Farewell my bubbly Simbi yeBasa – Leo Munhende’s tribute to photojournalist Idah Mhetu

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By Leopold Munhende

For days, Idah would climb steep slopes seeking mobile phone signal in order to send pictures back to the newsroom. We ate the same Makorokoza sadza and drank what they had; no questions asked.

IDAH Mhetu is the fourth person I have shed tears for. My father was the first and there has only been one other person between them, Sekuru Bvoro, Mai Munhende’s sibling.

Idah’s passing struck home, so close I could not handle it; holding back my tears would not have been possible.

My Simbi yeBasa, Simbi Inodya Dzimwe Simbi is gone forever to I don’t know where.

No more “Mpfana Leo…” and then a silly comment that would have us bawling in laughter.

No more random pictures which I now share in such painful memories.

Idah Mhetu with Leopold Munhende at a post-cabinet media briefing

Why I called her my Simbi yeBasa! 

In 2019, almost a year after we both joined, we were assigned to cover the Cricket Mine disaster at Battlefields where 24 people died after a shaft flooded with rain water as artisanal miners worked deep underground.

The story of how we got there and challenges we faced is too long to narrate but it was there that I first witnessed her passion for the job.

By end of the first day, she was Tete Idah to a legion of artisanal miners (makorokoza). Their loyalty, offered on a silver plate a few hours after our arrival, extended to accompanying her everywhere.

I was resigned to following a few yards behind her for security which I obviously could not provide if the worst had come to it.

On our way back to Harare after spending almost a week covering the Cricket Mine disaster with senior journalists Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, Farai Mutsaka and Pindai Dube.

We spent days ‘in’ the Midlands jungle, waiting for survivors who, miraculously, were eventually found.

The pictures that you saw were Idah’s, the articles I wrote were all complemented by her unequalled handling of the camera. Her images were beautiful, the pain, prayer and hope she captured on the day will forever remain indelible.

Idah would risk it all, jumping over randomly dug pits for an image that would speak volumes. She had many of those; her images of grown men picking grain and spoilt tomatoes in Mbare testify to that ‘nose’ for speaking images.

For days, Idah would climb steep slopes seeking mobile phone signal in order to send pictures back to the newsroom. We ate the same Makorokoza sadza and drank what they had; no questions asked.

She proved herself; if in doubt check condolences on all popular pages her passing has been posted.

Remember MadziMwana, remember images of Zimbabwe’s first Covid-19 shot, remember the iconic Emmerson Mnangagwa and Constantino Chiwenga embrace, remember the ‘mad man’ at Parliament; all that was the work of my Simbi yeBasa.

Idah’s pictures spoke.

Gone but never to be forgotten! 

Although our bubbly MaGumbo is gone, leaving a trail of hurt friends, broken hearts which will take time to mend, her life will forever be remembered.

Her laughter, her smile and a pace so fast it did not correspond with her girth, all combined to make Idah one of the best people to be around, anywhere, anytime.

The choice is not ours but many share my pain. Many hoped she would not have been the one to depart; many proffer options, but there is no going back.

At, Idah was part of the “Snikiwe Brigade” (derived from sneak). We were all part of it. Editors Nkosana Dlamini and Richard Chidza were constant victims of an empty newsroom especially on Fridays or pay days.

Idah Mhetu (left) with her colleagues

Alongside close friend Mary Taruvinga, she would plan strategic escapes for us all, at times asking people to tiptoe past our bosses’ doors, conveniently left that way to stop such mischief.

We enjoyed it; we bonded because of these mini victories and many failed encounters.

We would go on to laugh off Idah’s threats to security operatives who would have attempted to grab her camera during rallies. The ride back home from distant destinations across the country (laptops on our laps as we worked during the journey) were always fun and tiring … MaGumbo could talk you to your last calorie.

The rich aunt, Mama vahombe (as Mary’s daughter Montrina referred to her because of the huge figure), Santa to Paidashe Mandivengerei and our newsroom baby Thandiwe Garusa, has called it quits right as she was clearly closer to the top.

ZBC was her crowning moment and the State run broadcaster was what the doctor ordered after stints at the Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe Independent, Daily News and

Thank you all for taking care of our jewel, my Simbi yeBasa, Simbi Inodya Dzimwe Simbi.

I will miss you Idah.