Foster Dongozi and his crafty grandmaster

Isdore Guvamombe
Journalism has never been an easy profession.
The timbre of its operations often put one on the ringside of events and at times, you end up acting like the characters you observe and write about.
The late long-serving Zimbabwe Union of Journalism secretary general Foster Dongozi (May His Soul Rest in Peace) used his acquired political tactics to ascend to power; he used his acquired political tactics to remain in power and indeed he used his acquired tactics to ward off opponents and ring-fence his power. He learnt the art from the best and perfected it to his advantage.
I joined the ZUJ in 1991 as a college student at a time when there was a power struggle between William Bango (MHSRIP), Vincent Chikwari (MHSRIP) and Kindness Paradza now Member of Parliament for Makonde.
Let me hasten top say ZUJ has always been an organization of power struggles, for, journalists themselves are politicians; they dine and wine with politicians at all levels from the Presidium to the lowest cadre. Many might not be aware that we fought to remove Kindness Paradza from ZUJ presidency and the chaos only ended with the intervention of the police.
But this instalment belongs to Dongozi AKA Ndugu, the life-time secretary general of ZUJ.
By 1999 I had become part and parcel of the body politick of ZUJ and had become the chairman of Masvingo branch where I had been posted as Bureau chief of The Herald.
By 2000 I had become the vice president of Zuj under crafty grandmaster Mathew Takaona. Njabulo Ncube was the other vice president. Don’t ask were we copied the structure. It is clear.
The secretary general was Basildon Peta. When Peta left the country, we coopted Dongozi and once he tested power he changed. He stuck to that position until his sad death on Wednesday.
A few years later, under silhouette sunset horizon as sunset gave way to night that wintry day, we arrived in Bulawayo for the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) elections.
Mathew Takaona, our long serving president was calling it quits and the result would either bring a huge paradigm shift or maintain Takaona’s legacy.
Takaona had transformed and professionalised ZUJ from the old school and turned it into a formidable force. Of course like any other man, Takaona has his own faults. But the good things he did outweighed his faults. Everyone from politicians and the corporate world was now pushing to work with ZUJ, courtesy of Takaona.
I was Takaona’s vice president. With his encouragement, I had transformed ZUJ Masvingo branch into another force, coming up with housing schemes, welfare schemes and burial societies for journalists.
At this Bulawayo election I wanted to take over the presidency and bring my own vision into the mainstream ZUJ but there were other people with ambitions and Takaona himself tried to be smart, albeit being involved behind the scenes. To this day, I have not known a journalist who can match Takaona’s political acumen.
But this instalment is about Dongozi.
So it was clear, I was winning the election but I was not guaranteeing continuity no protection to anyone. That was my first mistake. I posed myself as a man with his own ideas, beyond annual awards. And, I made that very clear. The Masvingo model was every journalist’s marvel. That was to prove to be my second mistake.
Here we were in Bulawayo for the election and it was a hot one. Soon I noticed a young man and then largely unknown journalist from the Midlands, Blessed Mhlanga had been set up against me and he said so many funny things, de-campaigning me. I took it, it was an election. I soon dug for Mlanga’s history but it is subject for another day.
I also noticed that a lot of bogus young journalists had been but onto the voters roll. So we agreed with Dongozi that we would verify the voters roll in the morning before the elections.
Dongozi had announced that the venue was at Rainbow Hotel and so we set base there. It was a night of long knives. Late into the night, things changed. Dongozi wanted Dumisani Sibanda and they had worked together at the Chronicle and they had cut deals. I knew I was standing against Dumi and he was walkover. So they discretely changed the venue, hand-picked their supporters, hired a bus and drove to How Mine. The rest of us were left at the Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel.
That was Dongozi for us.
By the time we picked their spoor in the morning, the election was already underway at How Mine and they were no challengers. Meanwhile we were getting lost to the new venue. Finally, we arrived when the election for the president was under way and Bornwell Chakaodza (MHSRIP) was the presiding officer. The rest had been done and Foster Dongozi had returned his post as secretary general against Frank Chikowore, who was not inside the venue. Of all my supporters, only me was allowed in into the venue last minute and I got in when people were already voting for the president.
I tried to by all means to stop the voting but Chakaodza declared that the process could not stop. My name was on the ballot and guess what I got 16 votes, while Dumisani got 24 votes and my hordes of supporters were causing havoc outside.
Since then Dongozi synchronized power and made ZUJ his pre-occupation, resigning from his job. He became a full time secretary general and when all of us became editors and therefore, not qualified to remain in ZUJ, he stuck out there. His conviction and hegemony to ZUJ was clear.
He did very well in arranging awards every year that massaged the egos of many young journalists but is the last six years or so, the youngsters have been on his throat. They wanted him out. They never listened to him. He pacified many with awards but, the call for him to leave was getting loud and louder by each day.
Dongozi was resilient. He was brave. He took knocks and punches very well. The same Mhlanga who helped him ascend to power had become his biggest critic. Those on Twitter know what I mean.
But when all is said and done, outside his political chicanery, Dongozi was a good man. He tolerated a lot of nonsense but he never let his hold to power go. He died in power. He died in ZUJ and he will be sadly missed. He had become ZUJ itself.The Sunday Mail.

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