Johannesburg — United States-based Chimurenga music legend Thomas Mapfumo (TM) is in South Africa for shows in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The Standard Style reporter Tapiwa Zivira (TZ) caught up with the veteran musician and had an exclusive interview which touched on wide ranging issues from Mukanya’s wish to return to Zimbabwe and his views on the political and economic situation in his home country.
TZ: What has been your aim behind anti-corruption messages in your songs?
TM: When independence came, we celebrated, and everyone was optimistic that the new government was going to deliver on its promises. It did not. For us, we remained consistent with our messages, singing messages that touched people’s everyday lives. That is why we composed songs like Corruption and Maiti Kurima Inyore, among others. This was because Chimurenga music has always been about the poor people and what they go through in the hands of a corrupt nepotistic government, and never about the elite.
The money is there, but it is in the hands of a few people who are corrupt.
When we talk about Danger Zone (Mukanya’s latest album) and we sing Hatidi Politics (we don’t want politics) it means that we just do not want cheap politicking and empty rhetoric, leaders must just deliver.
TZ: You have been out of Zimbabwe for 11 years. When are you coming home?
TM: Soon. I have plans to come home to perform. I cannot tell you in detail but one thing is because of my known stance against the system, a number of promoters are not keen to invite me for a show because they fear the political consequences to their business. At times we would make initial agreements with some promoters in Zimbabwe, but it always surprises us that they would go silent after agreeing on almost everything, and these have been some of the things we have been facing. It is as bad as that. However, my door remains open to come to Zimbabwe. I am not afraid of coming to my home country as stated in some media circles. I miss my fans in Zimbabwe and I look forward to performing in my home country once again.
TZ: Having been one of those who used music during the struggle and sang songs praising the post-independence government, what do you think of the system, 35 years later, and where do you think Zimbabwe went wrong?
TM: Just as I sing in my songs, there have been lots of disappointments and where Zimbabwe went wrong is when government allowed corruption, nepotism, impunity and disrespect for human rights to set in, and this went against the people’s wishes and hopes, and that is exactly why our country is in this political and economic crisis.
TZ: Still on that, what do you think is the solution to Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis?
TM: Solutions have to come from the young people. It is the young generation that has to drive our country forward and change the current corrupt system of self-centred governance and this takes a lot of courage to do. What we need is a youth courageous enough to move this country forward. We cannot expect much from older people like me and others like me to steer the change process. Youths, you are the future of Zimbabwe, and you have got to change Zimbabwe. All you have to do is to make sure it is not too late to change Zimbabwe.
Unfortunately, what is happening is too much hero worshipping of the older generation. Who is he that you are worshipping when we have one God.
This country is ours and no-one should personalise it and make it their private property.
TZ: What has been the nature of your relationship with your former liberation struggle comrades?
TM: I have lots of friends, genuine veterans of the liberation struggle and some who are even in government, and as far as they tell me, they are aggrieved by the current situation in our country and wish for a change. I cannot name those in government because obviously they will face victimisation.
TZ: Do you have plans of any programme to pass on your expertise of Chimurenga music to the younger generation to carry it on?
TM: I have done that and I continue to do that. I can give an example of when I went to England I was all by myself and Zivai Guvheya, who was with the Blacks Unlimited, a band that backed me, it is the same here in South Africa where only two members of the Blacks Unlimited are with me, and we have young people that we groom, and we continue to do that, and we have such programmes lined up for Zimbabwe where we are going to ensure that Chimurenga music moves on even after my death.
TZ: You have had some of the best instrumentalists over the years, Ashton Sugar Chiweshe, Jonah Sithole, Ephraim Karimaura, Sebastation Mbata, Allan Mwaye, Joshua Hlomayi Dube, Everson Chibamu, to mention but a few. How did you select these people and do you think Zimbabwe still has such talented instrumentalists?
TM: I remember these talented people with deep sorrow because they were core people in the shaping of Chimurenga music. I miss them a lot. (Mapfumo pauses, looks down, and shakes his head, in apparent show of sorrow). When it came to selecting band members, we travelled across the country, and my young brother William Mapfumo, was very instrumental in identifying talent and we went as far as Guruve, Dande, and some ghettos like Mbare, Highfield and all those areas where there was ungroomed talent. We also listened to other musicians’ band members playing.
On talent, I believe there is so much talent in Zimbabwe and what is needed is strategies that groom that talent and as I said earlier, I have a plan to ensure those talented in Chimurenga music get a platform to showcase themselves.