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Abigail Gamanya: life on the battle front, victory in death




THERE simply was no chance of one missing the unassuming presence of media personality Abigail Gamanya, even from a distance.

The choice between liking and disliking her at first glance was relatively thin.   It is definitely easy to misjudge towering characters in her mould, with no sense of fear of anyone and relatively loose tongue. 

I am generally one person never short or at loss for words.  But in Amai Ruvarashe or Sis Abie, as I would affectionately call her, I found my match. 

The setting was a boardroom and, in typical civil society style, invitees to a planned meeting were trickling in slowly.  Everyone wants to get into the meeting at its crux after the usual pleasantries.   As is the case in such moments, meetings fail to kick off for lack of a quorum.

Small talk becomes the order of the day.  From the difficult operating environment, personal developments, politics and latest news within the sector. It was on one of those rare occasions that I had made a meeting on time, when colleagues broke the “trending” development in the sector. 

The return of Abigail. 

Well, I had never met her in person, but had interacted with her works and had heard lots of stories about her.  The good, bad and ugly.  There had been lots of unproven gossip on her personal life, something she was to push back and fight as a barrier to the emancipation of women in the media sector.

The hot news, though, was that she had left the Prime Minister’s office, which had been established to accommodate the late Morgan Tsvangirai’s work in government in a brokered power-sharing deal. Abigail was returning to her roots in the media civic space assuming her previous role as coordinator of the Federation of African Media Women Zimbabwe (FAMWZ).   

As discussions were unfolding, we began to hear bouts of laughter emerging from the other offices.  A beautiful towering lady had entered the scene greeting every person, including those she was not familiar with.

Then came my turn as we immediately made eye contact.  In her soft but firm voice she greeted everyone with her famous “hi guys” clouded in a smile.  As she was already looking at me, the next words to come out of her mouth seemed to be a direct attack on me.  “Who is this one?” she quipped. 

I was rattled.  But like I normally do in such circumstances, I burst into a loud laugh and responded by twisting facts a little.

  ”My name is Nigel.  I know you.  I am sure we have met somewhere.”  She didn’t bother to respond to the obvious pick-up line.  If her first line and body language seemed to be a direct attack, the second was a knockout punch.

Aaah hoo ndiwe Nigel wacho.  Ndaifunga kuti hameno munhu akangwara.”  To paraphrase, she did not expect to see a dull person but a more streetwise one.  I was taken aback and left speechless. 

But that was to be the beginning of a professional partnership that later upgraded to friendship and ultimately family. 

What was to follow was a whirlwind tour across the length and breadth of the country on a shoe-string budget but with an important message that journalists had to internalise.  It was a campaign against sexual harassment in the media that was being jointly implemented by FAMWZ (which she later branded Gender and Media Connect) and the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) where I was serving at the time. 

It was such a remarkable experience that would see us board a “chicken bus” from Mutare to Masvingo.  I was not particularly in a good space, but the way Abigail made me feel comfortable and provided me with survival tips on such journeys made the whole trip memorable and drew us closer. 

Moments of that nature brought the best out of Abigail who was also overly protective of not only female journalists but also youths.   As a veteran journalist who had seen it all, she felt a moral obligation to take the young under her wings and mentor them.

She had this awesome tact of having everyone in her inner circle comfortable to share even the deepest intricacies of their lives.  Sis Abie would identify talent, nurture the raw diamond and place persons according to their gifting, even if it would come with bruises. 

But then again one would not dare mistake her otherwise big heart as a basis for taking advantage of her or compromising her work ethic and path.  The iron lady in her would spring out and all hell would break loose. 

I will never forget how we overcame a huge storm that almost threatened our professional and personal relationship.  She at some point had reservations about my work and, in typical Abigail fashion, she descended on me like a tonne of bricks.   For a moment I thought I was on my way out of employment.

Yet my fears were far from the obtaining reality.  As a no-nonsense personality, she just wanted to vent out and read the riot act to ensure that my work became more inclusive and focused.  We later were to laugh it all out and find each other again. 

That was her modus operandi, even in her engagements with policymakers and power in its various manifestations.  She could knock at any door and make sure that her demands were met.  Rarely would she take no for an answer.  If today fails, she would knock again on the morrow.

That was her life. 

In the later days of her career she was concurrently pursuing the quest for gender equality and facilitating a training process that brought together state and non-state actors to a platform where they can jointly co-create a project that will lead to media freedom.  It is an intervention supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and she was instrumental in the establishment of diverse teams that are engaging across political and ideology inclination.  

This is a battle that she dedicated her life to.  Hopefully her immense contribution to the national and indeed international discourse will translate to a better life for all one day.  Her sterling works deserve to be rewarded even in death.  Rest in peace, my dear sister.

About the writer: Nigel Nyamutumbu is a media development practitioner, currently coordinating a network of nine media professional associations and support organisations, the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ).  He can be contacted on: [email protected] or +263 772 501 557              

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