Toni’s death, lessons for journalists
By Sikhumbuzo Moyo
Last Friday, the country’s sporting industry woke up to the sad news of the passing away of one of the country’s best sports journalists, Wellington Toni, who died on admission to a Harare hospital on Thursday night.
Toni, a former Chronicle Deputy Sports Editor who rose to become Sunday News Sports Editor before assuming the pioneering role of NewsDay Sports Editor under the Alpha Media Holdings stable, died at the age of 44, leaving behind two sons.
As someone that was no longer in full-time employment, he struggled to meet his medical bills and rentals in Harare where he was staying. He just managed to survive, thanks to Zifa communications manager Xolisani Gwesela, who took it upon himself to assist Toni.
Gwesela did all he could to assist Toni get back on his feet and eventually to the newsroom to do what he knew best; that is sports coverage.
Sadly we are not in total control of our destiny and Toni breathed his last breath last Thursday night.
An SOS was sent out for assistance to cover funeral and burial expenses and quite heartily, journalists from the privately owned and public media as well as freelancers joined forces with other personalities in the sports industry to ensure Toni at least got a decent send-off.
His body eventually came down to Bulawayo en route to his rural home Embakwe in Plumtree for burial.
A service was held at Emakhandeni suburb on Sunday afternoon and some journalists from Bulawayo thronged the Toni family home to bid farewell to one of their own.
Veteran football coach Cosmas “Tsano” Zulu and entertainment kingpin Manu Mahaso were also among the mourners that bid Toni a final farewell.
The problem is that Toni had been unwell for some time and only Gwesela visibly stuck by him and assisted him financially and in every other way until his death.
Maybe his illness wasn’t publicised, but the question is where were all those people that looked up to Toni when he was still a giant in the newsroom?
When his worth was needed, Toni was literally a god, but when he was in need, the very people that expressed adoration for his work were nowhere to be found.
Maybe they were unaware of his illness, but it’s scary that such a sports media giant can be easily forgotten simply because his byline no longer appeared in the newspapers.
Could it be that the Covid-19 enforced new normal perhaps made it virtually impossible to check up on him.
It was sad that some sports personalities, including those Toni profiled to national and international stardom or helped to attain leadership roles in sports associations, virtually “forgot” who Toni was and never bothered to bid him farewell. Maybe, and just maybe, it’s due to the new normal.
What this sad reality teaches us journalists and sports scribes in particular is that we are only adored when still able to write and use our cameras, covering stories and events that bring fame to some individuals and organisations.
However, once there is no more flesh left, the vultures fly away and look for their next victim.
Lessons have been learnt that probably our relationships with some of these people are not as tight as we want to assume. The only binding thing is our work, so let us not be fooled that we have influential friends.
No, forget it, once you fall on hard times, you’re on your own with just your family to lean on.
Let’s not be fooled that we have established relationships; it’s just work and let’s treat it that way.
Yes, some genuine relationships are formed, but they’re a minority.
Toni was an icon in sports journalism, but that status became a mockery at his time of need and his unfortunate passing away should serve as a life-long and professional lesson for journalists not to get carried away and think they can depend on relationships they “make” during the course of their duties. The Chronicle