Saturday, August 16, 2014

Author interview: Mzilikazi Wa Afrika

"I am the village idiot you love to hate" reads Mzilikazi Wa Afrika's twitter bio. A very misleading bio considering Wa Afrika is a multi-award winning journalist working for the Sunday Times' investigations unit. He is also a reigning chairperson of the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR) - an investigative journalism organisation with members from 36 different African countries. 

His book, Nothing left to steal - goes behind the scenes of his breaking-story unlawful arrest in 2010 after he exposed the R1.7 billion lease scandal between police commissioner Bheki Cele and property tycoon Roux Shabangu. 

All images provided by Mzilikazi Wa Afrika
Q: What influenced your decision to sit down and start writing your tell-all memoir?
Mzilikazi: Many people, over the past years, wanted to know who I am, where I come from and what makes me tick. I did a lot of soul searching before making the decision to enter the confession box and write this memoir.

Q: Nothing left to steal – jailed for telling the truth” – title gets straight to the point – how many other titles did you scratch out before you settled for this one? 
Mzilikazi: This was the only title I came up with because this memoir encourages civil society; brave men and women, to stand up and be counted, to stop the rot, corruption and maladministration.

Q: What challenges did you face while writing this memoir? 
Mzilikazi: Going through the past chapters of my life, reopening the healed wounds and facing my demons as well as my ghosts. There were times when I couldn't stop the tears running down my face and there were also times when, alone, I was smiling from ear to ear.

Q: What emotions did you experience while writing this book – especially reliving the 2010 arrest and police intimidation?  
Mzilikazi: I had revisited and relived some of the most painful experiences in my life writing this book like; losing my first source, Aletta Rose Mnisi who was killed on a hit organized by her husband, a former Safety and Security MEC in Mpumalanga, and my first arrest as a political activist when I was about to sit for my matric examination and many more.

Q: How long did it take you to write this book and how did you feel when the end product landed on your desk?
Mzilikazi: I started working on the book in December 2012 while on holiday with my family in Mozambique and by the time we landed in Johannesburg on January 6 I had the skeleton of the entire book, from chapter 1-20. I am so proud of the final product.

Q: Did you develop any strange writing habits while writing this memoir - (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Mzilikazi: I developed a habit of waking up in the middle of the night to write until the early hours of the morning and chewing a lot of gum.

Q: In 2011 Inspector general of state intelligence, Faith Radebe confirmed your phone calls had been monitored by the Hawks. Do you believe you are still being monitored? Do you reveal in the memoir how much trust you still have in the justice system – if any? 
Mzilikazi: I have always been monitored, legally and illegally. Two Crime Intelligence officers; Colonel Dumisane Zulu and Captain BonganiCele, are facing a criminal case as we speak after they were caught bugging my phone and that of my colleague, Stephan Hofstatter, illegally. The two officers claim the head of crime intelligence in KwaZulu-Natal General Deana Moodley had allegedly asked them to bug us. I didn't write much about this case as it hasn't gone to trial yet but the two officers were found guilty already during a department disciplinary hearing.  

Q: How did being jailed for doing your job affect your journalism? 
Mzilikazi: I have long past the jailed episode in my head, I am focusing on my job without any fear or favour and I am not scared of anything because I am operating within the perimeters of the law and chasing the evasive truth.

Q: This book will open "healed" wounds – are you expecting negative reactions from certain members of government?  
Mzilikazi: I am not expecting praises from this book but a new bus load of haters, to add to the train of people hating on me. This book is nothing but the truth. As we all know the truth is a bitter pill to swallow for others. I am prepared to be persecuted on the public platforms and called names for what I have written; then again it won’t be anything new. I have lived with the persecution for most of my career.

Q: Are you sending Bheki Cele a signed copy? (Maybe you should)
Mzilikazi:: If he buys a copy, I can sign it for him. By the way, Cele apologized in person for his role in my arrest claiming that he was misled and I have accepted his sincere apology, I am not a person who holds grudges.

Random Q: On twitter you share content in themed lists. I enjoy your tweets because they reveal another side of Mzilikazi Wa Afrika,  as we know more of the investigative journalist. Would you one day do the same with your writing? Maybe write a novel. 
Mzilikazi: My twitter handle is my private account and I always try to separate my journalism career from my private life. I am busy working on my first novel titled The Ugly Ones Are So Beautiful and I hope to publish it next year sometime.

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