BY TAKEMORE MAZURUSE
She died at only 38, but Anne Nhira’s life story will live to inspire many, never mind her little controversies, the majority of which emanated from being largely misunderstood. One never apologetic about her views and indeed proud of the woman she had grown to be and was growing to be, the ‘African Queen Diva’ as she loved to call herself, breathed her last on Wednesday night from injuries she sustained after armed robbers attacked her in the Bedfordview area of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Monday noon as she made her way home from prayers.
Being the fighter that I knew her to be, it’s no surprise that she hung on to dear life for a good three days until she could not take it anymore. Having known her since my monthlong stay in Midrand, South Africa, in 2017 under the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Regional Leadership Training at the University of South Africa (UNISA) Graduate School of Business Leadership, we were to later engage in various business and social exchanges and she would often have me as a guest on her radio and online TV shows.
While many have different views of the woman that Anne was, my close interaction with her exposed me to the big-hearted and big-dreams lady that she was.
My first direct engagement with her was when she joined the Zimbabwe Business and Arts Hub (Zibah) network, a local pro-development organisation which we had founded a year earlier in 2017.
The network brought together captains of industry, artistes, the media and various progressive Zimbabweans from all walks of life and much of our interaction was online via Whatsapp and only meeting for workshops and business seminars.
Being the chairperson and coordinator of most Zibah programmes, I was the point of reference for every member’s initiatives and when Anne, then based in SA, was introduced to the network by Benjy Nyandoro of Jive Zimbabwe, she also came through with her own proposals inviting members to join her online trading business.
As was the norm, I also gave her the platform to sell her idea though many were sceptical and few if any bought into the idea. Some even ridiculed her but being the warmhearted person she was, Anne didn’t blow her head.
She was magnanimous even as some accused her of trying to entangle them into some “useless pyramid scheme”.
That Zibah interaction was to be the foundation of our relationship and because her late mum was from Zaka in Masvingo, which is also my home area, I automatically became her uncle or sekuru while she became my favourite niece or muzukuru and when I then took on that month-long YALI training in Midrand, South Africa, back in 2017 together with other young Zimbabweans who had made the grade, we became closer since she was also based in Midrand. She would drive to the hotel in her sleek Jeep Cherokee and would offer us free rides to the Mall of Africa for shopping and to some of the most exciting braai spots around the area together with SA-based TV producer Simon Nyarugwe.
Even though we were well paid during our training programme and offered to pay for the fuel, Anne would outright turn down the offer highlighting that she was just another cultured Zimbabwean playing good host to fellow country people.
The majority of the Zimbabwean YALI alumni were obviously blown away with her sway given her stint with popular soapie Studio 263 back in the early 2000s and every time she drove to the hotel they would ask for selfies to which she happily obliged.
Even non-Zimbabwean YALI members at the hotel could not resist her sway and warmth and they would also ask for a shot or two with her and the enquiries that came from the majority of these young people across Africa when I shared news of her death on social media bear testimony to her impact.
She even invited all Zimbabwean YALI members to her Midrand flat for dinner which we unfortunately couldn’t honour given our hectic schedules with visits to various centres for familiarisation with our work-related learning assignments.
Upon my return to Zimbabwe in July 2017, we were to organise a birthday bash a month later at Club Vicious in Hillside and Anne shocked me with her presence having promised she would pitch no matter what.
Her speech came from the heart and for someone I had known through online engagements or one or two sit-downs for drinks and coffee at Premier Hotel in Midrand, South Africa, her speech was mind-blowing. For a moment I thought she was speaking about someone else, not me.
That was just the person Anne was, she had the grace to see good in others. In our first conversation in South Africa, she had told me my passion would take me far and my efforts would be recognised and when I bagged seven awards in the 2020 business year, she was there to remind me of her little “prophecy” back in 2017 highlighting that this was just but the beginning.
While her rise to stardom with Studio 263 brought her fame and possibly little fortune, Anne remained strong-willed and her arrogance came from a place of confidence. She was an outright Pan-Africanist and had amazing ideas for Zimbabwe and indeed the whole of Africa. Her self-belief and desire to take on the world rubbed others the wrong way and a case in point is the 2017 Zodwa waBantu fiasco where she wrote a petition to have the pantiless entertainer barred from Zimbabwe given the strong moral fibre in the country. Unfortunately, this raised the ire of many.
