THIS is one bandwagon that I cannot prevent myself from joining. For the ‘Gamu bandwagon’ is not an ordinary one.
For a moment – for those few weeks — the talented girl brought many of us out of our shells. For those few weeks, as her talent outshone the brightness of others around her, the Zimbabwean in me and from my observations, in those similarly placed, had something positive to scream about in this country.
When Gamu first appeared on television and sang so beautifully and captured our hearts, I noticed that her surname betrayed a link to an old friend who answered to the same name. When it was confirmed that Gamu Nhengu was her niece, those of us who had shared lecture-time with her in law school instantly appointed ourselves ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’ to Gamu.
Yes, such was the pride, that even a remote connection to imminent celebrity was good enough. It was all in jest but to be sure, Gamu’s young shoulders were carrying many expectations.
Little did we know that before the game had even begun, our smiles would transform into frowns; that our tears of pride would turn into streams of heartache and disappointment. For watching the Gamu story has been like watching a public humiliation; a public flogging of one so vulnerable yet so loved.
It has been cruel. And very painful too. It conjures up of images of one being raised to a high pedestal and then from there, being dropped so forcefully just imagining it is painful to the senses.
Why, I asked, did the bosses at ITV put Gamu through a charade when it seems they knew pretty well that she would be dropped for reasons that have little to do with her talent? And yet presented her as failing to make the cut because she was not good enough!
We watched in shock as X Factor judge, Cheryl Cole, pronounced the unlikely end of Gamu’s journey to the top of the tree. We were horrified to discover that a girl who had, without the slightest fault, sailed through her auditions so effortlessly, had failed to make the cut, losing to two competitors who had literally crumbled before the judges.
I thought it was a rude joke. I imagined there might be a twist and sure enough, the rumour-mill had it that maybe, just maybe, she would come back as one of the judges’ ‘wild cards’ at the live show.
I have a son who is nine. I always tell him about Zimbabwean success stories and Gamu had become a potential success story that I wanted him to follow right to the end. I have always told him that if he works hard in this country, he will get a fair chance; that the principle of fair play is held in high regard.
On Sunday evening, he approached me after the show and seeing my visible disheartenment, asked if I still stood by my strong belief in fair play in this country. It took me a little while to respond, quite likely because my beliefs had been rudely shaken by what I had just witnessed.
I later said to him that not everyone is like the judge and reassured him that this was a show seeking publicity and anyway, things on television don’t always work the way they are supposed to in real life. But deep down, I had been severely disturbed by what had happened and I doubt that my boy was convinced by my explanation.
I later admitted that he has to be mindful that in life some people can be very unfair and it’s always important to be on guard and to protect one’s position. When later I saw the many protests against the decision led and supported by many ordinary Britons, I was pleased to tell my boy that there are still many decent people out there in this country who believe in the spirit of fair play.
Then a couple of days later, rumours started circulating that Gamu had actually been axed not for lack of talent but because of issues surrounding her mother’s immigration status on which hers and her minor siblings is dependent.
And on Wednesday, the media carried headlines stating that Gamu would be deported apparently because her mother’s application to extend her stay in Britain had been rejected by the UK Border Agency (UKBA), the immigration agency.
Some news reports even carried reasons for the refusal, apparent insinuations pointing to the allegation that Gamu’s mother had abused the benefits system. A situation that was already bad had become very desperate.
I joined concerned colleagues seeking clarity on the matter. The statements had been sourced from a UKBA ‘spokesperson’ so it seemed that the story was authentic. But what did Gamu and her mother know about the refusal, we asked? We turned to the aunt that we knew to make further enquiries. We were aware that what appears in the media is often not the full story.
The information we obtained was that apparently Gamu’s family had yet to receive official communication of the so-called refusal and deportation. So it appeared that the applicant had received news of the decision through the media, just like the rest of us watching this sad drama from the sidelines.
What happened to privacy? I asked. What happened to the usual line so favoured by the UKBA, the one that often goes, ‘We do not comment on individual cases’? Fair enough, the case had drawn public interest but would it not have been more decent to inform the family first, with full reasons and a chance to challenge the findings, especially the damaging finding in respect of alleged benefits cheating?
The issuing of this statement in these circumstances completed the public humiliation on this poor girl whose only mistake was to pursue a dream that her talent so deserves.
I understand that the law must be upheld at all times and I know that immigration is a hot issue in this country. But the law also provides for appeals against decisions or rules that remove the right of appeal. Further, and in any event, the laws provide for reviews of decision-making processes by administrative bodies, such as the UKBA to determine whether they have complied with principles of natural justice.
It may be that the UKBA made inaccurate findings. Indeed, it maybe that the procedures they have followed in a specific case have not conformed to generally accepted principles of natural justice. None of us in the public domain has the full facts of this case other than the bits and pieces emanating from the media and dare I say, rumour-mill fuelled by the internet.
It’s unfortunate that in an age dominated by internet news dissemination, opinions are formed more swiftly than before and sometimes on the basis of inaccurate or incomplete information. Already, some people have formed the opinion that Gamu’s mother is a benefits cheat. Others are convinced she was wrong and that she and her family must be deported.
These are quick but ill-informed judgments. They must be afforded opportunities to defend themselves like all persons in their position. The UKBA issues refusal notices every day; it probably issues deportation orders on a daily basis but it always guards its processes and clients’ privacy, even those involved in security-related matters.
I have read stories of persons who threaten the security of people in this country and yet those people have been afforded protection by the law. Indeed, some remain on these shores, enjoying benefits paid for by decent and hard-working people in this country.
Gamu did not threaten anyone’s security. No, she doesn’t pose a threat to any person in this country. She only sought to bring happiness to people; to sing for them and make they feel good if only for a few moments. And for a while she did. She touched the hearts of many people with her soulful, most beautiful voice.
She made us her fellow Zimbabweans proud. She was on the brink of success and almost, just almost could have transformed her family’s fortunes, using a rare talent conferred on her by her Creator. But the chance is about to be taken away in the most cruel of circumstances. And her treatment has been appalling.
But I also believe that everything happens for a reason. What seems like a nightmare might just turn out to be a blessing in disguise. After all is said and done, it’s her talent that will have an enduring presence. That is the permanent fixture that no television judge or immigration officer can ever take way.
But I am appalled, as indeed are many right-thinking people, at the way Gamu and her family have been treated. It is odd that a system that so stridently protects the right of terror suspects can be so harsh to a songbird whose suspicion is that she is more than a wonderful talent.
Paolo Coelho writes in The Alchemist that, when you really want something, the whole universe will conspire to make it happen for you. For Gamu, I believe the Universe has already started conspiring in that direction and I too, am a willing conspirator. You can become one, too.
To the UK authorities, I ask for mercy on Gamu’s behalf and I can do no more here than refer to the timeless words of Portia, the lawyer in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice who says, pleading for Antonio’s life, that “the quality of mercy is not strained”, that it drops as the gentle rain from heaven; that it blesses him that gives and him that takes; that mercy is above authority and that sometimes, it is better, ‘when mercy seasons justice’.
I pray that mercy seasons justice and that Gamu gets a chance to showcase her vast talent.