The Brick Maker Who Practised Witchcraft


I once was friends with a man known to practise witchcraft.  This was not at some remote rural village but in my vibrant township.

Let Stina be the wizard’s name.  For most, proof of Stina’s wizardry was as public as proceedings of a live event on TV.  For starters, though he had no paper qualifications other than a primary school certificate, he ran a successful brick making business.  Secondly at the local beer garden, he did not sit with other men enjoying traditional brew but stuck out alone sipping larger.  Thirdly, his yard, house and workplace were always clean and tidy.  If anyone still doubted the accusation, a fourth misdemeanour sealed Stina’s fate. 

Two years after his wife had passed away, he still had not remarried.

‘Is that man,’ a prominent lady in the township whispered to me, ‘a dove that never remarries even after its partner dies?’  The two of us were chatting outside the hall after a residents’ association meeting.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘He can afford two or three wives yet he persists being a widower.  We all know why.’

‘Do you?’

‘Yes, he’s scared the new wife will spill the beans.’

I frowned.  ‘What beans?’

‘Aah you,’ she wagged a finger, ‘you mean you don’t know?’

‘Know what?’

She glanced around to make sure no one was eavesdropping.  ‘Who do you think does all that back breaking work that makes him rich?’

‘His workers,’ I said.

‘Surely you don’t believe that?  The truth is the man keeps tokoloshes.’

‘Come on, you, a respectable church woman!  You don’t believe that?’

‘Don’t try to be a white man.  These things exist.  At night, the dwarf-like creatures with supernatural powers emerge from the many bedrooms at his house and slave all night.  Some of the tokoloshes fly to builders and bewitch them so that they only buy bricks from their master.  Don’t play with that man.  He may be soft spoken, kind and all that but is cunning and evil.’

‘But I often seen him supervising his workers,’ I said.  ‘What’s more, one of Stina’s customer’s tells me his bricks are good quality.’

She grimaced and waved a hand of dismissal.  ‘What quality in just mud and cement?  Get it from me; tokoloshes are the bedrock of his inexplicable success.  His first wife – may her soul rest in peace – had come to accept the situation and thought it worth the high standard of living she enjoyed.  A new wife would expose him.   That’s why he hasn’t remarried.’

‘I don’t think so,’ I said.  ‘The thing is…’

‘Maybe you are hoping that he lends you some of his tokoloshes?  This would accelerate the recovery of your shop.’  She raised an eyebrow.

I resented her implication.  Since I had started running our family grocery store, it had improved but not to the heydays when my uncle was in charge.  I bid her farewell and left.

In time, because he was a fellow businessman, I got to know Stina well.  From the many discussions we had and observing how he operated, I understood why he was successful. 

For years, Stina had been a supervisor at a cement brick making company.  When the company owners decided to relocate Stina bought some of the company’s equipment and started his own business at his house. 

An intelligent man, Stina understood that ‘saving’ costs by reducing the percentage of cement in the mix compromised quality.   He maintained the old company recipe.  Further, he employed three workers he knew to be honest and hard working.

In a simplified form, Stina observed good business practices.  He coached his business partner who was also his wife and she understood.  Several serious small-scale builders bought Stina’s bricks and paid in cash.  A simple man with simple tastes, Stina’s business grew. 

After his wife passed away, numerous women fell for him like flies falling into a bowl of milk.  Stina did go out with two of his admirers but it didn’t work out. 

‘The man is stingy,’ the first girlfriend complained to a friend.  ‘You would think he is saving to buy a train engine!  I suggested we fly to Victoria Falls for a weekend but he said it was too expensive.’

‘You won’t believe this,’ the second girlfriend moaned, ‘he wants me to cook for his workers!  What’s the point of having money if you still have to work hard?’

Both women left bitter, accusing him of being impossible to live with.  Their departures fuelled the rumour that he was a wizard. 

‘He fears that the women will unearth and then expose his tokoloshes,’ people whispered.

So much about Stina, can we dear reader turn on to something topical – miracles in church?  

In Sub-Saharan Africa the past two decades have witnessed an upsurge of prophets who claim to perform miracles.  Recently the most publicized of these prophets was Alph Lukau of Alleluia Ministries.  In front of a packed congregation and video cameras, he raised a dead man lying in a coffin.  Eyes and mouth wide open, the man walked out of the coffin, sat down and devoured food.  Video footage shows congregants jumping up and down and ululating.  They believed a miracle had been performed.

How are these prophets able to con so many people?

Bible scholar Kenneth Mtata explains that the prophets: ‘have managed to tap into African Traditional Religion where the understanding among Africans is that for someone to succeed there must be some supernatural influence from outside.’

Is that so?  Could this be part of the explanation why my friend Stina was accused of witchcraft?  Familiarity breeds contempt.  Those around him could not accept that a person they knew well could be a success?

Perhaps a related reason for attributing success to the supernatural is laziness.  Admitting that Stina was hard working would have reflected badly on the accusers.  The belief in witchcraft comforts those who are not doing well.  In the rural areas, if a family works hard in the fields and enjoys bumper harvests, it exposes lazy families.  The lazy then hit back by accusing the prosperous of witchcraft.

If a retail outlet attracts many customers, it’s not because of good service and reasonable prices.  It’s witchcraft.  If a student consistently gets good grades, it’s witchcraft.  If a girl is beautiful, envious ones accuse her of witchcraft.  If….the list goes on and on. 

Come on sons and daughters of Africa, away with this resurrected version of witchcraft we call miracles.  It’s time we respected doers, not talkers.  Only then, the Stinas of our world will flourish and lift high our continent.

The Manager and the Worker

T

His determined march into my office told me something was up.  Feet apart, he planted himself on the floor across my desk and stared down at me.  I stared back.  Suddenly he yanked out from a supermarket paper bag a bottle of petroleum jelly and thrust it on the desk.

‘Do you think this is fair?’ he demanded.

‘Sit down Baba Nare,’ I said calmly, ‘and tell me what this is all about.’

‘Sit down?  You want me to sit down so that you accuse me of dirtying your precious chair with my greasy overalls?  No sir I’ll talk standing.  After all we work on our feet all day in the factory.’

