be cast aside as, “ain’t nothing but a chicken wing”.

Back to Uncle Bob. Well there is nothing like a good coup – tanks rolling, a leader shown shell-shocked, people celebrating – to make a news broadcast captivating entertainment. This scribe regularly enjoyed such entertainment in the seventies on American news broadcasts. Man oh man, the seventies were definitely the decade of coups. But they were always in distant lands far flung from New York. So, for it to happen right next door in Zim made one feel right in the middle of the action.

However, there is a sadness to see Uncle have to leave in that manner. After all, he did spearhead the liberation of the country. But more than anything, at least we will no longer have to endure his annoying sons tweeting about how they can buy expensive watches because papa “owns” a country.

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