The Sunday Mail
“…for in the beginning there was silence and we all were
and in the end there will be silence and in the end we all will be…”
— Musaemura B. Zimunya (“Zimbabwe — After the ruins”)
Quietly, I am grieving.
There’s a huge lump in my throat and it is very hard to put what I am feeling into words; words that can best capture the innermost thoughts running through my brain.
I am struggling.
Words, you see, can short-change you.
Unless, of course, you were Charles Mungoshi. Or Oliver Mutukudzi. Or Chenjerai Hove.
As artists, these three great men had one thing in common: a turn of phrase so amazingly wondrous that it can only be defined as sophisticated simplicity. You know you could have written that, but still wonder how; try as you might, you couldn’t.
The difference, I think, is because you are consciously trying. Yet, for these three, it evidently came naturally, infused in their natural make-up, their DNA.
They didn’t need to try. They just were. What they were.
Charles Mungoshi died on Saturday 16 February, seven days shy of a month to the day Oliver Mutukudzi preceded him.
Chenjerai Hove had gone on ahead four years earlier, on 12 July 2015.
Chenjerai Hove, Mukoma Chenjerai, Musaigwa, introduced me to Charles Mungoshi.
It was around the same time he introduced me to Mukoma Musaemura Bonas Zimunya, yet another amazing literary icon.
I was an energetic — if not dreamily ambitious — young reporter in my mid-20s, still cutting teeth as something of a cadet at Zimbabwe Newspapers’ The Sunday Mail newspaper, where I was being mentored by the late great Willie Dzawanda Musarurwa, the nationalist editor.
Mungoshi and Zimunya were the only people I knew who I thought really understood the eccentric literary genius Dambudzo Marechera, whose book Black Sunlight had unsurprisingly been banned for obscenities by the Censorship Board.
From the comfort and safety of my newsroom desk, I faithfully reported on all the proceedings as Zimunya and university colleagues successfully fought the ban, earning the friendship of these men in the process.
Until much later in life, I did not really appreciate the import of being allowed into these gentlemen’s ‘inner circle’, much, much older than I.
Through Chenjerai, I gained and enjoyed entry into the Senior Common Room at the University of Zimbabwe at a time when not just anybody could go in there.
I made the most of it, lapping up the academic discourses — many of which, of course, were way over my head!
But I watched, listened and enjoyed anyway, especially the passion with which the debates were argued, sounding cleverer and more profound with each swig of the ‘wise waters’.
Both at one point or another UZ Writer-in-Residence, Mungoshi and Hove wrote prose in a poetic kind of style, characterised by short, simple sentences. Contrary to the evidence at hand, Mungoshi didn’t consider himself much of a poet, preferring prose, or so he told one inquisitive interviewer.
At first, I found Zimunya a little difficult for me, especially when he threw in stuff that I had never come across (such as “friezes of dentelle… and herring-bone check patterns”). I put it down to his being a lover and lecturer of literature, having read everything from Brecht to Shakespeare.
I picked from Hove and Zimunya the social habit of inviting a select small circle of friends for family braais (barbecues) for no reason other than fellowship. It got our families to bond and, there, we met other interesting people, particularly from the creative industries community. Slowly and surely, the network grew.
Meanwhile I, in turn, introduced Hove to Mtukudzi, trying to extricate him (and Zimunya) from their almost obsessive partiality to Thomas Mapfumo. Mtukudzi was to me the big brother from the ghetto of Highfield, Old Highfield, where everyone is everyone’s brother and everyone’s sister. If you married there from somewhere else, you’re automatically an in-law to me and every other Old Fio person, even if you’ve never met us!
At the Tuku funeral, the Old Fio people kept a respectable distance, accepting that their brother now belonged to the entire country, nay the whole world!
At the time of writing, they — we — have started brainstorming around how we can immortalise Tuku’s memory, the Fio Way…
Mungoshi’s call for self-introspection in “If you don’t stay bitter and angry for too long (you might finally salvage something useful from the old country” is as poignant a poem as Tuku’s philosophical and prophetic injunction to get to the root of the problem, rather than continuously treating the symptoms: Ongorora chikonzero chaita musoro uteme/Ugogadzirisa chikonzero chaita musana ubande.
He gave us that and more, such as warning against the folly of testing the depth of the water with both feet: Kuera dziva igumbo ribodzi/Makumbo ese unoerera.
The meaning, I am sure you see that, is much deeper than literally testing the depth of the water.
Many of Chenjerai’s early poetry was informed by the war for Zimbabwe’s independence, and the dreams and aspirations of the time: “I hear voices in the night/and see a star pinned to an axe/carving the breath of a new generation/a generation without the power of greed/I see an eagle without claws/A bird that flies only with the joy of flight…”
To see Tuku ‘properly’, my friend Chirikure Chirikure and I would find time when he had no public engagement — usually a Saturday. Then we would visit, either at the family home but usually at his burgeoning pet project, the now-famous Pakare Paye Arts Centre.
Once, years before he became the popular global icon that he grew into, we persuaded him and Steve Makoni to end a gig night with a relaxed evening at the journalists’ press club, popularly known as The Quill Club.
A good acoustic night was had by all, amidst Tuku’s protestations that he needed to get home as it was late and he lived far.
When Chiri and I had had our fill of the fun-filled night, we trooped into my car to drop Tuku off somewhere near Warren Park, where it was easiest for him to catch a lift back to Norton, guitar strapped on his back.
It took a while but eventually a car managed to stop and he was on his way, while we U-turned to drop Steve off at his place in the Belvedere area.
The gate was locked and he didn’t have keys.
We had a good laugh as he scaled the fence, shouting at him that he needed to be careful that he didn’t damage his guitar.
Chiri penned a couple of hit songs for Mukoma Tuku, and provided translation services to explain some of the songs on the early Tuku Music albums.
I tell these tales to illustrate the simplicity with which these iconic arts heroes lived their lives, on and off the field.
They were all keen observers and commentators of the social condition, capturing it all and, without much embellishment, holding up the mirror for us to see ourselves.
How did they do it?
All I know is that their capacity to weave dramatic imagery into simple words is something that, as Zimbabweans, we ought all to be proud of, to identify them as our very own.
Much more than that, we ought to celebrate and learn from the legacy that they left for us.
Charles Mungoshi’s recent passing jolted me into realising just how much we have lost — but also how much we have gained, yet appear to take so much for granted.
Unfortunately, there are not many of that generation left.
What are we doing about it?
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