The last time a picture compelled me to write was back in September of 2015.
Dr Joice Mujuru had just unveiled her party manifesto, or something like that; and the picture accompanying her media statement had her sitting in the office she occupied as a Vice-President of the Republic – minus the standard official portrait of then President Mugabe behind her.
Ex-President Mugabe’s portrait had been digitally edited out, creating the impression that Dr Mujuru was a new political creation born of a virgin mother; a latter day immaculate conception.
Pictures are powerful.
American newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane in 1911 said: “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”
He was right. Pictures tell a thousand words.
Think of Cuban photographer Alberto Korda’s shot of Ernest “Che” Guevara. You know the picture I’m talking about. Just about everyone sees it at some point in their life.
Korda never made money from a picture that the world loves till today. We are talking here about a picture taken on March 5, 1960 at a service for 136 people killed by anti-Castro and pro-US terrorists.
Havana’s oft pulsating streets were that day in mourning. The salsa replaced by dirges. Ordinary folk shedding tears alongside Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Korda said of the moment he immortalised Che: “I remember his staring over the crowd on 23rd street” and being struck by Guevara’s expression of “absolute implacability”, anger and pain.
For more about that picture, read Steve Meltzer’s “The extraordinary story behind the iconic image of Che Guevara and the photographer who took it”.
Another picture that tells a thousand words is by Chinese artiste Shen Chongdao, and it is of Chairman Mao.
Hu Bei , writing for the Global Times (“The Man Who Painted Mao”) — said: “From 1963 to 1978, on the eve of nearly every National Day, Shanghai-based painter Shen Chongdao would stand on a temporary scaffolding platform in People’s Square for at least 10 days.
“His gray work clothes were always stained with paint. In front of him was a huge canvas on which a portrait of Chairman Mao would gradually appear. Shen was just one of the painters of the Mao portraits that hung in People’s Square…
“Every portrait of Mao had to strictly follow the likeness from a black and white photo of Chairman Mao shot in 1964, which was called No 4 Standard Picture of Mao Zedong. The portrait that hangs in Tiananmen Square today was also replicated from this No 4 photo.”
Like Korda, Shen never made money from his picture. He was an inconsequential.
If someone hadn’t bothered to track him down we would never know who was behind that famous likeness of Chairman Mao that stares down Tiananmen Square, daring the world to challenge China.
There’s another picture, this one not famous and probably destined never to be – which has captivated me over the past week.
What a story it tells!
I am yet to find out when exactly it was taken, but I intend to. Same as I intend to find out who took it.
In it, our Former President, Cde Mugabe, is walking into Parliament Building, surrounded by very senior uniformed security officers, two of whom are now interred at the National Heroes Acre.
Cde Mugabe was a fairly young man then.
And though it is not a video, there is something like a spring in the step, and the self-assuredness of the dapper intellect who knows the world is his oyster.
It is raining. You can see it in the wet pavements and the huddle of ladies under an umbrella farther back in that black and white still.
Cde Mugabe is already under the cover of the awning at the entrance to Parliament Building, and one assumes that an umbrella was thrown over him as he exited Zim 1 a few moments earlier.
It is raining. It is drear. But there is work that must be done.
Standing in the rain is a soldier in fatigues, camera up and capturing the moment even as our unknown photographer also freezes him in time.
We may never know his name. He is “inconsequential”, just another grunt in camo doing his bit in the pouring rain.
Next to him is another character who equally seems inconsequential. He clutches an envelope in the rain, waiting for the Big Man to enter Parliament Building.
Who is that man standing alone in the rain? What precious cargo is he clutching? Why is he allowed so close even as he appears to remain at a distance, like an enigma?
Is he not the same man who only a few weeks ago the former First Lady referred to as “Joji” on a podium in Chinhoyi?
The same man who for years, like Korda and Shen, did his utmost for his nation, not for the limelight but out of love for land and people?
Is he not the same man who just last week was part of the mediation team that paved the way for “asante sana” to Cde Mugabe and “kwaheri” to President Mnangagwa?
How that “Joji” became part of that mediation team along with the very fatherly Baba Mukonori and the quietly but fiercely patriotic Cde Nhepera – is a story for him to tell, if he one day so wishes. (The man can tell a story almost as vivid as a picture.)
Like the “inconsequential soldier” and the “Joji” in that picture, there are countless Zimbabweans who will never get recognition for their role in the renewal and restoration of our proud legacy.
They stand quietly in the rain.
Theirs is the story of millions of inconsequential soldiers and Jojis who daily, for years, have striven to make this a better nation for our children.
They are our unknown soldiers, standing in the rain, working in the rain, silently dancing in the rain.
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