I JUST read an article that says that the writing is on the wall for newspapers in Zimbabwe. The technology website, TechZim, quotes statistics released by the Zimbabwe All Media Products Survey (Zamps).
The reason given is that media organisations have been slow in waking up to the reality that is the internet. Online publications are becoming the in-thing and newspapers are headed for the dustbin.
The survey results showed that print news readership in Zimbabwe has started to decline.
‘Newspapers will not die anytime soon. No. Total death (sic) may not even happen, but the media business has been heavily disrupted and the effects are starting to be felt here,’ writes L.S.M Kabweza.
Newspapers will not die for the simple reason that in Zimbabwe, it has become such an essential part of our lives. We know that the main use of newspaper is to provide news, but it can do much more. For starters, everyone will attest to the newspaper’s wrapping qualities. One of Britain’s long held traditions is that of wrapping fish and chips in the day’s tabloid issue.
We are not at liberty to discuss the hygienic demerits of doing so but where we come from, particularly where plastic has no reach and is expensive, newspapers can wrap anything from tomatoes to traditional medicine. It’s not criminal as far as we know to wrap vuka vuka (aphrodisiac) in a copy of the Herald.
How does the man of the house escape Sunday detention after a hard night out with the boys? He pretends to go out to buy a newspaper! He has concocted a story to escape the clutches of a visibly angry wife, though of course returning 12 hours later with a torn copy smeared with fat from the barbecue will not win him any points on the domestic front.
Evidently, a few pages of the least popular section of the newspaper would be missing. You see, the newspaper has to be used to start up the fire that will get the braai or shisa nyama going. You don’t need the skills of a steam train driver to do that.
When Sipho, the boy from next door, for some odd reason decides to stage a mini-version of the Africa Cup of Nations in your yard with the rest of the neighbourhood, what does he use for raw material for his version of the Jabulani? A newspaper and a plastic bag of course! Most of the soccer greats past and present graduated from the street-paper-ball academy.
Never mind that the ‘Jabulani’ turns into the ‘Balekani’ (run away) when one of the more skilful of the boys executes a spectacular volley à la Messi – in the direction of your window. We are not going to embarrass you by describing how you chase the retinue down the street failing to catch a single of them. But rather how you find a newspaper coming handy in providing permanent cover over the gaping hole against the elements.
It is a fact that for a long time, tissue paper was beyond the reach of many and still is, especially when you are found having to choose between mathumbu (cheap tripe) and tissue.
Though many of us will not openly admit it, newspaper becomes a logical alternative. It serves a dual function. There is the aspect of catching up with news stories that you missed while answering the call of nature. Then there is what we will call the ‘utility’ aspect even though the traction of newspaper has always been in doubt when it comes to wiping the nether end. This does not become an issue when no better alternative can be found in the vicinity. Leaves and maize cobs have been found to be highly unsuitable even in times of desperation.
A word of caution though, having worked for the municipality, you should not be surprised if the sewer pipes in the vicinity decide to rebel and regurgitate their contents into your yard. These are some of the dire consequences for your being a bit on the thrift side of things. City health officials will not be pleased and don’t make things worse by complaining that it’s their job to clean up your mess.
For some unknown reason, cleaning sewerage is known to induce severe bouts of violent behaviour in those employed to undertake this unfortunate task. If you approaching this angry group of employees, a clever quip like: ‘At least you are one group of workers who need not worry about retrenchment,’ is in order.
There is a darker side to the use of newspaper besides the intended purpose. It would seem that carrying a newspaper gives a false impression of dignity. It explains why pickpockets and other career crooks carry newspapers as a form of diversion.
They are hiding their criminal intentions behind your favourite broadsheet or business paper. Carrying any of the tabloids would not do since they are just as sleazy. I am yet to see one of these hoodlums carrying a comic magazine, novel or the Holy Bible for that matter.
There are equally diabolical uses like those con artists who have fooled members of the public (to use the police’s well-worn cliché) into believing that they can make their money multiply. Instead, they are left clutching worthless paper every time. This trick has been used to dupe people since the days of the federation and yet they never seem to learn.
As much as we extol the virtues of newspapers when starting a fire, arsonists also find a newspaper’s incendiary qualities very ideal. It covers their tracks especially when the house they are torching has stacks and stacks of newspapers that never get to be used even when the option to sell to recycling companies can raise those desperately needed dollars.
There are many more uses of a newspaper that can one can identify like using them as an umbrella when caught out in a rain storm or on a particularly hot day; make paper planes and provide excuses for husbands not to be disturbed. For this reason, newspapers have become an institution.
The newspaper is unlikely to disappear from the street corner or from the loo for that matter, whether for utility or entertainment.