By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
The veteran journalist, author, and Catholic priest, Fr. Oskar Wermter, has died. Fr. Wermter died at Richartz House in Harare on 12 October 2023.
Born in 1942 in Eastern Germany, Fr. Wermter came to live among the Zimbabwean people in 1966 and started working in the country in 1972.
The late Fr. Wermter is well known for his writings in the private and public media. He inspired many people especially young Catholics to take up journalism as a profession.
The late priest and journalist has been at the helm of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference Social Communications Commission since 1989 where he grew the media commission and cemented relationships with both the public and private media. It is during his tenure as the Communications Officer for ZCBC that he introduced two publications which include the Cross Roads and the famous Catholic Church News.
In one of Fr. Wermter’s excerpts, he wrote: “When I was parish priest at Mhangura Mine from 1973-1979, I used to write a column for Moto (before it was banned) called ‘Diary of a Parish Priest’ under a pseudonym Mwenzi wavanhu. I like to be involved with people as their pastoral priest and write about them. I think it started when I was a teenager; I used to be a youth leader in our parish and an editor of our parish magazine.
I have never been content merely to sit in the parish office and wait for people to come. I have always believed that a priest must go out where the people are. Visiting people in their homes and at their workplaces was to me never a waste of time. I have always been happy to be able to proclaim the good news from the pulpit at Sunday Mass, but that is not enough. We must also reach those who are not at Sunday Mass. My slogan is; “When the people do not come to Church, the Church must come to the people.” That is what we can do with the media. With the media, magazines, radio television, and videos we enter many homes and meet many people whom we do not have a chance to meet otherwise.
Fr. Wermter led the formation of the Zimbabwe Catholic Media Workers Association (ZICAMWA) and promoted ecumenical media work, collaborating with the Late Gift Mabhaudhi of FEBA Radio and others. He used to contribute to daily newspapers such as Newsday, Daily News, and occasionally the Herald, the Sunday Mail, and Sunday News.
When he left ZCBC in July 2001, Fr. Wermter founded Jesuit Communications and introduced the Mukai/Vukani Magazine and Mbare Reports concerning the Murambatsvina exercise.
He once served as a board member of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ). Until this year, Fr Oskar was also a guest columnist in the NewsDay-Zimbabwe and also published several books including Christians and Citizens. His last edition titled; “They Will Never Learn War Anymore” is under print and will be out soon.
Fr. Wermter joined the Jesuits in 1961 in Berlin, the year when the infamous Berlin war was built to stop East Germans from crossing over to the West. As a young Jesuit, he volunteered to work in the Church in Africa. After finishing his studies in Munich in 1966 he went out to the then Rhodesia to learn the local language and get to know the culture of the people. In 1968, he returned to Europe to study Theology – first in Frankfurt and then in London. He was ordained priest in Berlin in 1971 and in 1972, after a few months in Ireland for Media Studies, he returned to Rhodesia just when the guerrilla war intensified. He first worked as a pastoral priest for mine and farm workers in Mhangura, North of Chinhoyi. Fr. Wermter was asked by the Catholic Bishops to be their media man at their headquarters in Harare where he served until July 2001 before joining the Inter Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA).