Tribute to William Nungu Bango

IN THE late eighties, I had the privilege to serve in the national executive of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) under the chairmanship of William Nungu Bango, a heavy handed workaholic.

He was dedicated to see ZUJ as a union different from the rest.

I was then the Midlands correspondent for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) when I was elected into the national executive committee of ZUJ in 1986.

Bango was soon to succeed Charles Chikerema as ZUJ chairman after Chikerema had been promoted to become editor of the Sunday Mail. Under the ZUJ constitution, editors are not allowed to hold office in the union since they are regarded as employers.

I recall a national council meeting that was convened at a hotel in the city of Bulawayo which started at 8am and ended around 8.30pm a grueling twelve and half hours. Throughout the meeting, Bango was in no-nonsense mood taking charge of all sessions and ordering that results be produced from every item on the agenda.

The host Bulawayo branch of ZUJ had organised a cocktail party where the delegates were to interact with local journalists and one of the executive members was embarrassed by chairman Bango when he tried to remind Bango that the journalists were waiting for us at the venue of the function.

“Young man we did not come here to drink beer and just have fun with those ordinary members of the union, we are here for serious business, to build the future of all journalists including those you want us to go and waste time imbibing with. I don’t ever want to hear that again, otherwise I will chuck you out of this meeting. I cannot tolerate that nonsense” Bango said before continuing with business. This was despite the comrade who had raised the issue having the support of  the entire house.

One of the items that took much of our time was the development of a welfare fund for media practitioners. The fund would also be used to assist families of deceased members of the union. I remember the executive being bogged down on the name of the fund some had proposed that it be called a bereavement fund while others strongly objected preferring that the fund be broadened to cover situations such as supporting families of members who would have been incarcerated for professional reasons.

And another area that chairman Bango was particularly strict about was the wording in the communiqué to be issued at the end of each meeting.

In most instances four people would be appointed towards the end of the meeting to draft the statement, but the team would end up with more than 10 people. While the drafting team was at work the rest of the delegates would not be let free, instead discussions on what should be contained in the statement would continue, chaired of course by Bango himself.

And if anyone raised a strong point, Bango would immediately order that person to go and join the drafting team.

“You have a good point go and join the drafting team” and that is how the team quickly swelled  to over 10 members from an initial four.

No matter how late you would stay awake with the chairman in the bar, the next morning he would have a comprehensive report “from the chairman’s desk” covering issues from the previous day’s discussions to the way forward and we all used to wonder what time he would have crafted those reports.

Bango was a disciplinarian who insisted on confidentially of union documents to the extent that during the Bulawayo council meeting we changed meeting venues four times in one day to avoid being spied on by state security agents.

This was despite there being nothing in our deliberations that could be regarded as anything close to constituting a threat to state security under any of Zimbabwe’s laws.  Each time we took a break, be it for tea or lunch we were all required to carry all our documents on us and towards the end of the break word would go round of the room in which we were to meet after the break.

 At one meeting in Harare a member of the national executive from Bulawayo was ordered to go back home after information had leaked to chairman Bango that the member had brought with him a girlfriend who was employed by the State security.

The executive member had apparently been in the drafting team of the chairman’s opening address to an international journalist’s conference which ZUJ was hosting in the capital.

It was only after the rest of us pleaded with the chairman that our colleague was allowed to return from Bulawayo just before the start of the important conference.

As we prepared for the international journalists’ conference Bango had demanded that we look for an artist who was extremely good in beating the African drum. He did not shade any light on the role that the drummer was to play at the conference.

We quickly contacted Stephen Chipfunyise then Permanent Secretary in the Education, Sports, Arts and Culture ministry who helped us identify the solo talented performer as demanded by our boss.

The first item on the programme was the beating of the drum in an auditorium packed with dignitaries who included President Robert Mugabe who was the guest of honour. And soon after the drum chairman Bango walked to the podium and before acknowledging the guests he began by explaining the significance of the African drum in ancient culture. The drum, he said was used to announce both good and bad news, it was the most powerful means of communication and “ZUJ has used the African drum to alert everyone of the commencement of a very important meeting”.

Then Bango proceeded to acknowledge the guests and participants and went on to explain how over the years journalism had replaced the African drum as the now modern means of communication.

The speech was so well presented that I was sure it mesmerised not only the foreign delegates, but even our own leaders, Mugabe and his entire Cabinet.

Not more than three days after the conference Bango was promoted to features Editor at Ziana and he immediately resigned his post as ZUJ chairman and that is how we lost one of the most talented leaders of our beloved union ZUJ.

When we tried to ask him at the Quill why he had “ditched us ” Bango simply said his promotion was overdue and in accordance with the ZUJ constitution he could not stay on as chairman of the union “so it was time for me to move on” he said.

In 1987 just after the notorious Richard Orchard Gwesele killed five white farmers in the Somabhula area near Gweru, Bango who was then working for the Zimbabwe Inter Africa News Agency (Ziana) was sent to Bulawayo to assist the late Takesure Matarise who was then the Ziana reporter in Gweru.

As young journalists then, many of us used to admire Bango’s investigative and writing skills just after his arrival, a team of journalists had gathered in his hotel room to listen and learn from him.

We were all amazed when he told us that within the short period of his arrival he had learnt that Gwesela had been spotted on a hill  in the Lower Gweru area and thatGwesela had walked upstream along the Gweru river to avoid detection. Bango had already filed the story and to our surprise it was on the next ZBC radio bulletin.

Bango immediately started giving us lessons on how to work on investigative pieces emphasising that we did not always have to depend on official sources when handling “fast unfolding events” such as the Gwesela case.

Despite his seemingly always businesslike attitude Bango was full of humour and could associate with anyone.

 I recall a day when we were having drinks in the Quill Club after he had started working in the MDC information department. One of the guys in our company was a member of the Central intelligence Organisation and Bango would freely crack political jokes much to the amusement of all present. And when he eventually bad farewell and left, we were surprised to see him back after a few minutes.

Apparently he had forgotten his briefcase on the table and as he collected his bag he told the guy from the intelligence service that he could have easily earned himself a big promotion had he grabbed the bag and surrendered it to his bosses.

He said all the secrets of his party (MDC) were in that bag and we all laughed as he collected his bag and left.

Bango had such a sharp journalistic memory and was so gifted in writing that whatever he wrote was a pleasure to read. At Ziana he had teamed up with talented scribes the likes of Chemist Mafuba, Tarcy Munaku, Ndaba Nyoni and others which made the media in those days a deeply respected and enviable profession.

Next time you visit the Quill Club in Harare make it a point to read the history of Press clubs, a piece that was crafted by Bango and framed and preserved by the Matthew Takaona ZUJ executive.

May your soul rest in eternal peace William! You will always be remembered as a teacher and leader of journalists in Zimbabwe and at large. No wonder your column was Nungu At Large.

Our Partners:   NewsDay   The Independent   TheStandard  MyClassifieds