By Mashingaidze Gomo
PRIOR to the July 31 elections, when the self-exiled Thomas Mapfumo indicated interest in returning to Zimbabwe, many, including policy makers from ZANU PF, the party he has consistently maligned in the past decade, indicated they would give him something akin to a hero’s welcome.
And, the attitude was consistent with the popular interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.
The parable advocates forgiveness and it places more value on finding the lost than preserving the loyalty of the hard-working, the honest and the patriotic.
I thought that if Mapfumo comes across as a prodigal son, pining for the freedom and comforts of home because he is no longer at ease in a land where black people are institutionally marginalised, the prodigal son’s brother must be no other than Chinx Chingaira.
I thought that the parable of the Prodigal Son is futile as a guide for handling deserters and that it is high time Zimbabweans also rejected an exclusive Christian interpretation of the parable.
I thought that in the interests of justice it should be more practical to interpret the parable from the perspective and interests of the prodigal son’s brother who held fort while the prodigal son was living it up nevarungu.
If the prodigal son has to be forgiven and welcomed back, then his brother surely deserves high rewards for having continued to develop and defend the home whose security and comfort the prodigal son is glad to be returning to.
The name Chinx Chingaira has become synonymous with Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle in all its forms.
For over three and half decades now, Chinx has sung for the black Zimbabwean’s liberation struggle.
He is one artist who has never faltered, doubted or felt ashamed of the struggle, even when it reached its lowest ebb, battered by illegal western sanctions invited upon us by an alliance between our own black kith and kin and the local white agents of Western imperialism.
Chinx continued to hold fort, even as other artists deserted en masse.
While I believe that that is the making of a legend, I believe the saddest thing is that the society that he has sung for and the revolution whose fire he has consistently stoked and kept burning has not recognised him for what he truly is. And one wonders if they are waiting for him to die, so that they give him a well-deserved prize he will no longer be there to collect and enjoy; or a limelight a non-actor will be the one to grab by simply being the one to declare to the world kuti: ‘The gap Chinx has left will be difficult to fill’.
I have met Chinx here and there on the streets of Harare and only greeted him once because he was in the company of one Tembo, also an artist, who wanted to talk to me.
So, I am writing without having talked to him, and it is a choice I have deliberately made.
I recognise that legends are often compromised when personally known.
But, that is not to say that there are no advantages in knowing the human side of legends.
In fact, it is also good to know them as human; everyday people vanotoshevedzwawo kuti, “Taisa sadza, chigezayi maoko tidye.”
And they leave what they are doing, wash their hands and eat from the same plate as other very everyday people.
It inspires up-coming artists who think legends are gods who don’t go through the everyday paces of living or growing up.
I once heard Chinx say that he is the great grandson of the First Chimurenga legend, Chingaira, who was beheaded by British occupation forces and the head made into a trophy of conquest that was sent back to the British imperial government of that time.
It means that for over a century now, the great Chingaira has lain restless in a British museum cabinet, displayed just as another object of historical curiosity. Mashayamombe, also known as Chinengudu, suffered the same fate.
They are both not in graves where they can turn to spite us, the intended beneficiaries of their sacrifice, for spending three generations of independence without ever breaching the subject of repatriation of their heads.
Given this background, I want to believe that Chinx Chingaira’s voice is in a most critical sense a stubborn reminder of the earlier legend still in captivity.
It is an insistent reminder of the nation’s unfinished revolutionary business.
It is a refusal to die.
Chinx Chingaira’s voice is a message to say that we live on in the children we bear.
We live on in the blood that runs in the bodies and minds of those derived from us. It’s a message to say that it is not only immuno deficiency that is carried in the blood we pass onto our children.
The same blood also carries resistance to racist domination and it is in Zimbabwe’s interests to highlight all visible instances of this phenomenon.
In the foregoing regard, a celebration of Chinx would therefore also be a celebration of generations of unyielding resistance to colonial domination.
The non-recognition of Chinx Chingaira in a manner that is tangible for all to see and be encouraged foregrounds fundamental weaknesses that have bedeviled our struggles to restore shattered African dignity.
And, I am writing to say that in the 33 years we have exercised the mandate to chart our own destiny as black people, our greatest weakness has been our failure to reward our patriotic artists without going back to those who do not like our revolution to ask if those who sing its praise are good enough.
And, the answer has always been a big ‘NO’.
And we have allowed it to hurt us without ever objectively asking why we expected a different answer.
From the days of ‘Sendekera’ during the liberation struggle to date, Chinx has been true to Zimbabwe and sung as only a true African singer sings.
There is recognition in Chinx’ songs that the power of the African song is in antiphony, which translates to communal effort.
Chinx has known that no true African singer sings for himself alone.
No true African singer sings alone.
A true African voice raised in song is most essentially an invitation for kith and kin to join and speak the sung message in one voice.
This is why when Chinx raised his voice to observe, “Kamunda kaye kamakandipa sabhuku hakambokwana chibage,” the whole nation assented kuti: “Ndizvozvo Mukoma Chakanyuka zvinogumbura fani.”
And, it is the land message that fired the liberation struggle.
And for this, Chinx Chingaira and other artists who have maintained consistent loyalty to Zimbabwe do need meaningful and tangible rewards that bring recognisable change in their lives, so that future generations of artists are encouraged to defend the values that make Zimbabwe stand.