The graduation ceremony, which took place at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) last Wednesday, triggered my memory to flash back to the disastrous musical event that took place four years ago.
in the groove by Fred Zindi
I meant to write this story in October 2014 when I was a columnist for another newspaper, but after asking for confirmation of the story from Y2K music promoters and did not receive any response, I decided to abandon it.
I wrote to Alexander Mharapara and Fred Matenga. Matenga, one of the partners in Y2K Promotions, assured me that he would tell me the full story, but was not forthcoming for a while. I had to rely on an insider within Y2K Promotions, on condition of anonymity, to get the full story.
Y2K Entertainment Music and Arts promotions is a United Kingdom-registered company since 2004. It is based in the UK and its directors are from Zimbabwe. It is also responsible for the running of the Southern African Music and Arts (Sama) festival every year.
After seeing the success of the Oliver Mtukudzi and Alick Macheso show, which was hosted by Fungwa Mawarire and Stanford Chibanda and attended by close to 5 000 people, mainly Zimbabweans in the diaspora, Y2K decided to venture into the same business with the hope that they would do it even better.
In October 2014, Y2K engaged three Zimbabwean acts — Mtukudzi, Macheso and Jah Prayzah — to perform on the same stage at concerts in the UK. They sent 24 air tickets to the artistes in advance of the concerts. They made arrangements with the UK visa offices to obtain visas for all the 24 musicians and these were paid for. They had also made arrangements and paid for their work permits. Apparently, my source told me, Y2K had secured a junior officer inside the Home Office with whom they worked. He is the one who issued the visas. The British Home Office authorities were, however, alarmed to see that visas had been issued for 24 Zimbabweans by a junior officer who did not quite follow proper procedures. They investigated the issuing officer and decided that he had done it illegally. Then they decided to cancel the visas. The British Home Office alerted the British Embassy in Harare and told them that the visas for the three acts had been cancelled and the artistes had to re-apply. The musicians were supposed to travel on the Wednesday, but the British Embassy in Harare invited all of them to visit their offices the next day, on Thursday. The musicians failed to understand this. Two of Jah Prayzah’s musicians tried their luck as they had tickets and visas in their passports. They went to the airport with the hope that they would travel that night, but a man from the British Embassy was waiting at the airport and informed the check-in counter officers that none of the musicians were travelling as their visas had been cancelled.
As if he had predicted what was going to happen, Mtukudzi, through his then manager, Sam Mataure, had phoned Y2K to inform them that he was no longer coming to the UK as the dates coincided with the possibility of him being conferred with an honorary doctorate at Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) in Masvingo.
GZU vice-chancellor Rungano Zvobgo had announced that Mtukudzi would be awarded the doctorate for his “invaluable” contribution to the arts and entertainment sector in the country, as well as for his work that is recognised internationally and thus putting the country on the global map. Previously there had been an announcement that Tuku would get his PhD, but the idea was set aside because the move to honour the superstar at the institution’s seventh graduation ceremony in 2013 was stopped at the last minute because sources at the time said there were fears Mtukudzi could “steal the thunder” from the then president Robert Mugabe, the university’s then chancellor, who was also being conferred with an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree in African Heritage and Philosophy at the ceremony. The authorities had imagined a situation where Mtukudzi was going to be on the same stage as Mugabe and he would outshine the chancellor. The general belief was that he was more popular than Mugabe. So, this time around in October 2014, the vice-chancellor assured Mtukudzi that he would definitely be conferred with the degree and Tuku did not want to miss this opportunity either. Despite being booked to perform in the UK by Y2K at the same time, he plucked a lot of guts to let them know that he was no longer coming as this degree meant a lot to him.
Earlier in the same year, Mtukudzi was among a number of high-profile Zimbabweans who were awarded honorary doctorates by the controversial International Institute of Philanthropy (IIP), but the Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education disregarded the award as IIP was not registered or authorised to award degrees.
Other recipients of the honorary doctorates, which were being dished out by IIP were United Family International Church’s Ruth Makandiwa, wife of the church’s founder Emmanuel Makandiwa, and Isabel Chihuri, wife of the then police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, former Zimbabwe National Roads Administration CEO Frank Chitukutuku, Avenues Clinic MD Merissa Kambani and Pastor Ruth Musarurwa of Christ Embassy.
There has also been controversy regarding the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Mtukudzi by the UZ. Health minister Obadiah Moyo and I had appealed to the UZ council asking them to confer the degree, but some councillors were scared of how Mugabe would react on hearing this. So, they kept postponing it.
Mtukudzi later realised that he had been duped into receiving the doctorate from IIP. He wanted the real thing from an authentic university. So when Zvobgo made the offer, Mtukudzi took it whole-heartedly.
After informing Y2K that he would not make the concert in the UK, the promoters were in a quandary as they were left with Jah Prayzah and Macheso to go ahead with the concerts even though they knew that Tuku was the biggest cash cow among the other two artistes and he had already been advertised as coming for the event.
As it turned out, the whole thing became a double jeopardy. Tuku was not coming for the concert and the British government had also cancelled the visas for the 24 Zimbabwean musicians.
I tried in vain to obtain information in order to establish how much money had been lost by Y2K in this exercise, but they were cagey about it.
When I spoke to Mataure, who was working with Tuku at the time, he simply said: “It was a big disaster and I am not sure that Y2K will rise again.”
However, as we all know, Y2K is still in existence as evidenced by their annual Sama Festivals and the Busy Signal show that took place in 2016 in Harare and Bulawayo.
From the look of it, Y2K are growing from strength to strength as plans are underway for Sama South Africa, Sama United States of America and Sama Australia.
They have also launched another activity which they call Africa Music Arts and Culture (AMAC) in which they hope to showcase top musicians from the whole of Africa. A huge and very ambitious project indeed.
Keeps me wondering who is sponsoring all these projects. It’s definitely not Ginimbi! Lol.