Wednesday, April 17, 2013

(SUNDAY MAIL ZW) The Making of Film ‘Mugabe: Hero or Villian?’
Sunday, 14 April 2013 00:00
Garikayi Mushambadope

Background

The making of this film was the most challenging and satisfying piece of work that I had undertaken. The film is as original and Zimbabwean as the Mazoe drink; wholly made in Zimbabwe but packaged by Coca Cola (Schweppes). Or put in another way, the film is as originally Zimbabwean as the Great Zimbabwe monument, conceived and built by Zimbabweans but claimed otherwise by those who want to misrepresent the truth.

From the beginning as a Zimbabwean growing up in racist Rhodesia and later on emigrating to the United Kingdom I had come to realise that history belongs to those who write it. I had also noticed that there was very little being done to document the history of Zimbabwe and as such it would be easy to present it in any way one wanted. I had a duty to do something, though in a small way.

This fact was to linger in my mind during the 1990s when I became troubled by the representation of my country in the Western Media where I am based. The demonisation and vilification of President Mugabe started in earnest in the late 1990s when I was working for one of the biggest financial institutions in the City of London. Naturally the reports were disturbing considering the impact of such on the country risk.

To a layman the western media was only being honest and protecting the human rights of the ordinary citizens of the country but to those who loved their country and knew its history something was not right. Having been raised in a political family the issue at stake to me was very clear and obvious. . . land! But to counter this media onslaught on Zimbabwe was not going to be easy. I set out to play my part to articulating the true picture of what was happening.

There were a few factors which were contributing to the situation in Zimbabwe; the country had fulfilled its obligation in sending its army to protect the territorial integrity of the DRC as per Sadc request, the effects of Esap were now being felt across the breadth of the country, the country had withdrawn from the Commonwealth and the people of Zimbabwe had risen to take their land back.

Being a banker there was very little I could do on the media side of things but that was exactly what was needed. So together with my friend Chris Masikati we formed Solution First Media and worked closely with the then Zimbabwean Ambassador to the UK, HE Simbarashe Mumbegegwi and his Embassy staff in their efforts to manage media perception. This led to developing close working relationships with the Ministry of Tourism and Zimbabwe Tourism Authority back home. We would bring media people including OBEtv and investors as well as help package the marketing of the country outside.

Notably we would do the first documentary on what exactly was happening in Zimbabwe to be shown in the UK and the outside world at the height of the problems with the UK. This initiative was very successful and I had my first interviewing experience, subsequently I would go on to interview key stakeholders, Ministers and Governor Gono. I would hire my first camera man Carl Joshua Ncube (the now successful stand-up comedian) from Savannah Studios when my team had experienced problems coming down from the UK.

All our programmes were shown in UK and beyond and one of the main products of our efforts was the hosting by Zimbabwe of Miss Tourism World in 2005.

The experience gained in undertaking the above work led me to do more and at the same time conceived the idea of doing a documentary film on President Mugabe. If Zimbabwe’s story could be told fully it had to involve and include him.

The idea for me was to provide President Mugabe with the platform to discuss and articulate his policies and also to try and understand what had gone wrong with the West. I had realised that the Western countries had placed travel bans on President Mugabe and his ministers for one main reason: Deny them the platform to answer their critics. The travel bans would allow the Western media to say anything or even create lies without anyone responding.

My approach was to involve other ordinary Zimbabweans in one way or the other, so I went about and created an online blog and invited my fellow Zimbabweans to suggest issues that they would want to discuss with their President. The blog made me realise how polarised Zimbabweans had become.

Unsurprisingly but refreshingly the blog had contributions from non-Zimbabweans from neighbours Botswana, South Africa and DRC and as far afield as Martinique, Nigeria, USA and Canada. This made me realise how the President is viewed through-out the world and how his pan Africanism and anti-colonial stance had been noticed and was much appreciated by a lot of people. To me it meant the film will have a ready market and gave me extra motivation in seeing it through.

The Western world’s appetite for President Mugabe was insatiable and primarily being driven by the fact that they had no access to him. Analysing this fact deeper one would understand the reason why the Western world had to place travel bans and sanctions on President Mugabe. If you want to create a lie and would like people to believe that lie you have to bar the target from responding to the questions regarding that lie.

So the Western world decided to bar President Mugabe and Zanu-PF from travelling to their countries so that they would not come into contact with journalist or media people from those respective where the lies were being peddled. From this reasoning I decided to take President Mugabe into their living rooms and cinemas, and I started working on the film Mugabe: Hero or Villain?

My problem though was that I didn’t know anyone from the President’s office but I wouldn’t let that stop me from doing the film. I proposed and approached the Ministry of Information, Media and Publicity.

On discussing my plans with Zimbabwean students at my college in the UK one of them (a beneficiary of the Presidential scholarship) was inspired and offered to introduce me to some key people within the Government and Zanu-PF. He went ahead and I had the opportunity to discuss the film with these key people who gave their support.

I also wanted ordinary Zimbabweans based abroad and at home to contribute to the film by having sessions with the President.

Concept

Zimbabwe since the times of Munhumutapa Empire has gone through very interesting times especially with regards its relationship with the outside world.

As such as stated in the previous paragraphs the main objective of the film was simple, to provide President Mugabe and other key stakeholders a platform to talk about the situation at home, the world at large and situate the relationship with the West.

I was also going to run a raffle to get Zimbabweans from the Diaspora and within to come and have an audience with the President at which they would discuss any subject with him. This was in addition to a number of interviews to be conducted with the President in various settings representing each subject e.g. land reform interview/discussion to take place at his farm or rural home.