‘Okay, talk.’ I switched off my desk top computer.

‘You are an African isn’t it? And so you should understand my cry.’

Alarm bells rang in my mind.  The last one to one meeting in which a worker had started by reminding me that I was an African had not gone well.

Yes, five years back, an elderly stores clerk had come to my office and asked that we discuss a personal matter.  I nodded and he sat down.

‘I gather you chaired last week’s job grading exercise?’ Dube asked me.  The glimmering top part of his head contrasted with the grey hair on the sides.

‘Yes I did.’

‘Know what sir,’ he stood up and touched his knees, ‘in this company, I’m here.  Yes, that’s where you people placed me.  Yet last week you graded my younger brother and put him up here.’  He touched his hip.  ‘Is this fair?’

‘I don’t quite follow…’

‘As an African, a real African, you should follow.  This younger brother of mine you graded up here does not even come after me.  There are two children between us.  He and I never ate from the same plate.  He was too young for that.  How then could you let the committee grade him way above me?’

‘He is not above you.  We graded the job not the person.  In any case….’

‘Don’t play around with words.  The truth is you graded him higher than me.  I’m now head of the Dube family.  How will I lead my family if a young boy has a higher position than me?’

I shook my head.  ‘Baba Dube, positions here have nothing to do with home ones.  Your brother has earned the higher grade.  You ought to be proud of him.’

‘Of course I’m.  And hear me well; I’m not saying bring him down.’

‘I’m glad we agree,’

‘Sure we agree.  Just put me a couple of grades higher than him and this little misunderstanding is over.’

I started to shake my head and Dube shook his in a pitying manner.  ‘And to think all along I thought you were a proper African.’  He left the office a disappointed man and never spoke to me again.

Today looking at Nare towering over me, I hoped this time I would not let down my fellow African as I had done five years back.

‘Yes Baba Nare, I’m an African.  What are you crying about?’

‘This morning your salaries officer gave me details of my retirements benefits.  I went to the bank and they paid me the two thirds lump sum of my pension.  Do you know what I bought?

‘No I don’t.’

‘The Vaseline on your desk, just fat!’  He pretend to wash his hands.  ‘You people defeat me.  After forty-one years of continuous service, that’s all I’m worth?’

‘You still have your monthly payments to come,’ I reminded him.

‘Aah that,’ Nare sneered.  ‘I’m now going to live at my rural home.  The bus fare to and from the banks in town is more than the monthly payments.  So I’m donating my pension to your company.  Tell me, as an African man, do you think the company has treated me fairly?’

This was a trick question.  I had to choose my words carefully. 

‘I’m sorry pension issues are not a company issue.’

‘Is it a government issue?’

‘I didn’t say that.’

‘Whose issue is it then?’

‘Look, you get what we promised you will get.  Unfortunately this has been eroded by hyperinflation.  We have no control…’

‘Hyper what?  Don’t hide behind those big words.  All I asked was: ‘has the company treated me fairly?’’

I sighed.  If I admitted it was unfair, that was giving ammunition to the workers.  Next they will be announcing to all that I had admitted the company or the government had been unfair to them.  Both these bodies don’t take kindly to being blamed.  I would have a lot to explain.  I therefore stuck to my ‘beyond our control’ explanation and blamed this monster called hyperinflation.

Suddenly Nare sat down and leaned forward across the desk.  With a mischievous smile he whispered, ‘I don’t know about you but I never believed those pension people when they told us that pension contributions were a form of forced savings.  But I believed my father when he said the worth of a real man is measured by the number of cattle he has.  From the time I started working I’ve been buying livestock.’

‘Who looks after it?’

‘I have two wives, fifteen children and plenty grandchildren.  I know for a manager like you the numbers of my livestock are not impressive but for me, it’s a lot.  I now have over a hundred cattle and about thirty calves.  As for goats and sheep, I don’t talk.  I admit there is one thing the company helped me – a loan to buy a house.  My house in the township is fully paid for.  I’ll rent it out and live at home.’ 

He smiled, stood up, took his bottle of Vaseline and swaggered out of the office.  I sat still, thinking of that year of drought when I sold the few cattle I inherited from my father.  I had to.  Agricultural experts advised us to sell and cut our losses.

Later that evening, as I burned the company fuel driving a company car on my way to my company house I wondered, am I a real man?     

Where is your home?

W

Whenever I’m asked where my home is, my mind scatters in all directions like demonstrators seeing a teargas canister suddenly land in their midst.  I can’t decide which location is my home.

Is it Mzilikazi Township, Bulawayo, where I was born?  Maybe Lower Gwelo, Midlands, where I lived for the first five years of my life and later spent most of my school holidays?  Should I settle for Luveve Township where I did the first three years of school and I have happy memories of Sunday school?  But then what about the pleasant and memorable eight years my family and I spent in Rimuka Township, Kadoma? 

Father often told me that my umbilical cord was buried in Lupane near my grandfather’s grave.  Does that make Lupane my home?  Father also often said his real, real home was Mdutshane, the place his family was uprooted from before they turned it into a private ranch.  ‘One day our whole clan will regroup there,’ he sometimes mumbled to himself.  He was ten when forced out of his home.

I never worried about where my home was until I was at a boarding school at Inyathi.   With the passion of football fans, other boys boasted about their rural homes.  They genuinely believed they hailed from the best places in the world. 

‘I too have a home,’ I boasted.  ‘The township is my home, I hail from…’ Derisive laughter drowned what I said next.

‘A township can never be a home,’ a lad from Nkayi declared with the confidence of a Man of God casting out evil spirits.  The whole dormitory roared in agreement.  ‘The township is a white man’s creation,’ the lad continued.  ‘Yes, you can work in town, visit relatives but a cow will give birth to a human being before a town is a home.  A proper home can only be in the rural areas.  Towns are for cultureless Africans who don’t know who they are.’

The Lord knows, I tried to present the township as a home but I was no match for those boys who grew up following the behinds of cattle whilst we watched bioscope and read comics.   In the evenings choral music solidified their claims of heavenly rural homes.  ‘Across River Tshangani,’ the Nkayi boys chanted.  ‘Bukalanga is our home,’ the Plumtree boys chimed.  ‘We travel on Super Godlwayo Bus Services,’ the Gwanda entourage sang.

I sang about beautiful Luveve with stunning girls, about Kadoma where various tribes lived happily together…it was no use.  I just could not manufacture the tangible and infectious pride rural boys had about their homes.

Like politicians often do, I suddenly sang a different tune.  I reclaimed my Lupane roots.  I shouted that I belonged to the Lupane/Nkayi group.   ‘That township talk was just a joke.  I’ve real, real roots.’

For the avoidance of any doubt I spent the next school holiday at my grandfather’s home in Lupane.   A delighted Grandma trotted a fattened goat for me.  Though a devout church lady, she explained to neighbours that my ancestral spirits had beckoned me home.  ‘Today,’ she whispered to me, ‘the spirit of your grandfather is holding its head high.’  I was sure the missionaries at Inyathi would strongly object to her views but this did not dampen my joy. I now had bragging rights to a real home.

The question of which was my home reared its head again years later when I was a student in London.  One afternoon after saying a few words at a students’ union meeting, a fellow student approached me with a broad smile, ‘home boy, how are you coping with the cold in this land?’

‘Home boy?’ I asked.  ‘Which part of Zimbabwe do you come from?’

‘Vereeniging, South Africa.  But why split hairs?  I could tell from your accent that you are from Southern Africa – ‘he has.’’  He mimicked part of the speech I had made by making an exaggerated hissing sound when pronouncing the letter ‘h’.

‘Pleased to meet you home boy,’ I said as we hugged.  Surrounded by the Chinese, Middle Easterns, South Americans, the Vereeniging lad was indeed a home boy.

So now Southern Africa was my home.  Later I discovered that the whole of Africa was also considered to be my home.  Here, those open necked multi coloured tops we used to call Zambian shirts were known as Afro shirts.  I was expected to wear them as an expression of my culture.  At gigs, I was supposed to sway to the Nigerian beat as if I had lived in Lagos all my life.  Yes, the whole of Africa was now my home.  

Don’t you, then dear reader understand why the question of where my home is throws me into disarray?  The answer depends on who is asking.  If it is a Zimbabwean traditionalist, then my home is Lupane.  If it is from a Midlands person then I’m from Lower Gwelo.  If the questioner is from Kadoma area then of course I’m from Kadoma.  To the rest of Zimbabweans, I’m from Bulawayo.  Finally to the world, I’m an African with a cosmopolitan outlook.

A few years back I was helping my niece Gugulethu choose a post graduate course.  She had been abroad for a few years and was visiting me in Bulawayo.  ‘You must,’ I advised her, ‘choose a course that will make it easy for you to get a job here and easily settle down when you finally decide to come home.’

‘Uncle,’ she said, ‘I’ve no intention of returning.’

‘What do you mean? This is your home.  You can’t just…’

‘Don’t worry; I will never stop visiting you guys.  But there is nothing for me here.’

‘You mean we are nothing!’ I almost shouted.

‘I said I will never stop visiting you guys.  I have settled down well abroad.  Look, just as whole white tribes have settled in Africa, I’ve settled in Europe.  Be happy for me and my happiness will be complete.’

Not for the first time when ‘home’ issues are discussed, my mind ran amok.  I hoped grandfather’s spirit had heard Gugu’s heresy.  He would know how to tell her this was her home.  I don’t buy what those Nkayi boys declared that home has to be a rural place with livestock roaming around but surely the United Kingdom can’t be my niece’s home?  Can it?

Grandfather will understand that compared to life in the Diaspora, our towns and cities are not cultureless places.  He will make sure that Gugu and the rest of the Diasporians one day come home.  And home is all of Southern Africa, including the towns.

Marula versus Jacaranda


Walk into any classroom in a Zimbabwean town or city and ask, ‘have you ever seen a jacaranda tree?’  As sure as politicians will continue to make promises when campaigning, all hands will shoot up.  The hands will remain straight as a well tended gum tree.  All town kids know the jacaranda.

Then ask the learners how many of them have ever seen a marula tree.  Most will quickly put down their hands and give each other looks that say, ‘what’s this dud talking about?’   

Why is this?  The marula is an indigenous tree found in every African country south of the Sahara.  It has graced the land for over twelve thousand years.  On the other hand the jacaranda was hauled across the Atlantic from South America less than one hundred and fifty years ago. 

Ask city kids to state uses of the jacaranda.  Again you will get the confused looks.   Then ask any rural child uses of the marula.  For the child to do your request justice, you will have to set aside the time it takes to watch a whole movie.

The juicy white fibrous flesh of its fruit is sour but thirst quenching.  Both humans and animals love it.  Like grapes the fruits can be fermented into wine (umkumbi).  There is archaeological evidence near the banks of the Limpopo River that marula wine was brewed over a thousand years back.

While admittedly the kernels (inkelo) are hard to extract, they are as valuable as the flesh.  Rich in oil and proteins, children and adults love eating them raw.  The kernels can also be ground into powder to be used for flavouring soups and other foods.  Not to mention the oil’s use as a cosmetic.

The bark is used medicinally to treat diarrhoea, diabetes, fever and malaria and the roots are used to treat sore eyes.  The wood is often used for making carved articles, troughs, kitchen utensils and musical drums.  Little wonder the Ndebele word for marula and dish/plate is the same – umganu.

In the modern commercial world the uses of the wood include making tomato boxes and toilet seats.  How then has this versatile African tree been driven out of our towns by a mafikizolo (Johnny-come- lately) called jacaranda?

I suppose it could be argued that the jacaranda is a beautiful tree.  With its purple flowers and its oppositely paired compound leaves the tree is pleasing to the eye.  It has an edge over the plain marula with its rough bark and ordinary looking leaves.  Really?

I believe it is not just because of its fruit and wood that the marula has been respected and revered in traditional Africa.  Its beauty and elegance played a major role in endearing it to those who know it well.  The tree has a straight trunk that often branches off in all directions to form a graceful crown of dense leaves.  This shape, coupled with the considerable height of the tree results in shelter and shade loved by humans and animals.

