Two editors at the Zambia Daily Mail died on Christmas day

Jan 22010

The deaths of two editors sadden colleagues and send a message. Two of my colleagues at the Zambia Daily Mail died on Christmas day, casting, as the newspaper's story the next day said, a dark cloud over us. Both died after illnesses, that were not described in the story.

Mr. Pelekelo Liswaniso the newspaper's production editor was 50 years old. Ms. Diana Zulu, sports editor was 39.

Both had been amongst us long enough and recently enough for their loss to be jarring as well as very, very sad.

Pele, as Liswaniso was called, had worked at the Mail since 1984, more than enough time for many there to attribute their starts in journalism and much of what they had learned, to him. He had seized an array of opportunities -- including a year in the US as a Humphrey Fellow -- to add to his knowledge, which he shared in an endearingly modest way.

"Let me give you some fatherly advice," he said to a young reporter and then added, laughing, because he didn't seem that old, "or rather, some brotherly advice."

The advice to the young reporter was to pursue opportunities to improve his reporting, rather than his bank account, but was said nicer than that.

Diana Zulu had also worked in the US, with the Boston Herald, on an International Women's Media Foundation fellowship.

Both of them spoke to me about their experiences in America, and our common experience of learning to live in, work in and enjoy another country by immersing ourselves in it.

More recently, in November Diana attended the International Conference on Family Planning in Uganda. We talked about what she could bring back to the Daily Mail before she went, and talked about what happened there when she returned.

A local spokesman who is always hard to reach, and to get calls back from was there, and she had tried to ask him questions, she told me, smiling wryly: "He was the same way there."

Three weeks later she died at home, after being admitted to, and discharged from a hospital twice.

The local spokesman she had tried to connect with in Uganda sent me a message, saying how sad the news was. We just met in Uganda, he added, and then she was gone.

Which goes to show one of the reasons to seize the moment.

Today, I read something I found on the Internet to my colleagues at the Daily Mail:

"There isn’t a newspaper organization in Zambia that has an established health desk and I know that health issues right now are paramount, but they don’t get the coverage that they deserve. My intention has always been that of establishing a health desk at the Zambian Daily Mail. I hope by the time I leave here I will have the necessary equipment in terms of knowledge, in terms of capacity, to be able to go back home and convince my bosses that the time to establish a health desk is now."

Who do you think said that, I asked them.

You, they answered, without hesitation. On the bright side, this showed they had been listening -- sort of.

No, I said, Diana Zulu said this in 2004, when she got the IWMF fellowship.

Which also goes to show one of the reasons to seize the moment, and to recognize a need that comes from here to tell stories about life and death.