By Julian Rademeyer
Something that is getting absolutely no coverage in the press and requires investigation is the recent death of Godknows Nare, an award-winning freelance journalist, cameraman and fixer. He was shot dead by police in Florida, Roodepoort on 17 April in rather murky circumstances.
The official police version of events is that they were tracking a vehicle that had been hijacked and the occupants opened fire on them. They returned fire. Godknows, who was in the vehicle, was killed. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is looking into the case.
According to the only report about the incident I can find, published by eNCA, IPID’s preliminary investigations found that no shots were fired at police by the vehicle’s occupants. (You can read it here: https://www.enca.com/…/ipid-probing-zimbabwean-journalists-….)
I first worked with Godknows while at Media24 Investigations. He also worked with me as a fixer during research for a chapter of my book, Killing for Profit, and helped me gain access to a gang of cigarette smugglers operating in Musina. Over the years he worked for countless local and international media organisations including the BBC, Al Jazeera, the New York Times, SABC Special Assignment, eNCA and Deutsche Welle.
People often commented on his name. Born in Gwanda in Zimbabwe, he was originally named Tlapi by his parents. But, according to a New York Times article, he was so ill after his birth that they feared he would die.
Some people think I’m lying when I tell them my name
They took him to doctors and sangomas, but nothing worked. “It seemed that God, not man, would decide his fate,” the journalist, Michael Wines, wrote. When he was a year old, his parents changed his name to reflect that. “Some people think I’m lying when I tell them my name,” Godknows told the paper. “They think I’m teasing them. But I’m not.”
He came to South Africa from Zimbabwe in the mid-1990s. He was poor, unemployed and desperate for work. In a moment of madness, he decided to hold up a bank. If I remember correctly he said he used a toy pistol and the teller realised it was fake and hit the alarm. The getaway driver fled and Godknows was arrested.
He refused to give up his accomplices and spent the next decade in prison where he dabbled in journalism. “Jail,” he told me, “was a college where I studied to be a better person”. In another interview, Godknows – a devout member of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) – said: “I believe God has a purpose for my life. I am not ashamed of my past.”
His release from prison coincided with Zimbabwe’s economic collapse in the mid-2000s. International television networks were clamouring for stories about the country and Godknows had the contacts and the street-smarts to get them.
The Mayor of Musina
Somewhat to his surprise, Godknows found that his rather unique skills and his ability to infiltrate dangerous and difficult environments and gain access to criminals, conmen, politicians and businessmen made him an invaluable asset for news organisations.
Soon he had a thriving business. His work on both sides of the Zimbabwe border earned him the nickname the “Mayor of Musina”. He interviewed and followed “border-jumpers” fleeing Mugabe’s regime and exposed activities of the notorious guma-guma thugs who lurked in the no-man’s land between the two countries, waiting to rob, rape and kill refugees.
Fixers like Godknows take grave risks, often with little support. Their work is rarely acknowledged. The remain in the shadows while the journalists and correspondents who use them reap the awards and take the credit.
Godknows was finally acknowledged in 2009 when he won the European Commission’s Lorenzo Natali Media Prize and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association – Amnesty International Award for his work exposing the shocking conditions in Zimbabwe’s prisons.
(You can watch an excerpt here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTODPwFAuZA&t=237s and here’s a clip of Godknows winning the CBA award: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlhjSXNmZdk.)
In recent years, as international broadcasters lost interest in Zimbabwe, work dried up. Undaunted, Godknows turned his focus to other issues, producing investigative films for local television stations and working on projects about rhino poaching.
I didn’t know Godknows well, but I liked him
The Traffickers, an eight-part British-American series about smugglers and underworld economies, used his services. He also made a comedy called Tshisa Magogo (The Working Type). It was rather memorably described in a Zimbabwean newspaper as a film about “a stupid man, Mpondo, who is embroiled in a love triangle between his abusive wife, Thandi, and an old woman who is his neighbour”. The film is “full of action including karate, dancing and a few beatings”.
I didn’t know Godknows well, but I liked him. He was a small, wiry man; shy, softly-spoken with a gentle sense of humour that could lighten even the darkest of situations. He was fearless and professional.
I don’t know what happened to him in Roodepoort. But questions must be asked.
Hundreds of words have been devoted this week to navel-gazing about the Huffington Post debacle and the state of journalism in South Africa. Hundreds more have been wasted on Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s insane rantings.
It makes me wonder about our news priorities. An award-winning journalist is shot to death and it merits hardly a mention. Not a single obituary has been published. The SA National Editors’ Forum hasn’t said a word. Why? It seems an utter travesty.
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