From a distance, the marula makes an impressive sight.  In a beauty contest the tree can at least equal the jacaranda.  However because of its fruits and wood, the marula can be judged to be the top beauty with brains tree.  What then must be the way forward?

We are a Third World country still struggling to feed itself.  The planting and rearing of trees to maturity is an expensive and lengthy undertaking.  We must carefully think about the benefits we aim to harvest from the trees we spend our limited resources on.

Food is as necessary as the air we breathe.  Our streets ought to be lined with food producing trees like the marula instead of the jacaranda and other ornamental trees.

I anticipate objections to this.  Some may argue that for all the listed uses of the kernel, the stone it is housed in is hard to crack.  It entails considerable labour to extract it. 

This view overlooks the fact that kernel extraction is just as tedious and time consuming as the daily sweeping and disposal of the fallen flowers of the jacaranda.  But with kernel extraction there is much needed food as the prize at the end.

Another objection to the promotion of the marula could be the fear of how the fruits, nuts and wood would be shared.  This newly found wealth could lead to quarrels.  Some selfish people may want all the bounty for themselves.

In my view people act irresponsibly if they have nothing to gain from a given venture.  Should civic organisations like residents and school development associations be given the responsibility of growing fruit trees they would rise to the challenge.  Instead of endless reading and correcting of minutes, civic bodies would use meeting times to arrange for the processing and sharing of the bounty.

From this activity, old African traditions like the Nguni annual festival inxwala (First Fruit Ceremonies) could be revived and updated.  These were ceremonies performed before the population was allowed to taste the season’s new crops and fruits.

The first ceremonies were local affairs presided over by local indunas.  The second ceremony was a bigger and more colourful event presided over by the king.  In the updated version, councillors, members of parliament and finally mayors would preside over the ceremonies.

I’m not suggesting that the existing ornamental trees be uprooted and replaced with fruit trees.  Rather, all new plants must be fruit trees.  New suburbs, streets, beer halls and schools are constantly coming up.  These must have fruit trees only.  Because of past neglect, at first we concentrate on indigenous ones before planting imported varieties. 

So dear reader, when next a would be councillor or MP makes promises about what he or she will do when elected, don’t rush to part with your valuable vote.  Quiz her whether she is a Marulaist or a Jacarandaist.  Only a Marulaist deserves your precious vote.       

When she leaves you I will marry her


I once struggled to resist the urge to punch with all my might the face of a soft drinks manager.

Normally, Tshipa was good company.  True, his favourite activity was praising his products but he could listen when you poured out your problems.  After that he would give sound advice. So one day when he paid my shop his fortnightly visit I confided my personal problem.

‘My wife wants me to go back to formal employment.’  I knew this would alarm him.  I was, after all one of his best customers. 

Tshipa sighed, pulled a chair and sat down.  Looking at me in the eyes he pleaded, ‘why?’

‘Well, she says the hours are too long and unsocial, I’m now hardly with the family and she thinks this job has no security.  I point out that I’m paying all our insurances but she won’t listen.  How do I convince her to continue with my shop?’

‘My friend, I think you and I should swap wives,’ Tshipa whispered.  My fingers tightened into fists and I edged towards him.

‘Listen,’ he said quickly, ‘my wife is threatening to leave me unless I quit my job and we start our own business.’

‘Why?’ It was my turn to ask.

‘She says nobody ever got rich by working for someone.  The thing is I love my job.  I enjoy calling on customers and advising them on how to increase sales.  A year back, the company sent me up north to sort out customer problems.  I was there for a month.  Although I’m saying it myself, I sorted out all their problems.  As we speak, I’ve just been given a big raise.  But still she wants me to leave my job.’

‘When she leaves you I’ll marry her,’ I said.

For once Tshipa left my shop without giving any advice.

My wife’s prayers were answered.  Shortly after that I got a good job and went back to formal employment.  Like Tshipa, salary increments became my staple diet.  Several years later, I ran into the sales manager in town.  We shook hands and hugged like old comrades in arms.

‘Still in that old company of yours?’ I asked Tshipa.                         

‘My friend, let’s go into that cafe.’  Over soft drinks, he narrated his experiences.  ‘I long left that company.  My wife and I opened a supermarket.  In the early days, turnover was about four times what you used to make at your shop.  Then came hyperinflation.  It hit hardest those of us who were running businesses the textbook way.  All our money was in the banks.  Suddenly, our life savings were worthless.’

‘At least your shelves and store rooms were full,’ I said.

‘Indeed they were.  As required, we sold the stock at controlled prices.  There was a stampede at my supermarket.   In a couple hours my entire stock was gone.  We could not restock on the new sky high prices.  Just like that,’ he snapped his finders, ‘a mighty roaring river was reduced to a dry stream.  This world my brother!’  He sighed and shook his head. 

‘Not all is lost though,’ Tshipa continued.  ‘My old company wants me back.  So at fifty-five I will start all over.  Enough about me, what about you?  I heard you went back to formal work.  You must be a big boss now.’

I shook my head.  ‘Hyperinflation was not kind to me either.  Like your monies at the bank, my insurance policies were rendered worthless in the time it takes to shoot a penalty.  No one outside the country recognised our currency and so the company could not order raw materials and ingredients for the factory.  We suspended operations.

During the time some enterprising workers engaged in wheeling and dealing and survived – even prospered.  As a respectable man, I had neither the knowhow nor the guts to do that.  When things came back to normal, we discovered that our major machines had clogged.  We had not shut them down properly.   We called in overseas experts to declogg the machines.  After just an hour, the experts gave up.  You remember the Colgate advert that says even the best toothpaste cannot bring back rotten teeth?  The experts said we left it too late.  The machines could not be saved.’

‘That must have been a knockout blow to you guys,’ Tshipa said.

‘We staggered back but remained standing.  The experts want to buy some of our old machines for their museum.  They are willing to pay in hard currency.’

‘But still, that will not give you a job.’

I shrugged my shoulders.  ‘It will give those of us who stuck with the company reasonable terminal benefits.  Further, a mega church wants to rent our premises.  I’m told those guys make good tenants. 

The other day I was approached by the chairman of the residents association of the township my shop was located.  He tells me the chap who took over the shop did not survive hyperinflation.  The shop is closed and the association wants me back.’

