The earth takes back its gift

HARARE - My first encounter with Pretty Xaba was way back when I was a Theatre Arts student at the University of Zimbabwe.

In partial fulfilment of the Theatre in Society component, we were tasked to go out to work with a community group of our choice.

Together with Evans Mawonera, who used to write as Denga Onano in Prize magazine, Nkosiyabo Nkiwane and John Jumo Makono, we chose Block 9 of Shawasha Flats in Matapi, Mbare for our project.

Then under the mentorship of Robert Mtshengu McLaren aka Robert Kavanagh, we met a group of young men and women keen to whet their stage skills.

Pretty Xaba was part of the group, which included the likes of Towards Nyandoro, Tariro, one Gardner and a few others with whom we worked on an adaptation of Willie Chigidi’s Imwe Chanzi Ichabvepi, a Shona play that revolves around infidelity.

Our research leading into the productions took us to the speed markets around the hostels, the community kitchens outside each set of hostel blocks, the Block 7 and Shawasha beer gardens.

The beer gardens have since closed.

We would talk to the men and women who struggled to eke out a living with their families in overcrowded conditions.

The improvisations we worked on with the group were to form the core of our scripts for the various productions to emerge from Block 9.

Pretty’s acting skills were apparent from the onset and besides leading the group, she displayed an insatiable appetite to learn more.

Her commitment was  very unquestionable.

She lived in Waterfalls then and would commute and always arrive in time for rehearsals.

On some rare occasions, our lecturer — whom we always referred to as Robert — would accompany us to Matapi, by far one of the places which would remind visitors of the theories behind the construction of the hostels in Mbare — not very far from the heavy and light industrial sites in Southerton, Graniteside  and Workington — ensuring them a constant supply of labour.

The driver, a Chitsunge would drive us to the high density suburb in a Faculty of  Social Sciences mini-bus. We were to later present an adaptation of Imwe Chanzi Ichabvepi before a capacity audience at the UZ’s “Home of Theatre” — the Beit Hall.

The play proved so popular with the audience and assured us First Class passes in that particular component.

This was to be followed by another one on life in the Matapi Hostels.  The group had renewed confidence in themselves.

I was to interact with Pretty after university and she would always express how grateful she was to us for nurturing and helping, in our own small way, develop her talent.

She was such a humble person. So full of smiles. So wealthy intellectually. That was Pretty Xaba for you.

I last met Pretty at Batanai Mall along Jason Moyo Avenue and we exchanged numbers.

We spoke on a number of occasions after that but I learnt later that she was battling the cancer that she succumbed to in India where she had gone for treatment on Saturday.

I had grown to admire Pretty for being a down-to-earth person.

In a very short space of time, Pretty was to appear in the celebrated local soapie Studio 263, from which she drew most of her following for her role as Mai Muwengwa.

Although I had personally not quite left the stage business, having later worked with Zambuko/Izibuko with the likes of Titus Moetsabi and Simbarashe Yafele, then a teacher at Marlborough High School.

However, my tight schedule as a journalist later in life would not allow me the flexibility to continue acting although I would always watch plays in Theatre in the Park, Reps among others including visits to a number of community groups in Mabvuku, Glen View and Chitungwiza.

But theatre demands commitment and is one occupation you can not  afford to be absent from.

If one person is absent, the whole production suffers because there is no way rehearsals could continue.

Pretty understood all this and would provide guidance, advice and motivation to the rest of her younger colleagues at Shawasha.

Pretty has been taken away from our midst too early. I reckon she had a lot more to offer the film and theatre fraternity in particular and Zimbabwean arts in general.

She had grown to become such an accomplished actor and could answer any film director’s call.

The earth indeed has taken back its gift.  I am borrowing this from a colleague Memory Chirere.

May Her Dear Soul Rest in Eternal Peace.

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