IT WAS common, when I was editor of New Zimbabwe.com, to hear a reader remark that, "I just read the first paragraph of your stories, then quickly jump to the comments, they're more fun." The comments may have been intended as a compliment, but they were quite dispiriting, let me admit. No editor wants to be told that his publication's stories are less interesting than readers' feedback!
There was no novelty to the success of the New Zimbabwe.com readers' comments section: Twitter and Facebook were already doing it, allowing people around the world to be self-publishers, not waiting for the conventional journalist to spoon-feed them with what they consider news. Stories are dissected with ruthless efficiency, and new background details about stories emerge. Some contributors become more popular than others: the reasons could be anything from the frequency of their postings; the quality of their contributions through to the subjects they choose to blog about.
Among those who literally camped on the comments section was one Baba Jukwa. The reality of the Zimbabwean Diaspora - which contributes most of the visitors on New Zimbabwe.com - is that they are generally hostile to Zanu PF, and the Government of President Robert Mugabe. Baba Jukwa went against the grain, he took great delight in defending President Mugabe and the party. His pet hate was "pale devils" - a label which he seemed to deploy whenever the subject was white farmers, the European Union or the Americans. It probably is a racist term, but I am not sure whether Baba Jukwa was a racist or simply over-dramatising his frustrations with the anti-Zimbabwe campaign he thought was being waged by this group.
Baba Jukwa became unpopularly famous, and delighted in being a resident target of the MDC types, and they were many. I always had an impression that this Baba Jukwa was a simple man, but admirably principled in pursuit of his cause: the defence of Zanu PF, its leader and the values they stood for. Indeed, many thought he was writing from Zanu PF HQ.
Following the 2008 election debacle, Zanu PF was under siege. Baba Jukwa held fort, frustrating MDC supporters who couldn't believe a party that had "stolen the election", indeed the party they hated so much - or the "pale devils" disliked so much - had a supporter on the internet. It must have felt like a lone battle for him, I imagine.
But help was on hand. Enter Mai Jukwa. Overnight, a man-and-husband team was waging war on the Internet in defence of Zanu-PF. Whereas I thought Baba Jukwa was a simple man crusading for an "unpopular" cause, Mai Jukwa came across as suave, astute and a brilliant writer too. The "couple" complemented each other brilliantly. Baba Jukwa would post late into the night, earning a wifely admonishment from Mai Jukwa who reminded him it was "bed time". On they went, and soon they were joined by other like-minded contributors.
The comments section would become the new battleground for Zanu PF, and I am convinced our resident "couple" contributed to projecting Zanu PF as a thinking party, mobilising around its populist programme to redistribute land. They showed young, undecided Zimbabweans it was cool to support and defend Zanu PF unapologetically.
I was curious about the identity of both individuals. At one time, we considered the idea of giving an iPad to Baba Jukwa for being our liveliest contributor on the readers' feedback section, but he was reluctant to volunteer his address. We respected this and let him be. I must say we were equally curious whether Mai Jukwa was really his wife. No prizes guessing we were not going to get any other answer from him.
Meanwhile, Mai Jukwa, would soon seek a higher consideration: "she" wrote in asking for "her" own weekly column. I knew then "she" was a good writer, and one I could not turn down. But I wanted to know "her" real identity. An editor must know the identity of his contributors, in case a lawsuit comes your way. "She" cut a deal: I and my deputy, Gilbert Nyambabvu, could call "her" to prove she was a woman, and we didn't have to know "her" real identity but could refuse to publish "her" if we felt anything "she" had written was potentially libellous.
I called first, and spoke to a woman who sounded as bright on the phone as Mai Jukwa was on the readers' forum. She could relate to the readers' comments "politics". I told her I knew of only a very few Zimbabwean women who wrote as well - Petinah Gappah and a few others have capably ventured into political commentary. I so desperately wanted to promote a female writer on New Zimbabwe.com. "She" would get "her" column.
