As a freelance reporter, scooping a good story in a timely fashion was pretty difficult. After all, I had to hold down a proper job to pay my bills. Luckily, my boss was very flexible and encouraged my ridiculous requests to have an afternoon off to catch the frequent riots occurring outside our ten story building in the middle of Harare City Centre.
Most of the time I went in blind; that is, I didn’t know what the riots were about and had to strike up conversations with people running from the military police in order to get the scoop.
In 1997, such a day occurred. University students had been staging riots across Harare city centre, striking against new taxes being introduced to pay for war benefits for war veterans who had fought in the struggle for independence over seventeen years earlier. In the midst of the ruckus, I bumped into the Bank Worker’s Union leader. He and I happened to share a space within a group of strangers watching the chaos from a street corner outside Greatermans department store. We were deciding whether to run down the road like the frightened crowds around us or wait. Most of those standing with us were shop workers trying to find a safe way home. As we paused amidst the screaming, running mob, conversation sparked.
When he heard that I was a reporter, he offered me the opportunity to interview him to get the bank workers’ perspective on the behaviour of the Zimbabwean government. A date was made for the next day before a military jeep interrupted our discourse. A tear gas cannister barely missed my head and shot past the rest of the group, ending up bouncing across the street to a shop aptly called Reflections.
Escape became our main priority and I lost sight of my news source in the choking cloud enveloping us.
To be continued…