Life is short.
When news filtered in on Friday morning that veteran broadcaster, media mentor and disability advocate Peter Banga was no more, not only was I shocked by the suddenness of the news, but I was also hit by the thought of how brief our existence is. I was also reminded of the words of the late English playwright William Shakespeare who said in Macbeth:
Out, out brief candle! Life’s but a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more…”
Indeed the Grim Reaper has taken away this man when we least expected.
I first met Peter Banga at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s Pockets Hill studios in Highlands, Harare in November 1992 as a young aspiring broadcaster. He was one of the senior sub-editors on the radio news in English desk. This was at a time when broadcasting was a big deal, mind you there was only one broadcaster, ZBC.
Those were the days when radio and television presenters were real celebrities, and inspired many youngsters to want to pursue the profession. Names like Joseph Madhimba, Colin Harvey, Temba Hove, Lovemore Banda, Wynne Mukotekwa (Musabayana), Dorcas Munyoro (Chibanda) Noreen Welch, among others come to mind when talking about English language news presenters on television.
On the National Languages desk there were many others – the late Sithokozile Mpala, Alice Mutema, Marilyn Mhambi, Senzo Mpofu, Sihle Nyathi, Bongani Konke, Violet Temba, Jestina Mukoko, Godden Gondo and Isaiah Mutemachani.
But there were also men and women who worked behind the scenes, producing the news for radio.
That was where I met Peter Banga at first. I was engaged as a sub-editor and our duty was to edit copy from various sources including local news agencies like Ziana and the Zimbabwe Information Service as well as from our reporters and foreign news wires like Xinhua, Agence France Presse, and Reuters. We would also compile radio news bulletins which were presented by the likes of Kelvin Sifelani, Noreen Welch, Jane Esau, Temba Hove, Lydia Mavengere, Grace Tsvakanyi and Nanette Silukhuni among others. Lydia, Nanette and Grace were also my sub-editor colleagues.
Peter excelled at his work and he and other seniors taught us the ropes. His copy was always precise and to the point. We worked like one big happy family back then. There were also some interesting characters on the desk and everyone called each other “Uncle” regardless of whether one was younger or older than those he was addressing as such. Some of our seniors were former freedom fighters – the likes of my late friend Skeva File – with whom I shared a number of interests, including music and literature, Charles Chaza, Dice Muvavarirwa and Freeman Sigauke. We also had Jonathan
Hunzvi, Nesbert Mvere, whom we called “Prof”, Matthew Chibanda and Richmond Mawarire. We worked three shifts, each one with a senior sub editor, the idea being to balance the shifts so that new sub editors would learn from the seniors in each group as all of them had different styles of writing.
Not only did Peter work on the radio news in English desk, but he also produced and presented radio news actualities – what we referred to as Newsbeat. It was a 30 minute programme with local, regional and international news and was presented by two or three anchors. When Peter invited me to join the actualities team they were three: himself, Robson Mhandu and the late Carol Gombakomba.
Shortly afterwards he invited me to join his team on television, presenting a current affairs programme called “Insight.” The man believed in giving others a chance, and I was one of the beneficiaries of his benevolence. For that, I will forever be grateful.
He was a man who got along with everyone – both young and old, and took his time to understand and help others. Never did he look down upon anyone. But this was not to say he was a docile character because he spoke his mind and had strong views on various subjects.
After leaving ZBC in the 2000s he joined the Harare Polytechnic as a lecturer in Mass Communication and Journalism and rose through the ranks to become the Head of Department.
Recently he had started lecturing radio and television, political communication, media law and ethics, media communication policies and marketing at the University of Zimbabwe. We were in constant touch and he would send me a WhatsApp message to ask for a number of some contact in government or business he would be intending to interview. Apart from lecturing, Peter was also a freelance reporter in his own right and would correspond for international media outlets.
Twice he invited me to be a guest lecturer at Harare Polytechnic, where I would share my experiences in the media with his students and take some questions from them. Last year and part of this year he asked his students at UZ to get in touch with me to assist them with some of their research, which I did. It was a small favour for a great friend and I gladly obliged.
Peter was also some kind of philosopher and liked commenting about life to whoever would give him a listening ear. He used to live in the neighbourhood before relocating to Sunningdale to develop his sister’s residential stand. He still has a house in Glen View 7.
I remember him many years ago when he visited me at home, saying “Uncle, we need to work hard, it will determine the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive and so on..”
This made sense and reminded me of our late mentor, the great Naison Neganje who used to say “If you look after your job, it will also look after you.”
When I started presenting the news on radio it was Mr Neganje who also advised against letting success get to my head by saying “Don’t listen to your pub friends for feedback. To them your being on air alone is a big achievement.”
This tribute would be incomplete without demonstrating the humane nature of the brother called Peter Banga. When my mother passed away in February this year, Peter sent me a message of condolences which read, “Hello Ishmael. I am sorry to hear about your mother.” When I replied “Thanks. I appreciate the support. We did not expect the old lady to leave us. She had been healthy and strong,” he replied, “There are things in life we can’t control. When I look back at the very long time I had with my mother I am eternally grateful. Others never saw theirs while others were too
young when their mothers departed. You had all the time in the world to spoil her!”
That hit home.
Farewell Peter Banga. May Jehovah, the God of all comfort, give your wife, Menia and the children strength during this difficult time. (2 Corinthians 1: 3,4)