For someone who had relocated to South Africa in 2015 seeking a break in the film and television industry, many expected her to avoid such a potentially explosive call given the likely repercussions, but Anne was headstrong, and went ahead with the petition. While she got the ears of the powers-that-be and managed to get Zodwa’s planned Harare International Carnival-linked gig cancelled, both her country people and those from neighbouring South Africa were baying for her head. Having grown in Chitungwiza, Anne felt celebrating Zodwa was an injustice to who we are as a people particularly given that as a country we seldom celebrate local talent even when they offer even better substance through their artistic talent.
As the demonisation continued and some even sent death threats, Anne reached out to me for some public relations direction and while we didn’t completely ride the wave, we made our point and managed to win over some moderates, something that won me lots of respect from her. She would wax lyrical about my capabilities and to this day I still opine she believed in me more than I did. But then again, Anne had a way with people, she could turn a cat into a lion with her words and many that were blessed enough to interact closely with her bear testimony to that.
Anne’s dreams were too big and no ordinary mortal would comprehend her thinking. She is one person who believed in the potential of young people and for that reason she had ventured into youth empowerment recruitment with various agencies.
Even when she had some stints with local online TV media, her programmes focused on opportunities for young people in Zimbabwe and beyond, a narrative that calls for a lot of character given the generally limiting economic environment in Zimbabwe.
For Anne, it was never about where you are, but how you do it and her confidence was mesmerising for someone born and bred in the dusty streets of Chitungwiza. Her poise and mastery of the Queen’s language earned her the moniker “musalad wekughetto”, a jab she often laughed off.
While she deliberately chose to go underground at some point in her acting career, I remember our close to two hours, talk at a hotel in South Africa where I urged her to return to the limelight as she had a lot to offer to the local entertainment industry and Zimbabwe, as a whole. Of course, she shared her reservations, but she made a bold return to mainstream media in 2017 around the same time she was embroiled in the Zodwa WaBantu debacle and had to temporarily relocate to Zimbabwe. As usual, she would nag me for guests on her online shows and always reminding me how much of a rich network. The majority of the guests have remained her friends to this day.
Her death on Wednesday is even more heart-breaking because it’s coming at a time when Dr Tichaona Sithole had appointed her the SADC head for Get Rich Africa, an organisation that works with young people, empowering and developing their business ventures.
On March 6, just a day before the Monday noon attack, I was part of her guests on Radio 54, the African Panorama View, where her Pan Afrikan View show was tackling topical issues and growing a loyal audience across Africa. We discussed the role of the media in African Development for close to two hours with a panel that had Zimbabweans, Zambians, Cameroonians and Ugandans and during the same show we even agreed on a trip to Zambia this coming June to explore business collaboration and how to advance the African dream.
My last communication with Anne was on Monday March 8 at exactly 1:16 hours when she sent me a flyer with her Women’s Day message which read: “We have untapped silent power as women, line an ocean, let’s activate it and roar, Happy Women’s Day”.
As usual, I thanked her for sharing and her last chat read ‘I am great” in response to my enquiry on her health, but I believe it aptly summed her life story, “She was great”. She was to go off radar for three days as her attack around 5pm of the same day left her hospitalised until the injuries got the better of her on Wednesday night.
While many have questions and theories about her love life, my last conversations with her spoke of a woman with strong views on love. She was of the view that today’s men are so given to hitting on women just for the fun of it and she took that for a big put- off. While she generally believed in love, Anne also believed little recognition had come her way in spite of her efforts in the arts and entertainment industry and she even asked why she wasn’t in the most recently released Institute of Corporate Directors Zimbabwe (ICDZ) Most Influential Young Leaders under 40, to which I responded her star would shine brighter.
As we await her burial, I am happy to say Anne’s star is shining brighter if the eulogies and farewell messages I have gone through on social media are anything to go buy.
She was a loved and celebrated woman who was largely misunderstood. Some hated her confidence and outspoken outlook on life, but you just couldn’t ignore Anne. Hers is indeed a life well lived, but I just can’t bring myself to say rest in peace. Good night, Anne Nhira.