Tony NAMATE began to build a following and his reputation as one of Zimbabwe’s leading cartoonists in the early 1990’s as the cartoonist for ‘Horizon’, with his features 'Bob's Your Uncle' and ‘Chikwama’; the fat cigar toking character who would later morph into the straw-hatted war vet.

He remembers his first cartoon about Robert Mugabe (in 1992) didn't dare show the president, but rather a student protest; with a banner reading 'Down With Mugabe'. Even then, "those three words could make you disappear," he recalls. So he decided he may as well actually depict the president in his cartoons!

When he joined Associated Newspapers as editorial cartoonist for their Daily News title in January 1999, it was a critical time in Zimbabwe politics. "Twenty years after our 1980 independence, war vets were still gunning for their forty acres and a mule”, he remembers.

"That year saw the formation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party and a Constitutional Commission, and the emergence of Constitutional spokesman Jonathan ‘the people have spoken’ Moyo as a political farce… er…force. The following year witnessed deadly farm invasions which led to several people being killed and tortured, and 500 000 farm workers fleeing for their lives into the cities (they would later be uprooted in Operation Murambatsvina, a brutal nationwide destruction of people’s homes and businesses)."

The state-sponsored pre-election violence of 2000 remains unprecedented in its brutality. Droves of Zimbabweans fled the country. Several MDC supporters were burnt alive in their huts. Rape was employed as a weapon against women.

NAMATE’s cartoons recorded the horrific events, heaping ridicule on Robert Mugabe's government and bringing attention to its abuses. Readers responded enthusiastically, attracting the attention of the UK's ‘Daily Telegraph’ which described his cartoons as a barometer of the events unfolding in Zimbabwe at that time. He even received a bizarre call from the notorious Harare Central Police station: a senior police officer wanted him to know that she and her colleagues were fully behind his work!

"I was totally flummoxed," recalls the cartoonist.

He also attracted the attentions of the notorious 'War Veterans Association’ who threatened to deal with him, and the 'Women’s Action Group’ who planned to invade the newspaper’s offices in protest of his ‘sexist’ cartoons. A mob of war vets would later follow through with an attack on the newspaper’s offices, causing many of the staff to flee in terror while NAMATE and his colleagues barricaded themselves in, making frantic calls to international journalists based in Zimbabwe while the national ZTV reporters urged the war vets on. The situation abated when the international press arrived.

"At one time, the late Minister of Defence, Moven Mahachi, held a press conference to denounce me as unpatriotic. A few years earlier, Joice Mujuru (then Minister of Information) had suggested that I be locked up and the key thrown away! Weighing in was my favourite ‘fanatic’, Tafataona P. Mahoso, who declared in his Sunday Mail column, African Focus, that I was a dangerous tool of the imperialist whites.”

This reaction inadvertently served to heap publicity on the cartoonist. In 2001 he received a runner-up certificate for the 2000 UN Ranan Lurie Political Cartoon Award from UN Secretary-General Koffi Annan.

In 2004, at the annual convention of America’s top cartoonists in Lexington, Kentucky, he received the CRN Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award, for his work at the Daily News.

"The Daily News team received unprecedented threats during its short life. They were arrested, beaten up and threatened with death, yet they soldiered on. We couldn’t let the people down. We became Zimbabwe’s first reader-friendly paper, Twitter and Facebook in print. Stories dropped on our laps,” continues NAMATE.

Meanwhile, the terror continued unabated."MDC supporters’ houses were attacked while they slept. Wives, daughters, mothers were raped in front of their families. The newspaper’s office and printing press were bombed, but despite the press being blown to smithereens, the newspaper did not miss a single issue.

It soon became the biggest selling independent daily in the history of Zimbabwe. The paper would later be banned – twice.

Ultimately, the draconian AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act) - crafted by then Minister of Information, Jonathan Moyo’s and ably assisted by the media hangman, Tafataona P. Mahoso - which finally brought the Daily News to its knees, along with The Weekly Times, Business Tribune, and The Weekend Tribune.

[this profile was extracted from an autobiographical piece by the cartoonist titled ‘I Pushed the Boundaries of Cartooning and Lived’, edited and with additional reporting by Video interview below recorded by VJ Movement]

Cartoons by Namate

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