‘Don’t tell me you are considering it?’

‘Well, my wife is no longer against the shop.  She is even willing to run it herself.’

Tshipa looked doubtful.  ‘Do you have any capital for this?’

‘My terminal benefits will be in foreign currency.  Where will I keep it?  I no longer trust banks.  We will see.  What does your wife think about you going back to formal employment?’

‘She is okay with it.  Actually, she is now working abroad.  After our supermarket collapsed we almost withdrew our kids from private schools.  She would have none of it.  She joined her sister in UK and the pounds have kept us going.’

My cell phone rang and I checked who the caller was.  It was the pastor of the mega church.  ‘Well comrade,’ I said standing up, ‘Aluta Continua!  We’ll meet at my shop when you do your rounds and we update each other.’ 

Do you know who I am?


Back in the 1980s I was a human resources officer in a bank.  One of the bank’s unwritten rules was that no employee ever requested a teller to cash a cheque from behind the counter.  Every employee was expected to queue in the banking hall like an ordinary client and receive cash from across the counter.  Four explanations were given for the rule.

Firstly, turning round in the cubicle, the teller broke her routine and concentration.  This increased her chances of making mistakes and incur a cash shortage.  Tellers were to personally pay for shortages.  (In all my four and half years at the bank, only one client, Dr Kufandada, ever came back to a teller to advise that he had been overpaid).    Secondly, cashing from behind, the teller delayed and irritated the queuing clients.  Observant clients could see that the delay was caused by bank employees who wanted to be served ahead of them.

Thirdly, observing the rule increased efficiency.  By standing in a queue and watching work in progress, employees identified areas to be improved.  This was mainly directed at managers.  If they cashed from behind tellers, they missed the opportunity to work out how efficiency at the hall could be improved.

Finally, queuing gave managers time to chat with clients.  The manager would hear from the horses’ mouths assessments of our services and if recognised by clients, the manager would advertise the bank.

My observation was that the then mainly white managers and the few black managers observed this rule.  As a result, every employee did likewise.

Still in the 1980s, I worked at the head office of a mining house.  The security department used to carry out unannounced checks.  Once a fortnight, security guards would stop every employee as we left the building after work and search briefcases.   Again, not one of the mainly white managers objected.  Consequently, all employees did not object.  How could they when they saw the chief executive officer himself gladly suffering the inconvenience? 

I’m aware that these white managers if scrutinised in other areas would have been found wanting.  However I ask that for now we focus on queuing and security checks.  

Fast forward to over 30 years later – now we have mainly black management teams in charge of enterprises.  I’ve witnessed black managers foam at the mouth objecting to have their vehicles searched when driving out of premises.  ‘Do you know who I am?’ the scandalised black managers demand.  For them being a manager means these minor rules no longer apply.  Ask any security guard today and he will tell you stopping and searching a black manager is a job threatening activity.   

I believe there are two overlapping explanations for the above narrated behaviours – the diploma disease and colonial legacy. 

Briefly, diploma disease is the practice of too much reliance on educational qualifications when selecting applicants for jobs.  In developing countries the fact is the economy is controlled by outsiders who don’t prioritise job creation.  This fuels unemployment.   However various authorities preach that lack of qualifications causes unemployment.  To be employable, job seekers strive to acquire the best grades and the highest qualifications.  When they don’t get jobs, they keep on accumulating qualifications.  How does this relate to the race issue?

Local whites control or are representatives of those who control the economy.  The whites employ themselves even without the ‘right’ qualifications.  Thus the diploma disease does not apply to them.  On the other hand blacks who get secure and well paying jobs have impressive qualifications.  Once they get to the top, they develop an ‘I’ve arrived attitude.’  They feel brighter than the rest.  ‘Surely it’s time I got recognised.  How dare people who flunked junior secondary school examinations try to search me or expect me to queue with them!’

The colonial legacy explanation is more involved than the diploma disease one.  Briefly, it is as follows:  During and after colonialism, African culture was successfully portrayed as inferior to European culture.  This was done so well that many leading Africans came to believe there was nothing progressive to learn from the backward African culture.  Encouraged by colonialists, the leading Africans selected certain characteristics from the forward looking European culture and internalised them as their own.  Individual success was one such characteristic they aspired to. 

At the same time they dropped from African culture communal success as something to aspire to.  Yet the importance of communal success in African culture can be illustrated by these two proverbs.   

A saying from the Nguni languages goes: ‘Inkosi yinkosi ngabantu (A king is a king because he has subjects).  This is a reminder to all those in authority that they owe their positions to the people below them.  If you stop observing the rules your people live by, then you no longer deserve to lead.

In Shona a similar proverb goes: ‘Gudo guru peta muswe kuti vaduku vakutye’ (Head baboon, fold your tail so that the young respect you).  Dozens of similar proverbs grace the African continent. 

An update of these sayings in today’s work environment would be: Manager, observe work rules so that workers also obey the rules and respect you.

Ironically, the white managers I cited above understand the sayings and put them into practice.  They appreciate that observing the seemingly minor rules increase chances of making bigger profits.  Black managers would benefit from Bob Marley’s advice: ‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our minds.’

 If the security guard had no fear of losing his job, he would respond to the question: ‘do you know who I am?’ 

‘Yes I do – you are a full grown, spoiled and cultureless brat.’

Well done Comrade Wife – A Tribute to the King.


Down memory lane with Tuku

This week, Oliver Mtukudzi, one of the greatest world musicians of our time passed away.  Back in the 1980s I attended several of his live performances.  What an energetic and talented performer he was!

I also interviewed him for Prize Africa Magazine.  The plan was to focus on his idiomatic and well thought out lyrics.  However the lanky singer-songwriter wanted to talk about something else.

He complained that journalists did not take musicians seriously.  They concentrated on perceived scandals and portrayed musicians as drunkards or even drug addicts.   To justify the labelling of musicians as an irresponsible lot I cited a musician who was rumoured to be a drug addict.

‘Assuming that is true,’ Oliver countered, ‘that would be the character of that particular musician.  Look, we have doctors and teachers who are drug addicts but you don’t read generalisations that members of those professions are drug addicts.  Why?  Because you guys respect those professions.’

