Tracing Zanu PF's rise and fall through music

HARARE - When Zanu PF held its first congress in independent Zimbabwe, there was a celebratory mood in the country with Chimurenga music guru Thomas Mapfumo releasing songs specifically for the occasion.

Known in other circles as “Hurricane Hugo”, after independence Mapfumo went on to compose songs to congratulate the then ruling Zanu PF party for winning the elections in 1980.

Songs like Rakarira Jongwe (The cock crowed) and Makorokoto (Congratulations) Tirikupembera Zimbabwe (We are rejoicing Zimbabwe’s independence) and Chitima Cherusununguko (Liberation train) were all in praise of President Robert Mugabe and the freedom fighters.

Congress was composed specifically in support of the ruling party’s first congress gathering.

Then, the Chimurenga star told the media: “For sure these were praise songs. Praise songs for the first black majority government. Everyone was happy with this development.

“There was real need to congratulate ourselves and celebrate our victory. A liberation war had been waged and won. And we thought things would be better. We thought it was now our time to enjoy the promised honey and milk. We were wrong. Things began to deteriorate. That is when I sang the song Corruption.”

In 1989 Mapfumo’s popular hit record Corruption mysteriously disappeared from the airwaves, a year after it had been released.

In the song, Mapfumo blasts corruption within the Zimbabwean government which had reached alarming proportions.

But Mapfumo had all along sided with Zanu PF, including castigating the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (Zipra) — which had fought alongside Zimbabwe African National Liberation Forces (Zanla) — in his 1981 album Gwindingwi (forest).

Some disgruntled Zipra war veterans had taken to dissident activities.

In the song Nyarai, Mapfumo blasts the dissident menace, urging Zipra to accept its defeat at the first democratic elections. He sings: “...Nyaraiwo...nyaraiwo kana makundwa...” (Be ashamed for you lost).

Mapfumo’s other song Nyoka Musango (Snake in the forest) also warned about dissident elements.

But that was it, the government responded to the dissident problem by unleashing soldiers to Matabeleland, a region where the dissident activity was taking place and an estimated 20 000 people were killed.

In an interview with Chris Nickson of Dirty Linen, Mapfumo said: “I had always been suspicious about Mugabe’s people because of the way they operated during the liberation struggle.

“So many innocent people lost their lives, and some of them were killed by our own boys from the bush. I was suspicious of his government. I am not a communist myself, and I don’t like communism. I want to live in a democratic country where everyone has a voice.”

Mapfumo later released Varombo Kuvarombo which deplored greediness among those in authority who were fast amassing wealth at the expense of the poor majority.

In his 1998 song Ndiyani Waparadza Musha? Mapfumo sings: “...Ndiyani aparadza musha...Ndiyani aparadza Upfumi hwedu... Ndiyani aparadza rudzi rwedu...?” (Who has destroyed our country..our wealth..our race...?)

The chimurenga music guru told Guy Dixion of Globe & Mail: “When you are fighting against oppression, there is no difference. It is the same thing we were fighting against in colonial days. And now this man is in power; he is black like me and he is still doing the same. The message doesn’t change at all.”

And it was not only Mapfumo who had once sung praise songs for Zanu PF PF as others like Four Brothers released the hit song Makorokoto.

Gramma Records director Emmanuel Vori says: “The musicians saw corruption creeping in and going on unchecked, neglect of the masses, deteriorating health services and many other social ills.

“Like before, they spoke through recorded music. Record labels took the risk of releasing such songs.”

In an interview on Rhythm of Africa by Farai Sevenzo, the late Zimbabwean music journalist and Daily News assistant editor Leo Hatugari said conditions that prompted people to write songs during the time of the independence war were almost identical to the conditions that people were finding themselves in now.

“They are singing the same kind of stuff now against a black government as they sung against a white one,” said Hatugari.

“The message that is being put across intensifies their anger to throw out this government. It is not soothing.”

Hatugari said there was no way musicians could just shut up. “Even the Smith regime was trying the same things. They were banning songs.

“People are just impatient. They want change and the musicians are putting that through very eloquently — more eloquently than the opposition.”

Lovemore Majaivana in Umoya Wami lamented the lack of development in his hometown in Matabeleland Province, which had driven its young men and women to other provinces in search of fortune.

