Interviewed and edited by Edinah Masanga
Being a journalist in Zimbabwe is generally hard, even more so when you are a woman. To kick off our series on #AllWomenAreRoleModels, Edinah Masanga (EM) speaks to WEFSA Chairperson Thelma Chikwanha (TC) about her professional and personal life.
Who is Thelma Chikwanha?
Well, Thelma Chikwanha is a journalist, a mother and a citizen of a broken nation. I know it sounds a bit out of place to describe one as a journalist before a mother or citizen. It is my conviction that journalism is much more than a career, it is a vocation and therefore influenced every other role one may have in life.
Thanks and let me dive in, women shy away from professions as intense as journalism because of the challenges that they face for being particularly women. As one of the few women who rose to the position of Political Editor, a beat which is normally a domain for men in Zimbabwe, I want to know, what does it take to be a journalist and what challenges have you faced in career?
Journalism is a profession in which one faces many challenges, especially if working in a country like Zimbabwe where the practice of journalism is criminalized in most instances.
I have been harassed and hauled before the court’s just for doing my work. I have also been threatened times with our number by Zimbabwean authorities. Government ministers have also been on my case. I have lawsuits amounting to millions of dollars hanging around my neck. I have been called several names.
Women journalists face labels both in and outside newsrooms.
The presidential spokesperson labeled me unpatriotic because I write about the president’s health. For pity’s sake, the man is 93 years old and is even finding it difficult to walk without assistance. I’m sure that’s why his ministers saw it prudent to give present him with a wheelchair which of course the national broadcaster ZBC conveniently calls a mobile chair/massage chair, whichever catches your fancy. So it took a personal conviction to say, this is the job for me, this is what I want and no one is going to take that away from me. And that is how you succeed.
You have been through a lot and I must say I am very proud that you are still standing. What a formidable woman. So, I want to know, through all these, seemingly insurmountable challenges, were you able to mentor other women as a journalist?
I have had the opportunity to mentor several female journalists along the way. I have mentored journalists formally through the US Embassy Public Affairs Section Women Journalist Mentoring program. I have also mentored some who I had the opportunity to work with while I was a political editor and deputy news editor at the Daily News.
I’d also like to believe that I’ve also provided mentorship to young female journalists informally just by being a listening ear and providing advice where needed. My journey as a journalist made me realize that you can be mentored by someone without necessarily having an arrangement with them.
How wonderful to hear that you found time, in all that to mentor other women. Were you yourself mentored by anyone?
One of my mentors is veteran Zimbabwean female journalist and author Grace Mutandwa. I met her at my first job at the Financial Gazette. We were not exactly the best of buddies but she provided the much-needed mentorship by being available to talk to, give advice on how to survive in the newsroom. But what made her stand out for me was her work ethic. I wanted to be just like her and I found myself being drawn to her.
She represented where I wanted to go.
I honestly hope that I managed to inspire a few young women to pursue a career in journalism through my work.
Thank you for letting us into your life and allowing us to find strength from your story. Thank you, you are a real definition of resilience, courage, and leadership.