‘Are you not yourself a drug user?’ a South African journalist I was with asked.

‘No I’m not, unless you count cigarettes as drugs.  I sometimes have one or two short draws before a show just to calm my nerves.’  Laughing and wagging a finger he added, ‘don’t write that.’

Oliver spoke about his love of music by other Zimbabwean and South African artists.  He classified the sound of every musician he spoke about and playfully mimicked the way they sang.  On a serious note, he lauded Lovemore Majaivana and Thomas Mapfumo for modernising and popularising traditional music.  ‘Many of our songs will die if we don’t modernise them,’ he argued.

Talking Books

Just over a year back I reviewed a war liberation book.  Below are some of the observations I made. 

 I’m fascinated by Oliver Mtukudzi’s song Wagona (Well done).  As Edwin Zimbizi explains on YouTube, the song is about a husband thanking his wife and women in general.  He pours out heartfelt gratitude for the feats this superwoman has performed for him over the years.  She has raised his kids well, been patient with him through his moods, scratched him wherever his body itched and often thanks and motivates him using his totem and family praise names. 

In response, the wife recalls that he first lured her with words and she fell in love.  She reminds him: ‘I am the mother of your children. (In accordance with African tradition), that makes me your mother, your father’s mother and the mother of your entire clan.  Why then do you sometimes despise me, take me for granted and treat me like a second class citizen?’

Oliver ignores the question and continues to express his gratitude.

This song ran though my mind as I read part of Joshua Mahlathini Mpofu’s memoirs:  My life in the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe.  Joshua tells the story of his life from the time he was a toddler at his rural home in Nkayi to the time he is in independent Zimbabwe.

Chapter 14 – Meet a Wonder Girl – stood out for me.  In this chapter Joshua branches off from narrating his part in the struggle and waxes lyrical about a girl he met in Mpopoma, Bulawayo.  Joshua recalls: ‘Munyaradzi Shumba (a comrade in arms) was accompanied by his sister, an upper 6 student at Goromonzi High School waiting for her ‘A’ level results….She ignited my interest with a first stroke of sight that generated a sort of magnetic field between us with a pull of an emotionally desire to see more of her all the time.’ 

Like in Oliver’s Wagona, the two fall in love and go on to marry.  Decades later, Joshua still showers his praises on his lady.  ‘In the context of family members Ratidzai rapidly ingratiated herself into my extended family inside and outside Zimbabwe.  In all of this she was able to intertwine the Shumba family with the Mpofu family in a manner that all related families interacted as if there were one family….In my memory, there is no Daughter-in-Law who embedded herself into her husband’s family in such a way that she functioned and related with everybody as if she was born in that family like what Ratie did kwa Mpofu.’ 

Wow! Is there no family out there that can challenge this assertion?

I suspect Oliver Mtukudzi will disagree with the claim.  He will put forward his Wagona lady as the nation’s Number 1 wife.

In search of wife number 1

Dear reader, I propose we organise an annual competition for the nation’s top wife.  It will be called the Ratidzai Mpofu Award. (Oliver Mtukudzi does not give his wife’s name).  Contestants will be forwarded by the families women have married into.  Like lawyers defending a client, each family will give reasons why their daughter in law should walk away with the Award.

Having in-laws play such a big part in a couple’s marriage is likely to be frowned upon by Western nations but on this matter why listen to people who have the world’s highest divorce rates?

The competition’s finals will be televised live.  A lively emcee will quiz the finalists on several aspects of marriage.  Their in-laws will be allowed to assist answer the questions.  A panel of judges consisting of traditional chiefs and religious leaders will offer their critiques on the replies and explain what makes an ideal wife. 

Husbands of the finalists will also be participants.  They will be asked on behalf of all men to answer the question Oliver Mtukudzi ducked – ‘why do you treat me like a second class citizen?’ 

What a way to commemorate a true national hero!

Immortal Tuku

Oliver’s body may be lying in the grave but he lives on in the hearts, minds and souls of millions of his fans the world over.  Hamba kahle qhawe lamaqhawe.

Jesus Christ and Ancestral Spirits


Amandla amasha      

There is an old song – Amandla amasha – by Steve Kekana that I love.  Loosely translated, the song’s lyrics go: ‘I see that you are on my case, and you are targeting me with renewed energy.  In spite of your determination, not everything is going your way.  As for me, I leave everything to my Ancestral Spirits.  They will never stand idle whilst their offspring is made to suffer.  They won’t allow their blood to be unfairly treated.’

In my life, there are times when I feel low and worthless.  Everything changes when I listen to Amandla amasha.  Steve’s melodious and lilting voice lifts me up and I feel ready to confront the Devil in hell.  The sound of the soothing musical instruments delightfully flows in my veins and I see myself overcoming any challenge.  Ask me for any favour whilst I’m listening to Steve, I’ll grant it before you finish speaking.

Jemedza

Another song from yesteryear that I love is Jemedza by James Chimombe.    ‘Ancestral Spirits,’ James pleads, ‘be my guide and leader on the most important journey I’m about to undertake.  You know all the pitfalls and dangers that await me.  Fly ahead of me and neutralize them.  Without your love and protection, my survival chances are zero.  I have total faith in you.  I therefore give all of myself unto you.’

I savour James’ voice as it effortlessly swings between mellowness and passion.  Not to mention the rhythmic interplay of various instruments as they seem engaged in a friendly competition on who will render the most pleasure.  Each of them delivers maximum joy.  I often play this song over and over.  It fills me to the brim yet leaves me gasping for more. 

Yes, both songs carry me to a blissful world of total pleasure.  I cry out the imaginative and poetic lyrics, hum along to the melodious tunes and stomp my feet to the delightful and energetic rhythms.

Wrestling with my pleasure

All things come to an end.  Each time one of the songs stops I thump down to mother earth and feel like a peaceful demonstrator suddenly attacked by the riot police.  Remorse assails me from all directions, leaving me shaken and confused. You see, I’m a Christian.  What then would I have been doing enjoying pagan music?  