Majaivana pleaded with Joshua Nkomo (a political leader and once Mugabe’s declared public enemy number one) to revisit the unity accord between the two politicians as the unity had not benefited the marginalised Ndebele tribe.

The late Solomon Skuza sang about what was later referred to as the Willowgate scandal, which exposed a lot of high-ranking officials in a car-buying racket. Only the officials and their friends had access to new locally-assembled cars, which they bought and resold at exorbitant prices.

More protest releases against Zanu PF rule were to follow in coming years including Leonard Zhakata’s 1994 hit song Mugove, a plea by the oppressed worker.

The protest songs were heard far and beyond, and most people sang along.

Zhakata also sang about the government’s youth militia in his 2005 album Udza Vamwe.

In the song Ndereka, he sings in English and Shona: “…Is it local culture...militarising the children...preaching the message of hate...somebody tell me the destiny...vana ava voita ndereka dzepfungwa...”

Oliver Mtukudzi’s politically-charged 2000 album Bvuma/Tolerance was a protest voice. It was evident that Mtukudzi was not impressed with the way the country was being governed.

In the song Murimi Munhu (A farmer is also a human being) Mtukudzi accuses politicians of turning the Zimbabwe land issue into a political fighting weapon.

The song traces the violence during the land re-distribution, hence his other song on the same album, Mangoromera (fighting spirit) in which he deplores the use of violence when dealing with economic and social issues.

While Mtukudzi denies the song referred to Mugabe, then in his late 70s, as a spent force, most Zimbabweans thought otherwise. “...Admit it... you are wrinkled...worn out..,” Mtukudzi sings.

He insists the song is about growing up and the wisdom that comes along with age.

Andy Brown, in his days as a critic of bad governance before joining the pro-government musicians bandwagon released the song Nation of Thieves in which he declared that “we are now a nation of thieves”, as corruption took centre stage in the country.

His 2000 release, Hondo ye Sadza (fighting for food) was also a protest voice. He gave an account of government officials’ reaction to the record when he went to publicise it with the state national broadcaster.

Brown, in the interview with Afropop Worldwide correspondent Banning Eyre said: “The first five minutes were cool. They were starting to introduce the album to the nation and stuff.

“And the next thing, the DJ gets a call — I don’t know from whom. So, I could just see this guy’s face changing, and hear, “Ah, yes, chef. Okay, chef. Sorry chef.”

And then he told me, “Look, I can’t interview you anymore.” And the next thing, there was police in the studio and we were escorted out into the rain. So that was the last time I was in the radio station. But we keep on singing the songs.”

Chimbetu, although working closely with the government had one of his songs Ndaremerwa (One Week) blacklisted. In the song Chimbetu complains that he is feeling the burden because he has to endure life’s hardships everyday of the week, travelling very far for work and that he has nothing to give his children.

Hosiah Chipanga in his song Zvinoda Mutorwa off his 2005 album Musikavanhu — mocks the government which claimed it could deal with economic problems on its own.

Using some figurative language he points out that without the assistance of outsiders the country is doomed. “...To get foreign currency you need foreigners...no foreigner...no foreign currency...you cannot love milk without loving the cow...you cannot love an egg without loving the hen...”

In Zambuko (crossing bridge) from Clive Malunga’s 2001 album Sauramba the musician urges people to unite and cross the bridge together advising them to leave behind this “one man” who was causing all the suffering by Zimbabweans.

In another song, Zizi NaNhengure, Malunga idiomatically puts it that little Nhengure has now exploded the myth that Zizi (owl) has horns, a clear reference to Zanu PF and the then newly-formed opposition MDC.

Another protest voice that came clear in the 1990s was that of Robbie Chagumuka who sang Changamire Torarama Sei? (Sir, how do we survive?) In the song the musician’s spirit is troubled with the state of Zimbabwe’s economy that he pleads with the Almighty on the way forward.

It is not only local music that is talking to Mugabe’s fall from hero to zero.

The Zanu PF annual conference ended LAST NIGHT with resounding claims by the top leadership about how the party is growing.

In this week’s Follow Up, our Assistant Editor Maxwell Sibanda traces the fall of what was once a mighty revolutionary party.

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