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An encounter with ex-VP Muzenda

in the groove:with Fred Zindi

Ido not often share my personal experiences with the public, but this one has been haunting me for years.

Iain McIntosh, a British national based in Masvingo in the 1980s was a music promoter and manager at the late Eddison Zvobgo’s Chevron and Flambouyant hotels.

While there, he forged a friendship with the late Johnny Clegg of Savuka/Juluka band. In April 1989, he persuaded Clegg to come to Harare for a performance at the City Sports Centre. He appointed me as stage manager for the event and asked me to visit him in Masvingo to map out the logistics for the event. I drove from Harare on a Saturday morning and endured the three-hour journey to Chevron Hotel. When I arrived, just after lunch, McIntosh was sitting in the hotel lobby with the late vice-president Simon Muzenda, Zvobgo and a man called Joseph, the duty manager. I greeted them and McIntosh excused himself from them in order to speak to me alone. He asked if I wanted a drink. I asked for a glass of Coca-Cola. Then he called out: “Simon, come here!” Muzenda came out of his chair and came marching towards us. “Oh, no, chef, I wouldn’t be so discourteous as to publicly call you by your first name. I am sorry, I was calling Simon, the waiter,” McIntosh emphasised apologetically. Even I had been shocked by such “rudeness”. The coincidence of first names caused this confusion. McIntosh then asked Simon, the waiter, to bring me a drink.

This was the first time I had met Muzenda in person, but certainly not the last.

We then went into the discussion. Clegg (who died from cancer in July last year) had confirmed he would come to do the gig in Harare. At the time Zimbabwe was abuzz with his world-acclaimed hit, Scatterlings of Africa, the video of which had been recorded in Bulawayo at the Matopos Resort.

This concert was destined to be a winner.

Clegg, born to an English family that moved to Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) when he was still a child, became interested in Zulu traditional music when he was a teenager, and sought out musicians who could teach him. One such musician was Mntonganazo Mzila, a Zulu street musician and apartment cleaner. A few years later he approached Sipho Mchunu, who was working as a gardener. Mchunu began to teach Clegg, and formed a musical duo with him that performed between 1970 and 1976. In 1979 they released an album called Universal Men, calling themselves Juluka (Zulu for “sweat”). During this period Clegg also learned the Zulu language, as well as Zulu traditional dance forms. Juluka faced difficulties in their early years because apartheid-era South Africa had laws prohibiting mixed groups from performing to white audiences, or on occasion preventing the duo from being on stage together, which led to them experiencing frequent harassment from the police.

The band’s political music often caused trouble with the government. The explicit dedication of their 1987 song Asimbonanga to Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, and other anti-apartheid activists led to their concerts being raided, and band members being arrested. Asimbonanga was among several of his songs that were banned in South Africa.

However, in independent Zimbabwe, a performance by Juluka was something to look forward to. People from all walks of life made sure they would attend the show. I was told by Iain that we needed a venue that would accommodate at least 5 000 people as Juluka was a very popular group. The Harare International Conference Centre was ideal for this concert but since it was still new, there was a lot of bureaucracy involved and it was also very expensive to hire. They were asking for $18 000 as the hire fee for one night. That would have definitely eaten into the project’s profits. We settled for the City Sports Centre which cost $1 500. We planned for the printing and selling of advance tickets, the personnel required, catering services, musical equipment needed, the flights for the eight members of the band, their hotel accommodation, transport and security at the venue. What we forgot to plan for was the VIP area inside the venue and this is what got me into trouble.

On the night of the event, by 6pm the venue was already half-full.

As stage manager, I was preoccupied with the stage settings. I was checking the backline equipment and making sure that the PA system especially the front of the house was working properly. At the same time, I noticed that the doormen had let in a black Mercedes Benz into the venue, but I did not pay much attention to that as that was not part of my duty.

At around 8pm, the venue was already full and the first support act, The Frontline Kids, were on stage. They performed six songs ending with the ever-popular Yarira Ngoma before giving way to Andy Brown’s Storm who hit the enthusiastic crowd with Mapurisa.

As Brown was on stage, that is when my troubles began. I saw this man sitting on one of the front house speakers. I was agitated. I said to Dunstan and Wiseman, two of the PA technicians: “Does that man sitting on the speaker know that he is blocking the sound? I charged towards him. Instead of talking to him and asking him to get off the speaker, I simply shoved him from where he was sitting. If it was not for two men near him who broke his fall, he would have fallen to the ground. It was after the push that I realised who he was. It was Vice-President Simon Vengesai Muzenda. His two bodyguards who had sat him on the speaker asked: “Hey, Zindi, don’t you have any respect? We put the VP there because the place is too crowded and there was no suitable place for him to sit.” I was shocked and I blamed myself for behaving so foolishly. All I could say was: “I am really sorry. I didn’t know who it was until now.” I immediately arranged for people to get a sofa from backstage and asked the men to move the vice-president on stage where he could have a clear vision of the concert.

Five minutes later, the late Steven Chifunyise who worked with the vice-president, came to me and told me that I must do a formal apology to the vice-president himself.

Juluka came on stage at midnight, but I had lost all the excitement as I was worried about the incident that had taken place with the vice-president.

On the Monday I was very nervous, but trodded along to Munhumutapa Building where I was ushered into Muzenda’s office. He was sitting there, relaxed and drinking his tea when I entered the room. He told me to sit down. I did. I started by apologising for the incident that had taken place on the Friday at the Juluka show and told him that “to be honest, if I had known it was you sitting there I would have not dared even come anywhere near you. I am so sorry.. It was our mistake during the planning that we did not make provision for VIP seating.”

Muzenda responded: “I have already forgotten about that incident. I quite enjoyed Juluka. In a way, I am also to blame. It was a last-minute decision. Even my office didn’t know I was going to the show. I should have told McIntosh in advance that I was coming to the show. And that would not have happened.”

He quickly changed the subject and asked me what problems we faced in show business. I told him that I had just come from a tour of the United Kingdom and Holland with the Real Sounds of Africa band. We made 10 000 pounds and bought musical equipment, which we brought into the country, but the equipment had been held by customs because we had flouted Reserve Bank regulations where we should have brought the money here first and then apply to have that money back to buy the equipment. Now that equipment was being held at Customs. “Nonsense!” said Muzenda. “You worked for that money and you are free to use it how you want.”

He picked up the phone and spoke to Oliver Munyaradzi who was Trade and Commerce minister and asked him to write a letter to have that equipment released.

Ghaby Mutombo and Ghaby Mumba, of the Real Sounds, went to pick up that letter and the equipment was released.

That encounter with Muzenda (who died on September 20, 2003) showed me that he was a man of immense tolerance and wisdom. He never raised his voice and was indeed a man of courtly manners. He could have easily got me locked up for what I did to him, but he forgave me instead. I cherish the day I went to give my apologies.

l Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

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