The Sunday Mail
SHE never knew peace! As a young girl, she was shuttled between Zimbabwe and the United States of America. Her mother and father were estranged — she lived most of her life with her mother’s people.
In 2012, at age 12, her father, whose affection she never really knew, died. The following year, her mother, her role model, the only source of unconditional love she had, also passed on. And on September 12, 2015 in Texas, USA, two years after her mother’s death, overwhelmed by the world and its pressures, she committed suicide — marking an end to a life before it had blossomed.
For a human being — this would normally signal the end of suffering, maybe it was. But today, Chiedza “Chi” Brown, the daughter of legendary Zimbabwean singers, Andy Brown and Chiwoniso Maraire, finds her tragic story in the headlines, almost two years after her passing. Her body, burnt into ashes in a culturally frowned upon process of cremation, has not been ‘laid to rest’ as would be the norm under Zimbabwean tradition. Her sister Chengeto and half-sister Ammara, are stuck with her ashes, powerless to just scatter them as they wish yet also unable to bury them.
A clash of traditions and family politics combined with naivety have seen the families involved failing to come to an agreement with regards to the way forward. Will Chiedza have a final resting place or will she be split between continents, rivers and villages? Will she be scattered in the wind or kept in a drawer as is the case right now?
Sources close to the Brown and Maraire families revealed to this publication that they are yet to come to an agreement regarding Chiedza’s final resting place. “The families have had to discuss what to do with the ashes. The fact that she committed suicide has complicated things with the families saying they needed to talk to village headmen and chiefs of their respective areas to find out how they should proceed,” said the source. “The problem right now, just as has been the case with a number of other issues in the family is that the decision makers are never in one place. Some of these issues cannot be discussed on WhatsApp. They need people to look at each other face-to-face,” added the source.
The Sunday Mail Society spoke to Chengeto’s aunt, from the Maraire side, known as Tete Ellen Chiteteru. Tete Ellen said she had not been updated about her niece since her cremation back in 2015. “As a family we squabbled about this to no end. We cried when we first heard the news of Chiedza’s death, felt tremendous pain, tried to follow up and understand what was happening until we just gave up. “I have heard rumours that Chengeto, my niece is in the country but she has not come to me to say ‘I’m here and this is what happened to Chiedza’, no, she has not done that. Even the issue of ashes, I have only heard it through the grapevine,” said Tete Ellen, emotionally.
Tete Ellen said when Chiedza died in 2015 as a family they wanted the body to come home so that the traditional burial procedures could be followed but Taona, Chengeto’s aunt (mainini) who is based in the USA insisted they would cremate the body. “We asked them; if you burn the body to ashes, what will you do with them? Cremation is against our culture. Even if the ashes were to be availed to us today, we would not even know what to do with them. If we take those to our rural home (Chimanimani) the chiefs there will not allow it unless there is a hefty payment as punishment, and who would pay that?”
She added: “I understand, they made their decisions, they can even say they made them as the Browns. But remember these kids grew up with the Maraires. I, at some point lived with them, vakakurira kwasekuru (they were raised by the maternal side of the family).”
There is another twist to the story, however. In an interview with Gogo Ntombana Ncube, in March this year when The Sunday Mail visited Andy Brown’s grave in Chavengwa, Mberengwa, she revealed that she had been informed that Chiedza’s ashes had arrived in the country and that her wish was that they be interred the way a corpse would be buried.
“Ndakanzwa kuti madota aChiedza akauya. Zvino dai vauya nawo ka madota emuzukuru wangu tamuviga zvakanaka semunhu kwete zvekumwaya mumhepo zvinoitwa nemakiwa (I heard that Chiedza’s ashes are in the country. They should bring my granddaughter’s ashes here so that we bury her properly as we would do a corpse. We cannot scatter them in the wind like the whites do.),” said Gogo Ncube at the time.
Gogo Ncube is the old lady who claims to be Andy Brown’s biological mother, claims that have been corroborated by Zvishavane-Ngezi legislator Member of Parliament John Holder, who was a childhood friend of Andy Brown.
The Brown family, however, says Gogo Ncube is crazy. In all this, what does Chengeto, the custodian of Chiedza’s ashes, have to say?
After initially agreeing to an interview with this publication in a telephone conversation, Chengeto did not turn up at the meeting place and did not answer or return phone calls made to her mobile phone, or respond to messages. Calls to Ammara Brown, Chengeto’s half-sister were also not fruitful. However, in a WhatsApp conversation with Queen Marshie, an aunt of both Ammara and Chengeto, who is based in France, she said the family had the ashes and would keep them in the house but offered no other explanation.