In his yet-to-be launched Theory of a Scribe, author Dingaan Mithi has taken time to offer insights into the world of investigative journalism.
Through the year-long research, Mithi brings to the fore the dangers journalists face in their line of work every day. He talks about powerful and autocratic governments and wealthy companies that believe in bulldozing while neglecting the welfare of the poor people.
He has taken a look in the day and life of a scribe and has concluded that although media freedoms seem to be improving globally, the gains are immediately being reversed by the selfish interests of a selected few who have no regard for human rights.
The author describes Theory of a Scribe as a thriller novel set in the year 2045 where Malawi’s economy is just recovering from turmoil. During the period, uranium prices on the global market have gone up sparking a huge interest of wealthy multi-national firms.
In the course of that, one young brilliant journalist, Emerton Kayira, who is the protagonist, discovers that uranium mine workers in the largest mine set in the North are dying mysteriously and his pursuit to find out what is killing the miners is relentless.
“Investigative journalism is very tough, risky and puts the lives of the scribes on the line. I am trying to portray an image of a journalist who is determined to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, he is poisoned by a nerve agent from a radioactive product,” Mithi says.
He says the recent assassinations of Nobert Zongo from Burkina Faso and Jamal Kashoggi in Saudi Arabia, which made the case for the novel, clearly exemplify the dangers that journalists face every day, not only abroad but even here in Malawi.
“It is very easy for readers to make conclusions when they read stories. But they have no idea that what happens behind the scenes is nerve-wracking. Even our local journalists are not entirely safe. So, it’s food for thought for everyone,” he says.
The 37-year-old, who works as programme manager for Journalists Association Against Aids (JournAIDS), has underlined the importance of scribes learning to master courage, adopt a hardworking spirit and above all display ingenuity in the pursuit of their investigative work.
“Journalism is an enjoyable and noble profession, but governments need to do enough to protect journalists. If that protection is not offered, it is the whole country that suffers because the media is the oxygen of a democracy,” says Mithi.
Maxwell Ng’ambi, one of Malawi’s revered investigative journalists who worked with media institutions such as Nation Publications Limited and scooped several top awards, says the terrain for investigative journalistic work in Malawi is as rough as anywhere else.
He particularly points to the archaic laws which he feels were designed to protect the former one-party regime in muzzling investigative journalism which slow down the wheels of justice.
“The powerful who are usually clients of investigative journalism leverage off existing archaic and criminal libel laws to arrest and intimidate journalists,” he says.
Ng’ambi says while many investigative journalists have the integrity, there is still the temptation of pervasive clientelism which has the potential to erode the value of investigative journalism.
Theory of a Scribe will be Mithi’s third publication. It follows his first novel The Contraband Report which was among the award-winning works in the Malawi Writers Union of Malawi (Mawu) national literally awards last year.
His other novel, The Republic of Azania, is a science fiction novel set in the year 2200 in a new South African federal republic. It is set to be published by Kwela Books, a publisher based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Mithi, who started his fiction journey in 2005 initially with short stories, says he is still negotiating with a publisher for his new novel, but he plans to release the book within the year.