Veteran journalist and media development and rights activist Rumbidzai Abigail Gamanya, who succumbed to pneumonia at Dandaro Hospital in Harare on October 10, 2022, was a much-loved and respected professional and leaves a void that is hard to fill.
Her outstanding career spanned over 25 years and she passed away at the age of 49. Abi, as Gamanya was affectionately known, touched all who knew her and her warmth and wisdom will be greatly missed by her friends, family and all who worked with her.
Since news broke of her shocking passing, it has become apparent, especially to those who didn’t know Abi personally or follow her career advancement closely over the years, that she was more than a media icon. Abi was a gender equality advocate, whose strategic thinking and mentorship went beyond the media sector to the broader women’s rights movement.
media freedom fighter
One thing about Abi – she wasn’t afraid to take on a challenge, including leadership roles. Over the years, she has been one of the people at the forefront of media pressure for an independent, diverse and plural media environment in Zimbabwe and beyond.
My first interaction with Abi in this role was when she was a board member of the Zimbabwean chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa), then headed by the late Thomas Deve. At that time, I was young, raw, and eager to learn, and I did so from an incendiary culture that established a strong media freedom agenda that still remains relevant, even though a number of gains have been made.
Over the years, Abi has held other leadership positions in organizations set up under the media sector reform program. Abi was the first coordinator of the media freedom advocacy network, the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) and later its vice-president in 2019.
In her role as coordinator at MAZ, she was one of the key people in the establishment of the self-regulatory body, the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ). She was bold at the time, speaking out against statutory regulation and the now-repealed overarching law governing the industry at the time, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. (AIPPA). Abi called a cat, a cat boldly calling out the Zimbabwe Media Commission, as the main weapon used to suppress the media.
All of this was happening in a dual role in her position as Director of Gender and Media Connect (GMC). GMC was born after Abi facilitated and spearheaded the renaming of the Federation of African Women Media Zimbabwe (FAMWZ) with the aim of expanding the work of the organization to include broader work of empowering women. women.
With the advent of the National Unity Government (GNU), Abi was expected to leave the sector to work in the office of the late Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai as a senior director. Media advocates have acknowledged Abi’s role in influencing the decision to include journalists and media rights in Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution due to his position at the time.
Its leadership role has gone beyond our borders. At the time of her death, Abi was the Zimbabwe National Coordinator of the Swedish International Development Agency-funded International Training Program (ITP) on media development. ITP brings together media actors from five African countries by creating a platform for dialogue and engagement between state and non-state media actors in efforts to improve the legal and policy environment in Zimbabwe.
Guardian and mentor of the sisters
For us women journalists in Zimbabwe, Abi was more than a mentor; she was a sister. One, who supported us, spoke on our behalf, fought for us, mentored and supported us as individuals in and through our respective newsrooms.
From her days as Director of FAMWZ, Abi’s drive and willingness to collaborate with other media groups including the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and Gender Links Southern Africa for gender equality in the newsroom, have seen the adoption and monitoring of the implementation of gender equality. policies in national and community media across the country.
These gender policies not only address the need for equal opportunity for female journalists in the industry, but also define and outline procedures for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace.
For years, Abi was the face editors had to deal with when reports of sexual harassment surfaced as she sought redress on behalf of victims. During last year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Abi stressed the need for continued work against sexual violence in the newsroom.
“It is difficult to be a female journalist in Zimbabwe and anywhere else in the world. For many this may sound like an overplayed song – a cliche, but we need to think about the landmines planted in the media and in society that make this job so difficult for us,” she said.
As one of Abi’s mentees, it’s been amazing to see via posts on her Facebook page how many of us cite her as instrumental in our careers, from rookies to mid-career journalists. and seniors.
Abi has supported and encouraged women journalists to claim their place and be recognized nationally, regionally and globally. In a tribute post shared on her social media, Zimbabwean freelance writer Faith Zaba announced that Abi was behind her nomination for the Laureate for Africa 2022 award she received in September. at the WAN-IFRA World News Media Congress in Zaragoza, Spain.
Few of us, including male journalists, have ever interacted as trainers or program facilitators to integrate gender and development into our reporting or research.
Advocate for women’s rights and empowerment
During her tenure, GMC transformed into a more dynamic organization, growing from merely advocating for gender and media policy, empowerment and advancement of women journalists to a visibly critical place in the women’s movement.
GMC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Parliament of Zimbabwe through the Zimbabwe Women Parliamentary Caucus which saw the organization train women parliamentarians to engage with the media and increase their visibility on media platforms alternatives.
During the last election in 2018, GMC took a stand to facilitate the inclusion of ordinary women’s voices in poll coverage. This was done through the launch of a mobile application, SpeakZW, which enabled women to share their experiences.
At the same time, national training workshops have been held not only to familiarize the media with using the app as a resource, but also to highlight the important role the media plays in ensuring a safe space for women to participate in electoral processes.
In Shona, there is a saying that one is only good when one dies (munaka ndafa). While this may not fully apply to Abi, one thing is certain, it took her leaving for us to recognize how strong she was.
Abi was humble, acknowledged her shortcomings, and came forward not only to share her experience, but also to learn from others, if not involving them to build on her insights. So much accomplished, so little time for us to stop and enjoy! Yes, Abi is gone, but she leaves a legacy, so maybe, just maybe it’s not goodbye after all. Rest in peace.
Koliwe Majama is a media, communications, public policy and governance professional.