Veteran Zim journalist no more

To those of us who knew and worked with him, Naison was a legend. Despite his disability, which was brought about by polio at an early age, he was energetic and so full of life.

His sense of humour and vast knowledge of radio news in particular made him stand out and gained him a lot of respect from colleagues.

He was also passionate about music, an interest which I shared with him. He appreciated a wide range of artists, including the late Bob Marley, the Pied Pipers and many others and we would spend time discussing music in addition to the art of news writing and presentation.

I first met Naison Neganje on the first of November 1992 in the old newsroom. That was the day I joined the then Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation at the Pockets Hill Studios in Highlands.

Naturally I was feeling a bit apprehensive but excited at the same time that I was at last about to realize my dream of becoming a broadcaster. It was during the days when ZBC had fame and those who worked for it enjoyed celebrity status. These were the days of legendary news readers including now Namibia based Joseph Madhimba, Wayne Musabayana, Colin Harvey, Noreen Welsh, Alice Mutema, the late Marilyn Mhambi, the late Sithokozile Mpala and others. These people drew millions to their television and radio sets during news time.

Radio programming and entertainment also had its heroes and heroines. There were personalities including Peter Johns, Kelvin Sifelani, Eunice Goto, Jane Esau, Kudzi Marudza, Musi Khumalo and Admire Taderera, to name but a few.

However in the news section there were also many men and women working behind the scenes, and Naison was one of them, having joined ZBC’s news department at independence in 1980.

When I started work he was the Chief Sub-Editor responsible for radio news in English, and he put me through the paces, teaching me and other rookies the craft of writing news. Of course there were other senior subs who checked our stories before going on air, but Neganje was the last line of check and his influence on my writing was the most significant.

I remember with fondness senior sub editors I worked with on various shifts during those formative years. People like Dice Muvavarirwa, Nesbert Mvere, the late Matthew Chibanda, Peter Banga and Selby Kabote.There were other colleagues as well. People like Charles Chaza, Freeman Sigauke, the late Sceva File, Lydia Mavengere, Carol Gombakomba, Nanette Silukhuni and Grace Tsvakanyi. All these radio journalists had their work checked by Naison, who also did the duty roster.

From the day I walked into the newsroom it was business right away; with Naison pushing me to the limit. My job then, as was that of all the people I have mentioned, was to edit copy from various sources, including Ziana, the Zimbabwe Information Service and our own reporters. Neganje was the professional, offering constructive criticism and guidance. He would emphasise the fact that radio news is written for the ear and so the subbing had to be tight, with no complicated sentences and words. I had to re-write my stories several times before I mastered the art – thanks to him. He was a thorough man and those who passed through his hands, including news presenters, became good at their job.

Neganje was a true leader who led by example. For example he would sometimes run a shift all by himself, editing copy, writing the headlines and putting together a bulletin if there was an emergency and someone did not turn up for duty.

It was this dedication to duty and professionalism that he bequeathed to all those he worked with. Above all he was a frank and thorough person who did not tolerate a sloppy approach to work. If you messed up he would tell it straight to your face but after that you would be friends. However, if you did your work well he would pat you on the back and encourage you to do even better.

He was a gregarious person who got along well with different people. Above all he was well respected.

It was during the days before the restructuring of the ZBC to form different companies under the new name, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings. These were the days when we called each other “uncle” and uncle Neganje was central to all the news writing and news reading business.

About 2001 Neganje left ZBC but as they say “once a broadcaster, always a broadcaster”, the broadcasting bug hit and he bounced back in 2005 as a news readers’ trainer. We were happy to have him back with his vast experience.

He was also active in the disability movement and was a member of the National Council of Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe. In 2005 I interviewed him on the radio programme “Disability Issues” to find out more about his life and experiences as a person with a disability. I found the interview both fascinating and refreshing. He was a brave man who faced the world with a lot of courage and humour.

An example of the latter was when I asked him what challenges he faced as a young man growing up at the Jairos Jiri disability centre in the second city of Bulawayo to which he replied: “I did not face any challenges at all. In fact the challenges were afraid of me.”

That was the kind of man Naison Neganje was. So it was not surprising that his burial resembled a who’s who of ZBC-ZBH’s past and present personalities as well as professionals from different other fields. It was refreshing to mix and mingle with, among others, former colleagues of Neganje such as John Gambanga, David Mwenga, Isaiah Mutemachani, James Gora, Alson Mfiri and Noel Sibanda.

Newsnet Editor-in-Chief, Chris Chivinge, accompanied by his deputies Robson Mhandu and Tazzen Mandizvidza as well as reporters and others who worked with him, were all there to give their last respects.

Everyone who had a chance to speak spoke of the legacy of professionalism and immense ability that Neganje possessed.

Chivinge spoke highly of the good work and contribution made by Neganje to the journalism profession. He said Naison was an intelligent and principled man who was not only a key figure in the media but was also a role model to people with disabilities.

One of the most senior journalists who worked with him, Jonathan Hunzvi, said: “Neganje had natural intelligence. He knew a lot about many things and I relied on his advice even on personal matters. He had become like a brother to me and our relationship extended beyond the call of duty.”

The current Chairman of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists’ Newsnet branch, Jacob Phiri, said: “Neganje was a true professional and many journalists practising in the country and those who now work abroad passed through his hands.”

And so it was with great sadness that hundreds of people who turned up at the burial site bade farewell to a veteran journalist who was dedicated to the preservation of high broadcasting standards and was so full of life.

“Uncle” Neganje is survived by a wife, four children and three grand children.

July 2006
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