You can’t speak of journalism in this country without shaking your head. In fact most professions in Zambia have gone to the dogs but we’ll leave that discussion for another day. This post is about multi-talented and multi-award winning journalist called Charles Mafa who is also an avid blogger on his website.
Before we get to the accolades, let’s talk about passion. My questions are in bold while Charles’responses are below:
What percentage would you say journalism constitutes your lifestyle?
Journalism for me is more than work, it is my way of life. I live, sleep and dream journalism. I dedicate about 60% of my time in a day to journalism. The other 40% is for my wife and three kids. I don’t like partying or being in a noisy place for too long, therefore, it works well for me to reflect and plot new ideas.
During your incarceration (detailed story available on blog) what kind of thoughts were running through your mind while behind bars?
I was happy that it happened to me. It gave me an opportunity to understand the sort of injustice that the poor go through. Many of those I shared the cell with were innocent people but because they are powerless and poor, no one cares about them. My thoughts during that time were that such people need our help. We need to bring to light their suffering and pain. I believe that is what journalism is all about. It is about comforting the weak and afflicting the powerful, like the saying goes.
After Bulletin & Record (B&R) was closed, people would have thought that it was the end of you but you seem to have risen above the challenge. That says something about opportunity in this country. Did you go and find opportunity or did opportunity come looking for you?
I was saddened by the closure of the publication which I loved so much but I knew always that things can change. So, I am always ready for change. I have known struggle since childhood after losing my father in grade 2. That helped me to have a different outlook about life. The B & R gave me an opportunity to practice what I enjoy the most and when it was gone I had to look ahead. I am an ambitious and pragmatic person who is not afraid to look for new things to do. I was already working on plan B. It is always difficult to find new things to do but opportunities are there. What many need is a push to pursue what they want to do. I know it is difficult for school leavers and others because they have not been exposed. We need connections to succeed.
What do you think about the profession of journalism in Zambia?
Journalism is dead. What I see or read about cannot qualify to be journalism. It is something else. That, unfortunately is a sad state of our profession. We need to bring back professionalism to journalism.
What sets journalism from other forms of writing is its obsession with the truth and verification of that truth. I don’t see this in many publications.
When did the professionalism get diluted in your opinion? Is there a time in history that you can look back and admire what journalism was?
I am not that old to provide a fair judgment on this one but I have read about good and committed journalists we had in the past. I would say, we have not been following standards in the recent past but the PF came to completely kill journalism through appointments of key journalists into foreign service and government. The lack of media freedom and attacks on independent journalists has increased under the current administration. We must not forget that a free and responsible press is essential for any democratic society. You cannot talk about democracy without a free press.
No government can succeed in fighting corruption without an independent press. Killing freedom of the press is a recipe for corruption to flourish.
Access to information (ATI) is very limited in this country from top-down. Do you think it has something to do with Zambian culture of those in power (our elders) having the prerogative to share or not share information with others or was it colonial?
As they say, information is power. That is why government leaders try hard to hide everything from the people. With Access to Information (ATI), people would demand for what is rightly theirs. The culture of secrecy is basically a legacy which was carried over from the colonial masters. It is now being used by our own brothers and sisters in power. That brings me to another point. What freedom can we talk about or celebrate if our own people have become our oppressors? A word of caution to journalists and others, even if we had ATI in place, information will not drop like rain. We need the ATI but at the same time we need to work extra hard for it.
What are your thoughts on the notion that blogging should be left to journalists and be regulated through membership and vetting et cetera.?
I don’t agree with that. We all have something to share – whether journalist or citizen. Blogging gives us that opportunity to be heard and to hear others. Stopping people from blogging is infringing on their right and freedom to be heard and communicate their ideas.
What kind of Zambia do you think that your children will inherit? A better one from the one you live in or worse off?
I want them to live in a better Zambia. We cannot go back or admire the past because technology has changed the world and making life very easy. Unfortunately, the way we look after our environment and natural resources will make life hard for our children and those who will come after us. Our politics is also not making things better. Violence and hooliganism belongs in the past. We should now be talking about smart things and smart ideas. That way we will make this country better for our children. I am however, hopeful that things will get better, especially when we have more young and educated people in politics.
Who is Charles Mafa in his own words?
Charles is a Zambian journalist who is committed to reporting African stories with dignity and fairness. I am passionate about journalism because I believe it is a powerful tool we can use to improve people’s lives, especially the poor.
Now let’s talk about the accolades!
I am Zambia’s best overall 2016 journalist who has experience of working in various forms of communication – print, radio and television. I have been shortlisted for the 2016 African Fact-Checking awards to be held in November this year.
Gifted with varied skills, I have won several awards for my work, among them the MISA Zambia overall best journalist award for 2016, best environment reporting, best aviation reporting, best energy reporting awards and best columnist. I am also a recipient of the MISA Zambia Award for the 2007 best HIV/AIDS radio reporting and the 2011 World Bank second best Zambian investigative reporting prize which earned me a 3-month internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism – South Africa. In 2007, I directed and produced a television documentary (Through my eyes) which won the 2007 CNN Multichoice Award for the best HIV/AIDS coverage in Africa.
Well well there you have it folks! Be sure to visit Charles’ Facebook page to find out more about his investigative work especially concerning his arrest with two Swedish journalists. Juicy, right?!