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Zimbabwe: Generational politics and the promise of something seismic

 
13/07/2017 00:00:00
by Seewell Mashizha
 
 
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LAST week I made the observation that our silly season had begun. You won’t believe the things that are happening and have happened in this short space of time since the last instalment. But more of that later.

For now I would like to, if I may, request that we have a metaphorical moment of silence in honour of a cherished brother, friend, liberation war hero and gifted musician, Abel Sithole of Bulawayo.

We may have seen the last of ‘The Cool Crooners’, that super group of granddads in suits, ties and fancy shoes. In recent years the Cool Crooners had become a necessary item at many jazz festivals around the country. Abel recently died at 82. His cousin Timothy Seilani is probably 85.

Lucky Thodhlana is probably in his early to mid-seventies. He will probably feel the most pain. In another life, by all accounts, they lived in the same neighbourhood and had a sustained but friendly musical rivalry.

Abel Sinwametsi Sithole was a member of The Golden Rhythm Crooners, a jazz group whose vocals were reminiscent of Canada’s Crew Cuts of ‘Earth Angel fame. Lucky Thodhlana was one of the Cool Four, an energetic group with quite a following in the Bulawayo of the late 1950s to about the early 1960s.

The Crooners band of four on guitar, grand piano, drums and double bass produced an unbelievably with-it and polished sound. The vocals from Abel, George, Timothy and Champion were cultivated and captivating. Songs like ‘Umama Uyakhala (Mother is Crying), ‘Mangwanani Mwana WaMai’ (Good morning, child of my mother) ‘UMadlamini’ and others were township hits and favourites on radio.

The Crooners in their time were a blissful joy to watch and listen to even when they did covers like ‘September in the rain, Blue Moon, Sh’ boom. I loved their version of ‘Perfidia’, a forlorn love song popularised by The Four Aces, Glen Miller and others.

But life is dynamic and time waits for no one. Just as we grew up and left home, the Crooners too joined the trek north where they faced new challenges in foreign lands.

And that was how Abel ended up being a ZIPRA cadre and being eventually captured, tried, convicted and sentenced to hang by the neck and incarcerated at Bulawayo’s Khami Maximum prison where he served thirteen years (only being freed from prison in 1980 with the coming of independence) after his death sentence had been commuted to life by the settler courts.



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Dreams do not die or fade easily. They have this permanent appeal and fragrance that makes us all hopeless romantics believing in the goodness of man, our many crimes and misdeeds notwithstanding. If you have a dream it keeps you going. After demobilization Abel began to rekindle his dream. Music beckoned to him incessantly and it took him sometime to finally come up with the Cool Crooners and to record ‘Blue Sky’ the first of their two albums.

Abel, humble as ever, pursued his dream and achieved considerable fame and respect around the world. The Cool Crooners went on tour to France and to the Caribbean.

In some ways he reminded me of the humorous Joe Slovo who on returning home from exile, said to journalists at O. R. Tambo international airport, “As I was saying, before I was interrupted twenty-seven years ago!”   Abel too treated his long absence from music, the love of his life, as a mere interruption and was able to rise above adversity and give us pieces of enduring music.

The Ogoni leader, Ken Saro Wiwa once said there comes a time when militant writing by itself is not enough and one must take to arms more or less. Abel made that very decision years ago and almost paid with his life. But fate was kinder with him and he escaped the hangman’s noose.

The likes of Abel Sithole debunk the myths about musicians in particular and artists in general, not caring too much about anything and being flippant and frivolous. He put away the mic all those years ago and took the AK 47 instead.

He and others like him were conscious freedom fighters fighting for the love of country rather than for the love of self, mammon or self-aggrandisement. Issues relating to what it is that motivates different people in different circumstances are especially pertinent these days given the mix of people and characters entering the political arena in Zimbabwe.