‘Thou shall not be yoked with a non believer,’ the Bible says.  With these songs I go a step further than just being yoked.   I merge with the music in a way that no man can pull asunder.

‘I’m the way and the truth and the life,’ Jesus tells us.  ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’   Yet here I was pleading with non-existent Ancestral Spirits to love and protect me.

Reasoning with God

In his hit song Dhiabhorosi Nyoka, Paul Matavire criticises Adam for not trying to explain to God how he had been misled by Eve and the snake.  I don’t want Paul Matavire ever to level that criticism at me.  I therefore take time to explain my case to God.

‘My Lord, for me music is above intellect. When it is good, an invisible yet gentle force takes over me.  I find my foot tapping along to the rhythm, my tongue humming along and my mind quietly reciting the lyrics.  Music is like a dream.  You don’t decide what you want to dream.  You just wake up having dreamt it.

Music is what the mathematician term ‘given’.  Yours is to accept it, not argue.  

Finally Lord, I’m sure all good things come from you.  Both Steve and James were inspired by you to write these beautiful lyrics.  I’m just a happy victim of it all.  Please don’t punish me for what can be traced back to you.  Amen.’

Surely my loving Father will understand this?  Will He?

A darkness that harbours no hyena 

Perhaps I’m fretting over what my people term a darkness that harbours no hyena.  The day is coming when I will walk up to the gates of heaven.  With every step my heart will pound harder.  Did I work hard enough to deserve a place in heaven?  Will my enjoyment of pagan music be my downfall? 

My heart will sink when I see people milling around the heaven gates.  I recognise some pastors and elders, pacing up and down in their designer clothes.  Past the gates is a well manicured lawn and beautiful mansions.  I draw nearer so that I ask the pastors to speak on my behalf.  

‘It’s tough brother,’ one of them mutters.  ‘Even I am not sure if I’ll make it.  As for you…,’ he slowly shakes his head, charity stopping him from finishing the sentence. 

I sit down cover and my eyes with my hands, resigned to going to hell.

When I take my hands off, I see a man in faded blue jeans walking towards the gate.  The angels make way for him.  He stops and cheerfully calls out, ‘Mzana; Aah, you have arrived!  Come over to the gate.’ 

Faster than Zacchaeus came down the tree I spring up and hurry through the crowd.  The gates slide open and the caller invites me in.  My heart leaps into my mouth but I quickly swallow it back.  I just don’t believe who is standing before me.

‘But Master,’ I gush, ‘how can I come in before the pastors and elders?’  He is just as I’ve always imagined him – curly dark hair and brown complexion.

Jesus chuckles.  ‘Those are border line cases.  It takes time to decide where they go.  You’re in.’

Still in a daze, I shake my head.  ‘Oh Master, I’m in even though I often enjoyed pagan music!  I thought you said one can only come to the Father through you.’

‘That’s right, and I reside in all good people.  Hurry, some of your ancestors and favourite musicians are waiting inside.’

So it’s true! I’ve been fretting over nothing.  The pitch black night harbours no hyena.  I smile as I dance and hum my way into heaven with amandla amasha (renewed energy).

Busy Bodies versus Happy Imbibers

In a recent ten second video clip shot in Harare, a couple is seen strolling across a busy street.  On his back, the man carries a baby wrapped in a towel.  A male voice is heard derisively shouting, ‘mudhara wakadyiswa!’ (Old man, you were served the love portion).  Now across the street, the woman lifts up a clenched fist in triumph.  She and her partner walk on.

 If you want to witness the distribution of tasks by gender in Southern Africa, attend a funeral wake.

You will see women, some with strapped babies on their backs take down curtains, clear the sitting room, bring in the mattresses, cook on open fires, serve mourners, wash up and comfort the directly bereaved throughout the night. 

At the same time, men sit in circles and engage in heated discussions on football and politics.  Occasionally, they pause to greet the latest arrival.  For seconds, with solemn faces, they slowly shake their heads to express humanity’s helplessness in the face of death, spread out their hands and mutter, ‘asazi,’ (we don’t know).  As soon as the latest arrival sits down, they resume their lively discussion.  To show respect for the departed, the new comer holds himself back for ten seconds before jumping into the discussion.

To be fair to the stronger sex, four of them actually work.  The first navigates his way to the bottle store to buy alcohol.  The second acts as master of ceremonies during prayers and the third delivers the word.  Finally, the fourth wrestles with the complicated task of announcing funeral arrangements. 

Having performed these tasks, men feel they have earned the right to rest.  For the rest of the night, they sit around a bonfire and regale each other with a variety of stories.  Those with a rural upbringing relive their hunting adventures.  City slickers tell tales about old gang wars and memorable football matches.  Generous amounts of beer and hot stuff loosen tongues and the stories keep flowing.

In short, at funeral wakes women are busy bodies whilst men are happy imbibers.    

‘None but ourselves can set us free,’ Bob Marley said.  Is it not time we modified this gender division of labour? 

In the past men had to sit out of the hut to protect the body of the deceased from hyenas and other predators.  This threat is no more.  Why then continue a practice that has outlived its original purpose?  I suggest we delve into our glorious past, pull out an old work arrangement that worked, brush it up and modernize it for today’s situation.

In Bantu culture, people of the same gender and a certain range of ages were placed in one group – intanga.  Each intanga was responsible for specific tasks.  This included herding livestock, slaughtering and skinning animals, fetching firewood and water, cooking and together performed certain rituals and ceremonies.  Over the years, members of each intanga were expected to perform together their evolving tasks.  Society viewed each intanga as a unit.

In this age of increasing gender convergence, the age group work arrangement could be brought back, minus the emphasis on gender.  In other words, various age groups regardless of gender would carry out identical tasks. 

For instance, at funeral wakes, arrangements could be as follows: men and women between 20 and 30 would receive mourners, pitch up tents, chop firewood, collect plates and wash up; those between 31 and 45 would make fires, prepare the main mourning room, cook and serve; those between 46 and 60 would comfort the directly bereaved, arrange prayer session, and make announcements; the 61 and above would give guidance on tradition and oversee all proceedings.

Eating will be for all ages and both genders.  Regardless of gender all the 46 and above may drink. 

