Leah Harrison | Staff Writer
In March 2011, Chautauqua Institution partnered with the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe, to create one of three international Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circles.
Through a grant for innovations in diplomacy, the U.S. State Department supplied Kindles loaded with 12 CLSC books to 46 Zimbabwean leaders. One of those leaders completed a weeklong stay at Chautauqua Institution over the weekend.
A member of the senior reading circle, Constantine Chimakure extended an international investigative journalism tour of the United States to visit Chautauqua. As editor of NewsDay in Zimbabwe, Chimakure is interested in investigative journalism techniques used in the U.S. and how they might help alleviate oppression in his country.
“We cannot keep quiet for a long time,” Chimakure said. “We have to stand up and speak truth to power.”
Chimakure’s resolve to improve the situation in his homeland, despite having been arrested numerous times, makes him an asset to the CLSC in Zimbabwe. Chimakure reads and discusses books about civil rights, justice and history with 22 other leaders, including businesspeople, government officials and media figures.
Among CLSC-Z’s members is Sharon Hudson-Dean, public affairs counselor at the U.S. Embassy. She envisioned a community of leaders in Zimbabwe discussing important, modern literature. Hudson-Dean, whose parents own property at Chautauqua, spent parts of her childhood here.
Ambassador Charles Ray leads CLSC-Z’s discussion. His role in the reading group contributes to his outreach goal.
“Outreach might sound simple but can be very challenging, especially in countries where the power center seeks to maintain and tighten its control over the population,” Ray wrote in an August 2011 blog post.
“Leaders unwilling to give up power don’t appreciate outside voices questioning their methods and goals. Finding the right tools to facilitate the sharing of ideas and information can be difficult, but, thanks to the efforts of Sharon Hudson-Dean, my public affairs counselor, and the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) based in Chautauqua, New York, we here in Harare now have some of the most effective tools imaginable — brilliant books and a forum in which to discuss them.”
Chimakure was promoted to editor of NewsDay in February, after having been an editor for the Zimbabwe Independent — a business weekly — for five years. Both papers are owned by Alpha Media Holdings.
Chimakure’s arrests are most frequently linked to articles he writes or publishes exposing corruption in Zimbabwe’s police force. Through what he calls “simple and straightforward analysis,” Chimakure has reported police kidnappings and looting.
In a recent case, he challenged the constitutionality of the law under which he was arrested. The case went to Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court, which, according to Chimakure, agreed that the charges were unconstitutional but withheld judgment for more than two years to permit more arrests of journalists.
Withholding judgment stops a defendant from being found not guilty, preventing them from recouping legal costs. While a case proceeds, strict conditions are enforced on the accused, including frequent police check-ins, a forced surrender of their passport, and a stop on business transactions. Ultimately, Chimakure said, he feels that the government is attempting to intimidate other journalists from reporting on its corruption.
Chimakure’s trip to the U.S. strengthened his resolve “not to pull any punches.” Before he came to Chautauqua, he visited several national and local newspapers and attended the Investigative Reporters & Editors Conference in Boston.
His integrity and professional ambition are reasons he was chosen as a member of CLSC-Z, and his experience in the reading circle has the potential to enrich his journalistic viewpoint.
“It’s not only about reading and understanding the books,” Chimakure said, “it shapes our lives, too. We learn a lot from the books — a lot of history, a lot about the human race, so it’s educationally beneficial. It enriches our understanding of how the world evolved.”
While at Chautauqua, Chimakure had a chance to attend CLSC events, performances and the “Roger Rosenblatt and Friends on the Literary Arts” morning lecture series. On Tuesday, he especially enjoyed Rosenblatt’s discussion with Derek and Sissela Bok, both authors of books on happiness.
“I was so enthralled by the level of knowledge and insight they have on happiness,” Chimakure said.
When he returns to Zimbabwe, Chimakure will communicate what he learned to his media and reading circle colleagues, encouraging them to make the trip to Chautauqua Institution.