Phiri — Gift to journalism profession gone too soon

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©️ AN AFFABLE character and a wordsmith of note, a larger than life figure who could transform mundane copy into an enjoyable read, Gift Phiri, one of the shining beacons of our generation, was called home to glory on April 19.

A day after the country marked its 40th independence anniversary, our former news editor — who had risen to the position of assistant editor — breathed his last and will be buried at West Park Cemetery in Bulawayo today.
For some of us who had known him through the years, we thought he would come back to work as he was always a winner, but this time, it was not to be as the Creator chose to define his creation but in heart-wrenching fashion.

Silenced by ineluctable fate, Gift, who never really recovered from his agonising battle with cancer in 2016, chose to leave the stage when many in our newsroom thought he would teach the younger reporters the ropes, for he was a veteran of the profession, but that was not to be.

This is not a wafa wanaka eulogy, this is not a feel-good testimony but this is a heartfelt piece for a colossus, who shepherded many journalists in our newsroom through both good and bad times.

Like a magician, he pulled big words from his encyclopaedic brain, words that could leave us scrambling for dictionaries. A fluent speaker of the Queen’s language, Gift Phiri was indeed a gift to us who were fortunate to work with him, and indeed as is attested by the outpouring of grief from the journalism fraternity, political parties and human rights defenders, he was a gift to mankind.

An easy-going fellow who loved fine clothes and fine whisky, Gift Phiri was — to use his own word — a “quintessential” journalist, who “quaffed” life to the fullest even when the odds were stacked against him.
When he was undergoing chemotherapy at Parirenyatwa Hospital, that was in 2016, he had lost weight but not the witticism and buoyant character and that day when we visited him he described the disease as “satanic” and looked at our team with pain etched in his eyes.

But when many thought he would not make it, he returned to work like a true warrior, resumed his duties as the news editor with verve and characteristic conviviality.

This year when he was stretchered out of the newsroom, it was a painful spectacle as we silently watched him being carried from his home ground where he once sauntered like a spoiled prince and barked orders like a king. He never returned and the void is so big that even our hearts are empty as we ask, Why Lord?

There was a time when he was still the news editor in 2014. Reporters would dread going into diary meetings, he spiked stories and threw them into the bin without contrition. He didn’t flinch in his pursuit of excellence for he spurned mediocrity and the mediocre, consequently some lily-livered fellows contemplated resigning.

But that was the business side of him. He was by and large a jolly good-natured fellow, a dynamic journalist who won awards and inspired generations.

As news editor, he had faith in his writers and his elevation to assistant editor did not diminish his love for writing news, for that was his true calling — a born writer who thrived in defending human rights, telling truth to power and confronting politicians through his pen.

After some heated exchanges with other editors, Gift, that bundle of energy and dynamism, would say “walk with me” and like a true brother, he would calm you down, that was the contradiction in Gift, he would morph from being a witty and crazy fellow with a propensity for mischief into a true brother anchored in spiritualism.

Gift would give you room to express yourself; he was so excited if someone presented a good story “ndicho chamvari ichi wachi pitcher bhoo. Brilliant story”. His words gave confidence to young journalists.

Everybody grew to love Gift, with his trademark high-pitched naughty laugh. We remember the time his daughter passed her ‘‘A’’ Levels and was about to start university.

He gleefully referred to himself as Dzedzy (daddy) and could not hide his joy at seeing his first-born daughter going for tertiary education.

“Dzedzy is happy,” he would shout for all who cared to listen.
Although almost everyone in the newsroom receives a notification from their bank on pay day when our salaries are deposited, somehow Gift’s phone was always the first to get that gratifying SMS.

Once you heard Gift playing some classic reggae, lovers rock or R&B loudly on his laptop; that was a sure sign our salaries had come through.

The next thing he would do was to dash off to the nearest fast food outlet to buy his favourite meal; burger and chips together with a can of ice-cold Coke.

This eulogy would not be complete if it does not touch on Gift’s love for his favourite football team, FC Platinum.
As a native of Zvishavane, our late colleague did not hide his love for Pure Platinum Play and November 25, 2017 will always be one of the greatest days of his life.

That’s the day FC Platinum won their maiden Castle Lager Premiership title which brought a huge smile to his face.
Even when the news of his death broke on Sunday morning, FC Platinum sent out a condolence message; a true testament of his undying love for the club.

Politicians from across the political divide, from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba, to opposition leader Nelson Chamisa were gutted by his death.

Go well Givy, fare thee well Givhalo, bye-bye Talo you ran your good race, zvasariresu kufuka kana kuwarira.
Adios!!!

 

 

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