Fare thee well heroine of the airwaves!

Terrence Mapurisana Correspondent
I once asked Judith Makwanya one of life’s great open questions after our morning diary meeting: how would you describe yourself?

For some people, that could be an invitation for ego-stroking, a chance to paint the most flattering, fascinating portrait their imaginations can conjure.

She answered with the verbal equivalent of a shrug. She was a simple but intelligent journalist, not terribly complicated as some would like to think. Many misunderstood.

The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) family has been left devastated that Judith Tendesai Makwanya is no longer part of the family that sat every morning at 8am for the diary meeting to discuss the stories of the day as we prepared our assignment sheet.

You could fill a phonebook with all of the good things that Sis or Aunt Judy (as we used to call her) left out. She was a big sister. But then I would need a whole week to properly articulate these issues and write about Sis Judy or Aunt Judy as some loved to call her.

I am celebrating the life of Judith Makwanya, a journalist that I shared the office with and worked with for the past 19 years when I joined the ZBC family as an Arts Editor. Coming from a print background all I can say is that she was a true lifeblood of the newsroom or what we could call the reporters pool.

When I got a phone call from The Herald’s Elliot Ziwira soon after we laid to rest the veteran scribe at Warren Hills cemetery in Harare, I wasn’t sure what I was going to write or why I was requested to write an obituary of a journalism heroine, someone who was my senior by far, and yet I was her immediate boss.

I was taken aback to the days when I worked for Parade Magazine and when I wrote for Zimpapers (that was years ago and names that come to mind include Sarah Tikiwa, Pikirayi Deketeke, William Chikoto, Davison Maruziva, Cephas Chitsaka and Uncle Mutseyekwa, to name a few).

But then I said to myself perhaps it’s because we shared the same office and tea when I needed it, and said to myself well let me write the little that I know about my Big Sister. But then I felt I was not qualified enough to do it.

I immediately thought of brothers and sisters who knew the life of Judith Makwanya better– the likes of Reuben Barwe, Charles Kawadza , Alson Mufiri, Josephine Zulu, Priscillah Mapuranga- Zvobgo, Ray Mawerera and Shepherd Mutamba who first dropped me a line after Judy’s death saying :

“I am sorry about Judy. I worked with Judy ndichibva ku Parade magazine in 1990. We worked together with the likes of Ray Kandawasvika, Nimrod Mazani, Robson Nkomo, Albert Madzana, Painos Dakwa, Anani Maruta, Chris Somo, Michael Table, Douglas Rinomhota, Lazarus Mhlanga, Wilson Dakwa and others. To imagine these good guys are gone makes ZBC as a corporate poorer and ZBC news as a department poorer. Sad. Sad. Sad.”

Judy died at a local hospital in Harare from heart failure on March 11. She was 55.

This is a lady who was so much more than her accomplishments and for me that’s saying a lot, considering how many accomplishments she actually had in the journalism fraternity.

Born on October 22, 1963 in Rusape Judy did her secondary education at St David’s Girls High School, Mutare from 1977 to 1982. She later enrolled for a Master of Arts in Journalism with the Minsk State University in the USSR from 1983 to 1989.

She joined the ZBC in June 1990 as a reporter and rose through the ranks, joining the Presidential team in 1997. Due to her hard work Sis Judy was promoted to the position of Diplomatic Correspondent on October 11 2001, a position she held up to the time of her death.

With ZBC her career took her all over the world, but she remained humble.

Journalism proved to be a fine use of Judith Makwanya’s innate ability to put people at ease and convince them to cough up information. She was, indeed, an icon.

Judy worked in a newsroom filled with eccentric characters, and still managed to stand out as a mentor to most youngsters, and always wore a face that could be described as ever eager for news.

“She was a strong, hardworking, accomplished and able journalist. The public broadcaster, the journalism fraternity, and, indeed the nation, is poorer without Judy”, said Mr Nick Mangwana, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services.

During our morning diary meetings, Judy made every reporter, whether intern, renowned or veteran just as important as anyone else, and emphasised that everyone had a story to tell, which of course needed to be shaped.

Although many people misunderstood her, she believed in treating everyone with dignity and respect. One needed to be a bit closer to her in order to understand her. Yes, she was a humble, yet very capable communicator, who livened the ZBC News and documentary presentations.

