Op-eds are a form of ghostwriting that, while not unknown, are quite uncommon in this context. Generally, leading figures have a media staff who, being in day-to-day contact with the “talent” or “byline” can navigate issues and produce the right words. Speech writing is the most usual form of this practice. But it is relatively rare that national political parties, for instance, or leading human rights figures would farm out the drafting to outsiders.
Most of my clients, though, had no money for a standard professional staff. Without one, it was clear they were struggling to be heard in the news media. That’s where I came in.
While I always chose my clients carefully, selecting those who broadly reflected my own pro-human rights and pro-social justice views, I wrote for them, not instead of them. It is the client who must stand and give the speech or whose name is on the comment, they who must suffer its consequences, and they who, it must be said, get the plaudits.
There is a delicate balance maintained by many ghost-writers who have gone before; they can give their heart and soul to their work, but still be prepared to take no credit for it. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s speechwriter, Ted Sorensen: I may write the words, but JFK was always the author. Other personal heroes like Don Watson and Graham Freudenberg, ghost-writers for Australian Prime Ministers Paul Keating and Gough Whitlam, respectively, had written some of my country’s most memorable and inspirational lines, yet never saw themselves as owning them. I, too, was happy to stay anonymous.
Politicians like the late Morgan Tsvangirai are different—clearly more inclined to take their place at the front of the crowd, in full glare of the lights and unprotected from the dangers, as I saw it, of political notoriety. From a simple upbringing in (Buhera), a rural area in south-central Zimbabwe (known as Rhodesia when he was born in 1952), Tsvangirai started working in a textile factory as a young man and then worked in nickel mines, where he rose into middle management.
I saw him as something of an imperfect hero in a land where popping your head above the parapet could get it knocked off. His character seemed admirable in that he stepped into the historic moment presented before him—an act that took courage and dedication—and maintained his line, despite the obstacles.
Some viewed him, rather, as flaky, organizationally inept, and philandering. He may have been all these things, but I was moved by his willingness to take the hits for his cause, sometimes literally.
I recognized in him an important voice in the fight against Mugabe’s seemingly unending dictatorship in Zimbabwe. The world, I surmised, needed him to state the alternative, to rally the so-called international community, and to publicize Mugabe’s violence and lies.
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