WITH a career that bestrides seven presidents, two political systems and generations of reporters, Frank Mutubila is definitely the last man standing, outlasting all his contemporaries in the game, and outliving most of them.
And yet the 71-year-old broadcaster, who is fondly known as Uncle Frank, is not about done.
No. He actually has an after-life plan for his career.
“Retiring? No. I can’t think of it. I may slow down, but I will keep on broadcasting. And even when I go to Heaven, I will be broadcasting there,” he says.
But the broadcaster, who won one of the highest medals from the President for distinguished service to the nation in 2022, did not start as a broadcaster.
In fact, his mother wanted him to grow up into a preacher like his father.
Frank was only nine when his dad died, but he says he left a lasting impact on his life.
“He impacted me greatly. I was actually in awe of this man, he was an incredible communicator,” he says.
But he also speaks about the impact that his death had on him.
“When he died, I was lost. I was actually angry with God,” he says. “It took me 30-40 years for me to stop mourning him.”
After graduating from high school, Frank found himself working for the Zambia Dairy Produce Board, but he was very bad with figures and so he did not last on that job.
He then followed his passion – football – and joined City of Lusaka Football Club, playing alongside Peter M’hango, who played in the national team.
His exposure soon got him a job in the Ministry of Transport, but he hated the uniform and quit a few months later, after seeing an advert for announcers to join the Zambia Broadcasting Services (ZBS), before it was changed to ZNBC.
And after being interviewed by Charles Muyamwa, the man whose name he still swears by, he walked into the studios of ZBS and never looked back. That was December 31, 1970.
“I knew from the beginning that I was tailor-made to be a good presenter, a good producer and a good interviewer,” he says.
Some of his contemporaries were: Charles Mando, Jeff Sitali, Mani Sichalwe, Fred Chunga, Mario Malio, Emelda Yumbe, and Hagai Chisulo.
They are names he mentions with a deep sense of nostalgia, pride and loss.
“My colleagues, my great friends, they have all passed away; that really hurts,” he says.
To Frank, being a journalist is about making a difference in people’s lives, something he says still drives him today.
“The money may not have been enough, but we had the passion. Making a difference to people is amazing,” he says.
He still exhibits deep passion for broadcasting, hopping from one studio to another, but he has also had to evolve over the years to stay in the fast-changing game.
And he also does not hide his frustration about the quality of journalism being exhibited in the country. He has a damning assessment of the current state of journalism.
“The quality of journalists today leaves much to be desired,” he says. “There is a sense of laziness.”
He thinks part of the problem is the training, which he says in many cases is done by people who have never practised as journalists themselves.
He also thinks media houses should be run by people with media background.
“Perhaps we need a policy that the people who own media outlets, especially private media outlets, have some kind of media background. I’m not saying they will make good media managers, but it is an added advantage,” he says.
Frank also thinks self-censorship, which causes journalists to fall into the trap of politicians, is killing the profession.
PAYING THE PRICE FOR FAME
Like many people who have walked in the limelight for a long time, Frank has had to pay the price that comes with it.
And looking back, he has some regrets, and given another chance, he says he would do things differently.
“I would choose the people I hang around with a bit more cautiously than I did. I think perhaps we were too open; perhaps we were a bit too careless…. I could have done with a bit of caution; I could have done with choosing certain social places carefully,” he says.
“I’ve gone to social places more often than I would have loved to because I’m free with everybody, but I forget, sometimes I get carried away and I forget that I’m a public figure and I need to be cautious with my life.”
But he also thinks people misjudge him just because he is a public figure.
“People think they know you just because they see you,” he says.
“I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I think the good outweighs what they perceive as my bad side,” he says.
Frank also feels society has judged him perhaps too harshly over his divorces.
Frank Mutubila married his first wife when he was 22. His wife was a 21-year-old banker.
“It was a great marriage,” he says.
A few years later, they both went to London for a short stay. Frank was attending a course with the BBC, while his wife was working for Zanaco Bank, which had a branch in London at the time.
But when it was time to return home, his wife decided to stay with their son.