Overlaps in performing the tasks would be inevitable but as noted, the 61 and above would fine tune the system and ensure things run smoothly.  Each intanga would be held responsible for its failures and be given credit for its successes.  For ease of reference we will call this system the Age Method of Task Allocation (AMTA).

Some couples in the Diaspora are already practising a form of AMTA.  In his well researched paper – Gendering the Diaspora: Zimbabwean migrants in Britain, Dr Dominic Pasura suggests that changed job opportunities have forced couples to review the way they allocate domestic duties.  Comparing the circumstances of the situations between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom, Patricia, an interviewee in Pasura’s study notes:

The main difference is that my husband helps me to cook and does most of the shopping.   I do not think if we were in Zimbabwe he would do the same for two reasons.  Firstly, it is most likely that we would have a housemaid.  Secondly, peer pressure would dissuade him from doing housework.  This has not affected our families negatively because we both work and there is no way I can be expected to do everything without his assistance, therefore it is {…} positive for our family.  

Back to Southern Africa, why wait for circumstances to force us adopt a more productive and humane way of allocating domestic duties?  Sons and Daughters of Africa, let us take the initiative and adapt AMTA, a progressive way of doing things.

Full marks for the video clip man who understands AMTA and practices it.  He carries their baby on his back, walks in public with his partner and though provoked, does not stoop low to wrestle with a pig in the mud.  He and his wife belong to the same intanga and therefore share the same tasks.  As for the woman, her triumphant salute is as important as that of Winnie Mandela when she and her husband walked side by side out of the gates of Victor Verster Prison.  She knows they are doing the right thing and that the long road ahead is tough.

Dear reader, what are you doing to assist this progressive couple and its kind?  

Introducing the Culture Activist


At the writers’ workshop

At a writers’ workshop, Caleb Moyo, a lecturer in languages once introduced me to a fellow attendee: ‘This is Mzana, a culture activist.’

Caleb caught my fleeting confused look at how he had turned water into wine.  He quickly clarified, ‘Mzana writes on local contemporary music for a leading magazine.’ 

‘Aah,’ I thought, ‘so that’s what had elevated me to a position I didn’t recognise!’  My mind raced back recalling how I had come to be a music critic.

A visit to Jobs Night Spot

One evening, my friend Steve and I were having a meal at a restaurant.  ‘In less than an hour,’ Steve moaned as he wolfed down isitshwala, ‘I’ll be interviewing that band Jobs Combination and I don’t know where to start.’

‘You are a trained and experienced journalist,’ I reminded him, ‘what’s your problem?’

‘I’m a sports journalist.  What do I ask those noise makers?’

‘Ask them if their song Simehlule uSathane is targeting their former lead singer, Lovemore Majaivana.’

From his sling bag, Steve pulled out a pen and note pad.  ‘And the follow up question?’

‘Do they think Majaivaina’s song Isambane is his rejoinder?’

Five minutes later, Steve had filled up a page with questions.

‘Look, come with me and ask these questions.  I will take notes.’

I shook my head.  ‘I have no experience in that.’

‘You have experience in interviewing,’ he said in an accusing tone.

‘Yes, interviewing prospective employees. That’s different.’

‘The principle is the same.  You gather information from an interviewee and later write it up.  I’ll do the initial talking, buy drinks for everyone and then wham,’ he cracked his fingers, ‘you interview them.’

‘This is the only time you have ever offered me a free drink,’ I said.

Thirty minutes later, with Steve by my side, I was at Jobs Night Spot asking a group of six musicians the first question.  They all frowned in confusion.

‘Sorry guys, have I asked the wrong question?’

‘No,’ Fanyana Dube, the band’s lead singer chuckled.  ‘A journalist that actually listened to one of our songs before coming here!  That’s a first.’

‘Actually, I’ve listened to your whole album.’ Including the blind Fanyana, they all stared at me in stunned disbelief. 

For the next hour we had an animated discussion about their album and about the Zimbabwean music scene.

‘That interview,’ Steve said as we drove home, ‘did not go the way we were trained – too disorganised.  I can’t write an article from these notes.  Take them and write the article.’

‘No, I’ve never…’

‘We will pay you.’

‘How much?’

‘Enough to buy two meals at a classy restaurant and tip two waiters.’

‘Hmm,’ I nodded, ‘I believe writing about our musicians is a patriotic duty.  It’s time I started giving back to society.’

The magazine paid me enough to buy two packets of chicken and chips at a downtown takeaway shop.

‘That was not the deal,’ I told Steve.

‘Yes, the deal was for someone who interviews and takes his own notes.’

With Oliver

‘You won’t believe this,’ Steve enthused, three weeks later.  ‘Oliver Mtukudzi’s manager read your article and he loved it.  He wants you to interview Oliver.’

I was finished strength. Me interviewing Oliver! I was and still am his number one fan.

That Friday I interviewed Oliver at Mushandirapamwe Night Club. Accompanying me was a South African journalist.  I explained to her some of Oliver’s answers.

When concluding my article, I predicted that Oliver was destined to be an international superstar.  Steve edited out the prediction.

‘We are journalists,’ he explained, ‘not prophets.’

I took consolation in the fact that I now rubbed shoulders with a superstar.  Indeed, two months later I ran into Oliver on First Street.  I greeted him but he gazed at me with an expression that asked: ‘Do we know each other?’

‘Remember me,’ I said, ‘I interviewed you at Mushandirapamwe and…’

His face lit up.  ‘Of course, you were the interpreter for that beautiful South African journalist.’

Eat your hearts out, dear haters.  A Superstar remembered me.

Back to the writers’ workshop

I was brought back to the workshop when Caleb nudged my shoulder and I saw the fellow attendee’s extended hand.  Smiling, I shook it.

All this happened over thirty years ago.  Today my only gripe is that Steve spiked my prediction that Oliver would one day be an international superstar.  With that written evidence of my gift of prophecy, I would long have started my own church.  Yes, by now I would be boasting two private jets and employing two pilots.

Thank you for reading.  I’ll endeavour to post the next piece this coming Sunday at 8.00 hours, Central African Time.

http://amabooksbyo.blogspot.com/2018/12/why-i-read-mzana-mthimkhulu.html