You didn't have to agree with Mai Jukwa to accept "she" was a brilliant writer. I am aware the Zimbabwe Independent, with its pro-opposition stance, also considered "her", but the proposal for a column fell through after Mai Jukwa would not reveal her face. But the Herald took "her" onboard. "She" started writing for them in 2012, and the column stirred the old party to life. Complementing the inimitable Nathaniel Manheru on Saturday, Zanu PF - which some in the opposition considered dead and unable to attract any thinkers - found itself with two of the most eloquent columnists in the country.
One of our former columnists, Psychology Maziwisa, who had previously been critical of Zanu PF but had had his own Damascene moment after meeting President Mugabe, called me sometime in March 2013 to boast he was "meeting Mai Jukwa" in a few hours. Maziwisa, a lawyer by training, was now firmly ensconced at the Zanu PF HQ as the deputy director of information.
I probed Maziwisa for weeks afterwards to get Mai Jukwa's real identity, but he would not reveal. I knew, however, that Mai Jukwa was behind what the Americans call election "attack videos" which popped up on YouTube. They were so brilliant in their effectiveness, zeroing in on MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai's womanising, that the nervous MDC-T started calling them "hate messages".
I arrived in Zimbabwe from the United Kingdom in May 2013 to visit my mother, mainly, but would stay on after President Mugabe announced the election dates, made more urgent by a ruling of the Supreme Court. Unexpectedly, I got a message from Mai Jukwa. "She" wanted us to meet at a hotel in Harare. By appointment, I met Mai Jukwa. It was not a she, but a he!
He was Edmund Kudzayi, now the editor of The Sunday Mail who last Saturday was charged with attempting to commit an act of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism; undermining the authority or insulting the President and publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State.
Kudzayi was at the heart of the Zanu PF campaign team. The party's information and publicity department, going by the name "Team Zanu PF", shocked all by deciding not to place a single newspaper advert. They were going to use billboards, television and a helluva lot of T-Shirts, scarves, 'Zambias' and caps.
Kudzayi joined a team led by Cde Rugare Gumbo, the party's information top honcho, ably supported by Maziwisa, Cde Olivia Muchena's son, Kudzai Muchena, and Charles Nyambuya Jnr, son of General Mike Nyambuya (rtd) with others.
Now, prosecutors allege that Kudzayi, who was just a month into his job, having replaced my good friend Brezhnev Malaba, is in fact Baba Jukwa - NOT the Zanu PF supporting super patriot I referred to above - but a copycat who successfully harvested the power of Facebook to amass 408 000 "Likes", as of yesterday, by claiming to be a Zanu PF insider who bizarrely yearned so much for "regime change" in Zimbabwe.
My impression of Baba Jukwa, the copycat, is of an illiterate bloke who along the way - by appealing to the Zanu PF hating Diaspora - attracted a rich benefactor who was keen to stop the march of the original Baba Jukwa and his "wife" - who belatedly opened "her" own Facebook page.
President Mugabe recently said "we are simple people" - I want to believe him, but in a different context. Almost half a million people, including some who should know better, were taken in by this copycat Baba Jukwa's ruse that he was a patriotic Zanu PF insider who somehow wanted the same party defeated in the July 2013 elections.
Army Commander General Constantine Zvinavashe, Professor Jonathan Moyo, the Information Minister, and the Water and Climate Minister Saviour Kasukuwere were the copycat Baba Jukwa's favourite targets. Cdes Kasukuwere and Prof Moyo were gay gangsters, the column often announced.
Prof Moyo, we were told ad infinitum, has some sick homosexual relationship with everyone from myself, Kudzayi, Cde Kasukuwere, Maziwisa and most recently Nyambabvu, New Zimbabwe.com's new man in London.
Only "simple people" will now believe this same Kudzayi, who owes much of his success to myself, who encouraged his writing, and Prof Moyo, who approved his appointment by Zimpapers, is the copycat Baba Jukwa.
Kudzayi is now in a cold cell awaiting his day in court. Is he the patriotic, Zanu PF partisan Mai Jukwa? Yes. Is he the copycat Facebook Baba Jukwa? You make up your mind.