“After three years we divorced amicably. She’s still a great friend, we communicate very often,” says Frank.
But it was the second divorce with Evelyn Tembo, a vivacious TV news anchor who once worked with him at ZNBC that left him devastated and almost ruined his life.
“The second one was ugly. It was a great relationship when it started, maybe because we both worked in the same profession. The divorce was very ugly. It was played out in the media,” he says.
“Apart from the death of my dad, my second divorce was perhaps my lowest. I can’t wish a bad divorce on anybody,” he adds.
Frank found help at his church, Miracle Life.
But he also used his skill and passion to get over it. He started producing a radio talk show called “The Art of Marriage” where he featured different people talking about marriage.
“That programme helped me a lot,” says Frank.
But he also found comfort in his family, including his three children.
“I have moved on,” he says, although he now has radicle opinion about marriage.
“I’m going to say something that perhaps people won’t be happy [with], but for me, my wife is not my relative, a husband is not a wife’s relative. I’m saying this because this is how I feel; my wife is not my relative. My children are my relatives,” he says.
But he also encourages people to speak out and share their pain when going through a divorce.
“Sometimes I have been accused by some people of speaking too much about my divorce, but it makes me feel much better when I share with somebody,” he says.
Frank is in a relationship, but more cautious about falling in love and committing again.
“I’m cautious because of what I have experienced and I take it easy. I have enough relatives who give me good genuine happiness,” he says.
But he does not rule out walking down the aisle again.
“Although I’m 71, I’m not closing the door; you are only as old as you feel,” he says.
And he sure does feel young.
He is a real dandy when it comes to keeping up appearances, and loves his glass of red wine and socialising.
He lives by the philosophy if it makes you happy, do it; just as long it does not harm you.
“I’m my own person; as long as what I’m doing with my body doesn’t raise any dust or come in the way of my decision making, I’m fine,” he says.
Once, when he was a young TV broadcaster, he went from a kinky afro to a wet-look. It almost cost him a place in President Kenneth Kaunda’s press corp.
Frank is still unconventional in a number of ways.
When he was ambassador in Italy, about 10 years ago, he walked into a tattoo parlor and had a large tattoo engraved on his right torso – from shoulder right down to his waist.
That was only an addition to the one he did earlier – the names of his sisters and daughter beautifully tattooed on his lower left arm under a praying hands artwork.
“Tattoos are very addictive,” he says, and does not rule out going for another one.
CONTENT WITH LIFE
Despite living under the spotlight, Frank says he has learned to be content and humble in life.
“I’m really not envious. I don’t have expensive stuff that you can talk about. I’ve got a house which I co-owned with my ex-wife; I drive a modest vehicle… when I came back from Italy I was driving a Mini [Cooper]. For me the most important thing is just to humble yourself, enjoy life… For me health is very important,” he says.
To keep fit, the broadcaster takes long walks of up to 16km on some days. He also continues playing sports like golf and lawn tennis, and attending social events such as lunches, and remains a Manchester United fanatic since his teen years.
He has also only recently reluctantly abandoned one of his favourite pastimes – karaoke – after taking up certain responsibilities.
Recently, Frank was appointed to the board of the Zambia Daily Mail, and he has also been appointed brand ambassador for Zambia Airways.
After 53 years, Frank continues to do what he has always done best – producing talk shows. He now spends most of his time at Capital FM, as well as hosting TV talk shows on Prime TV and Diamond TV.
When asked if he would choose to be a journalist if given another chance, he blurted: “Yes, yes, I can’t even blink. It is the best job,” he said.
“I knew that at one time I was going to do something that made a difference to people, and what better than being a media person?” he says.
Actually, he considers it a calling from God.
“This is a career that is bestowed on me by God. It’s a lifelong job,” he says.
“I have never taken my talent for granted neither have I taken my successes for granted. I’m driven by the phrase I coined, which says ‘do your very best and God will do the rest’.
And how would he want to be remembered?
“Just a simple son of a reverend who tried to make a difference to the country and to the world,” he says.
Credit: Zambia Daily Mail/Jack Zimba
Kalemba January 28, 2024