There is a new kid on the block who writes under the pen name Chana ChavaTete. I am still to work out the gender of the person. Chana ChavaTete appears to take off from where Arthur Mutambara, the wordy former Deputy Premier, left off before his return to politics through his recently-published and much-touted autobiographical trilogy on his dreams for Zimbabwe. The terms ‘generation’ and ‘generational’ have come back.

Whatever one may think about Chana ChavaTete’s content and assertions, there’s no avoiding recognition of the passion in the writing. He is talking to youths about youths and what could be their future and is obviously very sincere. The problem lies in some of the claims and in one or two unwitting statements that expose a borrowed agenda.

Chana ChavaTete makes his entrance with the following words:

One of the biggest strength (sic) in every struggle is its ability to evolve and adapt to the changing dynamics and context of that struggle using different tools that would keep citizens informed and motivated.

He then proceeds to review an album recently launched by Chirikure Chirikure and Okay Machisa and latches on to the piece ‘Hondo’. About that song this is what Chana ChavaTete says:

Hondo…speaks about the roles of different people and not just the ruling party in bringing independence. The diaspora academia who carried global advocacy and studying in preparation to govern, the recognizance (sic) strategy by war collaborators (vana Chimbwido and Mujiba) to the ordinary peasants.

That is depicted in this selection of text is a well-known fact. ZANU often chanted the slogan ‘Iwe neni tine basa’ (You and I have complementary roles to play), a clear indication that the multiplicity of efforts was recognized and encouraged.

The reference to ‘the diaspora academia’ constitutes and attempt to re-write history with new altered images. Many of these people were in fact posted to wherever they were by political parties. Elsewhere we mention that at independence Zambia had a total of about 100 graduates only. Clearly there was a serious deficit of skills and manpower.

Zimbabwean nationalists and freedom fighters learned from the experiences of others and took steps to forestall a similar fate to that of Zambia on ascending to nationhood.  They had people all over the world at numerous higher education institutions. The mujibhas and the chimbwindos, were part of a well-orchestrated Maoist military strategy that emphasized mutual dependence between fighters and peasants. Fighters were among the people as fish in water. That is the true unembellished fact of the matter. Negative propaganda cannot change that

Chana ChavaTete’s piece is engaging but has some debatable things. I also get the feeling that this writer is not always able to reflect thoughtfully on some of the things he writes. For example, in his attempt to exonerate Morgan Tsvangirai from his failure to dislodge the incumbent Government, he writes:

Because the Mugabe must go mantra by the younger generation failed to materialize outside a political party, and as Mugabe continue (sic) to use his machinery to stay in power, an unfortunate shift towards Tsvangirai emerged both from within his party and certain elements within the pro-democracy movement. These people together with some funding partners instead of taking stock and introspect on where they had failed and not Tsvangirai, pushed the blame on him.

It escapes Chana that mention of ‘funders’ with regard to the MDC-T opens a can of worms. Unavoidable questions must be asked: Who are these funders and what do they want?

 It becomes easier to accuse the MDC-T of fronting foreign agendas when it should be seen to be advancing the people’s wishes. Interestingly, while talking about generational politics he wants to suspend it when the object is Tsvangirai. Such vacillation cannot do any good to whatever point is being argued.

Over and above the Chana ChavaTete story other things came in too. Nkosana Moyo launched his party and held meetings at expensive venues. This might or might not be a good idea. The elitist label once attached is very difficult to remove. Happily for us Nkosana Moyo said he had his own money and could stay the course on his own steam so to say.

In a move reminiscent of Professor Dzinotyiwei’s experiment of research-based politicking, Brian Kagoro and Briggs Bomba are fronting an organisation called ‘The Citizens’ Manifesto’ while Ibbo Joseph Mandaza has dreamt up a National Transitional Authority. Not to be outdone, Tyson Kasukuwere is resorting to twitter and promising something seismic. Time, with time, does reveal all things, as indeed it shall, once again.

 

 

 


 
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