More than two years after submitting my proposal to the Ministry of Information, Media and Publicity followed by a number of trips to Zimbabwe I finally had a breakthrough. I was given the go-ahead without any strings attached or restrictions; what I liked most was that the film was going to take a no holds barred approach.
Partners

After being given the go-ahead my challenge was to gather a team that would undertake the film project. This was made difficult by my realisation when I created an online blog that as Zimbabweans we had become dangerously compromised and polarised. As a result I decided to look for foreign partners to bring some level of objectivity and impartiality.

I went on to interview three media companies as my technical partners. All three were white owned and foreign but expressed serious interest to come with me to Zimbabwe such that up to now they have kept asking me about what had happened with the film.

In mid 2007 having discussed the documentary film with a journalist called Savanna Nightingale whom I had brought to do a tourism programme in Zimbabwe, she introduced me to Roy Agyemang. Roy then introduced me to Neville Hendrickes. Neville’s media company (CANTV) which was producing one of the reality shows for prime time viewing on ITV2 in the UK. I liked the composition of this team, and for me being a black team was an obvious advantage. The decision to have them on board was purely mine.

My partners had never been to Zimbabwe and had very little knowledge of the country but had been captivated by what President Mugabe had been reported to have said at international gatherings.

I would travel to Zimbabwe with Roy whom I presented to my countrymen as a brother and was duly accepted by colleagues, family and friends. Our accreditation went on smoothly and we started working.

Naturally I had to conscientise and appraise Roy about what exactly I was setting out to do and why. From then on Roy would become a buddy.

The Filming

During the two year waiting period I prepared my treatment (which obviously would change as the filming period extended beyond the seven months I had planned), script and identified the people, groups or communities I would interview and visit. Having been outside of the country for a considerable period would also prove a disadvantage as most of the contacts I had had changed.

I would do all the interviews in the film in line with my script and treatment, in addition I would double up as the researcher, administrator and driver. Roy would be my very able and knowledgeable cameraman. Although it was very challenging economically during that period I enjoyed the discussions we had with my fellow country and visitors alike.

The filming period was the longest and indeed frustrating. We started the project in November 2007 during the anti-sanctions Million Men/Women March. I had taken considerable care in picking the right people to interview but when on the ground the situation kept on changing, so did the tactics. The political situation was changing all the time especially with elections scheduled for March 2008.

I soon found out that it was going to take much longer than I had anticipated as months went by without access to the President the main actor in my script. This was not helped by the fact that due diligence checks carried out on my partners could not bring out anything to establish their credentials as film makers or established media persons. However, despite the delays, I persevered. The truth is apart from speculation I don’t actually know why there were delays.

Elections came and went without any Presidential access being granted and by October 2008, Roy left the country. I would remain on the ground for the next six months until I made the breakthrough. I recalled Roy for the interviews. From June 2009 we would be honoured to travel with the President to various destinations across the continent. It was not all the time that my partner would travel with us.

The filming period would provide me with the opportunity to discuss various and contentious issues concerning my country with people from all walks of life: from the non-compromising stance of the likes of the late Chinondidyachii Mararike and Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri; to the less diplomatic approach from Jonathan Moyo; to the qualification of colonialism by John Robinson; to the frank demands of the general population; to the excitement of narrating history by Minister Chigwedere and the late Prof Chavhunduka; to the land issue by Prof Sam Moyo; to the disappointed words of Justice for Agriculture representative; to the Mgagao declaration by Cde Kumbirai Kangai; to the words of the Sadc election observation team; to the perceptions of foreign broadcasters like Chris Maroleng; to responses on Gukurahundi by Dumiso Dabengwa; to the history of the liberation struggle and dynamism in Zanu-PF from Ministers Emmerson Munangagwa and Didmus Mutasa; to the heart-rendering stories from women war veterans; to the total commitment of the new farmers; to the performance of the ZSE by Munyuki; to the effects of sanctions and definition of terrorism by Governor Gono; to the managing the economy with no resources from Minister Biti; to the technocratic and business approach of Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara; to the enthusiasm of youths from Minister Chamisa; to positive outlook presented by the youths of all races and finally the incisive discussion with the key man President Robert Mugabe.

During this period I would be honoured to write the main story on the passing on of Vice President Msika which appeared in the Sunday Mail of August 8 2009.

I made the effort to involve all the key stakeholders and for those who do not feature in the film it wasn’t because of lack of approach from me but that they didn’t create time for the film. This may sound strange considering that it took me 3 years but that’s the truth.
Having completed the filming the next stage was obviously to have it edited and the final product delivered. This stage would also take more than two years.

The Final Product

The final product captures what I set out to do that is to put President Mugabe at the centre of brand Zimbabwe. I would like to take the film ‘Mugabe: Hero or Villian?’ as Part 1 of producing the full story.

Currently the film is being promoted in international markets and has been doing very well.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to hundreds of you who took the time to write to me after the launch and following various articles/interviews conducted by my partner Roy Adyemang. Any implied or stated suggestion that I was a facilitator of my film is a misrepresentation of the true facts. I set out to do a film on our country and President and responsibly engaged foreign partners as my technical partners.

Since I started working on this film there have been more than eight books written on President Mugabe, all of them portraying him as someone who had destroyed Zimbabwe. It’s not surprising though that all of them had been authored by white people.


Garikai Mushambadope is a Zimbabwean based in the UK and was the creator and producer of the film ‘Mugabe: Hero or Villian?’

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