LET me start with a disclaimer: This article is not about Lawrence Simbarashe aka Mudhara Bhonzo (from the Timmy naBhonzo television series), but his rags to riches and back to rags story is the inspiration behind this piece.
Mdhara Bhonzo passed on last weekend (Saturday May 5) and was buried at Zororo Gardens Memorial Park near Chitungwiza on Wednesday last week. May his soul rest in peace.
This is a general article about what has become a fashionable chorus by artistes and other people in society who fail to make hay while the sun shines or outrightly squander what they amass during their careers and expect other people to take care of them when they are down and even to bury them.
Bury them we will. Help them when they are down if we can, we also will. But it is not an obligation.
Why should we feel sorry for someone who squandered their wealth or opportunities during their prime? Wafa wanaka (the dead are righteous), I get it, it is our culture, but should we not tell each other some truths while we can?
Using the story of Mudhara Bhonzo, the guy that brought laughter to many homes, touched many lives with memories to last a lifetime, parked nine cars in his yard at his peak and had several endorsements, including by blue-chip companies like Delta Beverages; what should people think of such a person when they are suddenly penniless?
Timothy Tapfumaneyi aka Timmy, Mdhara Bhonzo’s co-star in the hugely popular Timmy naBhonzo series, was fuming last week, blasting arts regulatory bodies. I understand Timmy’s lamentations and bitterness. But his bitterness is misdirected. Timmy should be using his influence to encourage fellow artistes to invest for tomorrow and not just think about the next meal or drink. Timmy himself is an example of someone who managed to transform himself from just an actor to a multi-faceted professional with an array of opportunities, which he can utilise because of the skills he has acquired over the years.
Recently I read an article where Nyaradzo Nhongonhema, an all-round artiste, was urging her colleagues in the arts industry not to stick to one thing.
“As a creative, one doesn’t have to dwell and focus on one thing. Know acting, writing, producing and behind the camera duties because that’s where the business opportunities lie. I have always wanted to be a radio presenter and now for the first time I am working part time as a producer/presenter…” said Nhongonhema.
Yes, there are genuine concerns like the failure by Government to tackle piracy, which we know they can if they wanted to. There are legitimate worries about Government funding of the arts or enactment of policies that create an environment where artistes can thrive. There indeed are artistes out there that are marginalised.
But to expect that an artiste’s welfare must be the responsibility of some arts body when one failed to make plans for themselves while they still could is stretching it a bit too far. These days almost everyone in Zimbabwe has more than one income stream. This is not being greedy, this is to ensure that all of one’s eggs are not in one basket.
Artistes, like everyone else, must plan for their future and the future of those that depend on them while the opportunities are still there. This habit of crying foul as if there is someone else that owes them a living or should plan for them is not just unfair, it is also silly, irresponsible and shameful. But this problem is not just on an individual level – it is on an industry level as well.
Artistes, where is your sector’s labour union? Who represents your interests?
If Timmy’s recent educational qualifications are worth the paper they are printed on, he should be at the forefront of helping artistes to get organised. There should be an industry standard that guides how models, musicians, actors, etcetera, work and are remunerated.
The Actors Guild of America, now Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artistes (SAG-AFTRA) should provide some direction.
Because of a lack of organisation of the industry as a whole, no one pushes Government on policy, no one sets an industry standard on contracts and remuneration. Some even go as far as saying there is no arts industry in Zimbabwe. Who can fault them? Every industry should have a National Employment Council, and where is the arts industry NEC?
Savanna Trust director Daniel Maphosa, who worked with the late Peter Kampira, one of the elite crop of Zimbabwean actors that featured on a number of Zimbabwean-filmed Hollywood movies, but died a pauper, says there is need for action now.
“This is not an industry. The artistes in Zimbabwe are very individualistic. They simply scrounge for the next dollar. No one cares about the sector. To make matters worse, people that have ideas, those that are supposed to lead, the thinkers, are also competing among themselves.
“We need to act now. But the question is; where are our thinkers? An industry is not shaped by artistes but by thinkers. We are too divided – music guys do their own thing, so do theatre practitioners, visual artistes, filmmakers, etcetera. If we do not do something no one will ever take us seriously. We will continue to be abused and we will contribute every time we want to bury a colleague,” said Maphosa.
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