Sunday Debate with Charles Charamba: Xenophobia: But we sang for your freedom

I am a minister of the gospel through both the pulpit and music. I seldom write on issues that are non-gospel, nonetheless, the recent developments in South Africa have been too much of a concern such that I have been persuaded to highlight on the contribution of Zimbabwe’s music to the well-being of our brothers and sisters in that country.

I am proud to be Zimbabwean. The month of April is one of the most important ones for me owing to a few factors. Easter falls in this month. The commemoration of Zimbabwe’s Independence happens in this month as well.

I share a common thing with South Africa: birthday. We were both born on April 27 (tomorrow).

That aside, I co-lead the Fishers of Men, a gospel musical group that has been forced to cancel a concert that was supposed to have taken place in Cape Town, just yesterday (April 25).

South Africa boasts of one of the best ever composed national anthems — “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica” (Ishe Komborera Africa in Shona and God bless Africa in English) which was created by Enock Sontonga in 1897. We had mastered the song as we used to sing it at assembly during our school days, before Professor Solomon Mutswairo and Fred Changundega combined forces to write and compose our own prolific, customised piece of art entitled “Blessed be the Land of Zimbabwe”.

The anthem “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica” is a prayer that advocates for the blessing of our continent as ONE ENTITY. Sincerely, many are wondering what motivates one to kill the person they are praying for? Can a prayerful person kill, burn another to death? Though friction is common among family members, it is rare to witness intra-fighting of this current nature.

Subsequently, following the attainment of our independence, Zimbabwean musicians had so much to sing about, considering the electrifying atmosphere that characterised the period. There were gospel songs to be sung, love stories to be told, sad war ordeals to be narrated, family issues to sing about as well as aspirations to express through song.

Zimbabwean musicians deliberately spared a thought for their fellow Africans down south. Just sailing in the same boat with Kwame Nkrumah, our President expressed dissatisfaction on our freedom unless you, “Azania” (as we used to refer to you then), and Namibia were free as well.

Zimbabwean being predominantly a Christian society, musicians resonated and emulated President Mugabe’s compassion, penned and sung songs in solidarity with their brothers and sisters who were being ill-treated at the hands of oppressive handlers.

The following are some of the musical interventions that Zimbabwean musicians made between 1981 to 1994. Let’s start with one of the last musical expressions, one which was released just a few months prior to the pronouncement of freedom in South Africa. It is Senzenina by Albert Nyathi, a renowned poet. He produced a moving video accompaniment of the song. It was inspired by the gallant sacrifices of African revolutionaries who include the likes of Chris Hani.

In 1986, the then Marxist Brothers, fronted by the Chimbetu brothers, Simon and Naison, released a serene, soulful song, “Ndiri Musoja”, which was on the album “Dendera Resango”. It depicted a high degree of determination by a young man whose resolve was to embrace cadetship so as to liberate some oppressed kith and kin. In the song, the late iconic Nelson Mandela, whom, according to the song, was living in chains at the fortified (Robben) island was the principal object.

Handei tinoona mwanakomana

Akasungirirwa pachitsuwa cheuranda

Tinomutora sei, tomununura sei

Mwana wababa akapoteredzwa nemhandu?

(Let’s go and see the son of our father who has been tied on an island. How can we free him, how shall we save our brother who is in captivity?)

A Kwekwe-based outfit, Zigzag Band, released the song “VaMandela”, whose beat is inclined towards reggae. It expressed the masses’ displeasure on the continued imprisonment of the revolutionary, Mandela. An English translation of some of their lyrics is: “Sir Mandela, is tired of a lone stay in the jungle. People of Azania and Namibia can’t bear the brant of apartheid anymore”.

Another vibrant band, The New Black Montana, operating from the dormitory suburb of Chitungwiza under the leadership of Cosmas Mashoko, decried the ruthlessness of the apartheid system through the song — Vana VeAzania. The same concern was echoed by another sungura artiste, Knowledge Kunenyathi, who had just assumed leadership at Kassongo Band. They recorded the song, “Sisi Rhoda” (Sister Rhoda). The song pictured a Zimbabwean citizen who had learned through the media that “Sisi Rhoda”, a lady relative had been murdered in South Africa by the abusive forces of the day.

Robson Banda and the Black Eagles unleashed an all-time classic, “Soweto”, which probably was the “loudest” cry from a Zimbabwean music perspective. Banda presented a petition to God in which he said, “Kana muri pano pasi Mambo, dai mauyawo, magovanunura paSoweto (If you are resident on earth, oh God, we plead that you come and and free your children in Soweto). Kana muri denga Changamire, dai madzikawo, magovanunura hoye honde.” The composer was unassuming, the lyrics further expressed, “Vayaura Mambo, Vayaura Ishe, dai mauyawo magovanunura —“ (If you are heaven-based dear God, we invite you to come down and rescue them. They have suffered enough dear Sovereign God).

The eloquent and multi-lingual Doctor Love, as the late Paul Matavire ended up being referred to, took a break from his favourite themes — romantic love, and penned the song Nyakuchena Ganda, in which he expressed dismay at the manner in which white rule had been unabatedly left to choke his fellow black people in South Africa to death. Using Shona idioms and proverbs, he bemoaned the lack of respect for the black skin. He likened the relaying of brutality from older generations to younger ones to a crab family set-up. A translated derivation of the song’s lyrics goes, “Excuse me “Crab”, how do you expect your children to move straight-forward when you exemplify otherwise?” If it were not for South Africa and Namibia, Matavire would not have invested his time composing the song knowingly that he had overcome colonial bondage in his own country.

In 1989 Mitchel Jambo, backed by Zimbabwe Chachacha Kings, recorded another song entitled “South Africa”, which competed for honours with the chart-bustling love song, “Vimbiso”. Again his was an appeal for divine intervention so as to dismantle apartheid. Nearly all the musicians of this era voiced on the unwarranted situation in South African, comical and theatrical Safirio Madzikatire included.

The fact that most of these songs were sung in Shona shows that language barrier was never regarded a deterrent factor, in other instances the musicians were not only addressing the oppressors nor the South Africans, but Zimbabwean hearts. They motivated themselves to relentlessly pray for the freedom of the two remaining countries.

South Africa, we are siblings and you can’t afford to act in this manner. Remember, Zimbabwean musicians did not fall in love with you because of your rand nor any of your material possessions. When the said songs were being released, our dollar was much better than the rand. Loving one’s brother or sister is a principle derived from ubuntu and we started expressing our affection for you long back.

Believe it or not South Africa, we played a role as Zimbabwean musicians in your liberation. We continue to love you because we were meant for each other.

Our songs were composed as an expression of the Biblical Agape love, the kind of affection that prompted Jesus Christ to die for us all on the cross.

I would urge you South Africa to fully accept Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I have no doubt that in you the gospel is much alive but am convinced that a good number is yet to be saved. I would not want to pontificate myself nor am I suggesting that Zimbabweans are sinless, l am urging you to strive to regard human life with the sanctity it deserves.

Sincerely speaking, the LORD loves you. May God continue to bless Africa!

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  • Trish

    We are all puzzled and hurt Charles. Ini ndinogara munyika iyoyi, musuburb yakawanda vachena, am much safer there. Those who look like me would want to eat me alive. Sad sad sad