I can’t think of anybody else so devoted to her career like what Sis Judy was. She was just amazing. In as far as diplomatic issues or stories were concerned, Judy was the journalist -in- charge. She did them with so much authority.

Reflected an official in the ministry of Foreign Affairs and International trade, Mr Gideon Gapare, “She was a true patriot, accomplished and seasoned journalist, whose dedicated service to her profession and country was unquestionable.

“She was the ministry’s focal point and diligently handled most of the ministry’s Press and media requirements, including coverage of the minister’s interviews.”

In our office she was readily available for other duties as well besides her diplomatic beat. It’s close to impossible to have something like that happen from a senior person. Usually somebody’s going to say, ‘Don’t tell me what to do.

I am your senior.” But Judy just had a presence in the way that she conducted herself.

Though written more in feature pieces, her scripts repeatedly provided forthright and thoroughly researched assessments of her stories, and I valued her input highly.

I remember when she came from the 2018 United Nations General Assembly New York trip, she showed me a picture that she was taken with CNN journalist Christine Amanpour ( I my sure my brother Joseph Nyadzayo took the picture or was it Mike Mswere?) she was excited that she met one of the world’s renowned journalist and shared her experience. That was Judy for you.

Judy loved her music. In fact I did not know that she was a great fan of Rod Stewart. After one of my morning Saturday radio shifts where I presented some old school contemporary music on the then ZBC SFM radio (now Classic 263) she called me and complimented me for playing Rod Steward’s “Maggie May”. She loved her contemporary music, the likes of The Bee Gees, Tina Turner and Abba and lots of jazz.

“Sis Judy did her work as professionally as she possibly could have done, and in fact better than most chequebook and brown envelope journalists we are today witnessing,” said a colleague at the burial.

She always addressed me as her brother and always stressed the importance of kindness and hard work.

Her last story was on Thursday, March 7 on the Third Session of the Zimbabwe- South Africa Bi-National Commission. On Friday March 8 at 7.30am she sent me a message telling me that she was under observation at a local hospital on Thursday till 7pm, and was asked to take bed rest at home. She ended up by writing “Zvakapresa” which to me was a sign that she was not well.

“Many a time Judith Makwanya wrote obituaries, countless times she reported on national heroes being interred at the National Heroes Acre, but today our hearts are bleeding as we bid farewell to her,” said Abigirl Tembo, one of the reporters at ZBC.

Even the diplomatic community which she served wholeheartedly will greatly miss her.

Nephew to Judith, Tonderai Makwanya described his aunt as a strong person, who was a pillar of strength to the family.

Young colleagues, who worked with the late veteran broadcaster praised her mentorship skills lamenting the huge gap she has left in the media fraternity.

I am reminded of a poem that was written by dub poet Albert Nyathi when he paid tribute to the late legendary Afro jazz artiste Dorothy Masuku ( not Masuka).

He writes: “To a noble, fearless, bold and extraordinary woman, you simply departed without saying goodbye. . . We feel empty, powerless, lonely and robbed . . .You shared the road we walked together with ease. . .You were at ease sharing the bread we broke together. . .”

I think the same applies to Sis Judy.

For now her chair remains empty next to my desk. But somehow something tells me this is a big loss to the Government, the Zimbabwe media fraternity and the nation at large.

For some of us who love music, I am reminded of the late Oliver Mtukudzi’s songs “Tiri Mubindu” and “Akoromoka Awa”, Jah Prayzah’s song “Sarai” with the lyrics:“Famba zvakanaka, mweya wakachena tosangana kudenga) taken off his latest album “Chitubu”.

As Elton would sing “You lived your life like a “Candle in the wind.”

Goodbye Norma Jean

Though I never knew you at all

You had the grace to hold yourself

While those around you crawled

They crawled out of the woodwork

And they whispered into your brain

They set you on the treadmill

And they made you change your name

And it seems to me you lived your life

Like a candle in the wind

Never knowing who to cling to

When the rain set in

And I would have liked to have known you

But I was just a kid

Your candle burned out long before

Your legend ever did

Loneliness was tough

The toughest role you ever played

Hollywood created a superstar

And pain was the price you paid

Even when you died

Oh the press still hounded you

All the papers had to say

Was that Marilyn was found in the nude

And it seems to me you lived your life

Like a…

Fare thee well our heroine. We are, indeed, poorer without you!

Terrence Mapurisana is ZBC News and Current Affairs Assistant News Editor. He can be contacted on: terrymapurisana