Weekly Blogger: 10 Great Zimbabweans

By Samuel Chamboko – During the week when we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of our country’s independence, I have decided to take a step back and pay my respects to 10 people who, in my opinion, have pioneered, persevered against the odds and made successes of their lives. Some of these are people who have dedicated great parts of their lives to serving civic society and left indelible landmarks on our country and society in general. In recent years, our country has received a lot of ‘stick’ and bad publicity, for political upheavals, economic turmoil and shortages. There is, however, one resource that has never been in short supply, talented and hardworking people. This list should not be seen as being comprehensive and neither is it exhaustive, its just 10 ordinary people who have lived extra-ordinary lives.

Jairos Jiri- Philantropist

His name is synonymous with the disabled. Born in Bikita in 1921, Jiri established the association bearing his name in the 1950’s in Bulawayo. His dream was to help disabled people. Unbeknown to him this organisation would become a national organisation with facilities in most major urban centres in the country. This association is now a national treasure and has made an impact in the lives of many disabled people who would never have had a chance.

Nicholas Mukomberanwa- Sculptor

Born Obert Matafi in Buhera in 1940, Nicholas horned his artistry at Serima Mission in Gutu district under the guidance of Catholic missionaries. His life changed in 1962 when he met art aficionado, Frank McEwan who helped to bring Shona Sculpture to the world stage. Nicholas exhibited at various galleries around the world, in the process amassing a sizeable personal fortune and fame. Together with his contemporaries Henry Munyaradzi, Joseph Ndandarika and others they opened the way for many other Zimbabwe sculptors to make a name for themselves on the global art stage. Some of his works famous pieces include The Chief, Spirit Owl and Great River Spirit which are still being bought and sold all over the world.

Strive Masiyiwa- Entrepreneur

Founder of African telecommunication company Econet Wireless (short for Enhanced Communication Network), Strive, lived up to his name and strove against adversity to change the face of communication in many African countries. In Zimbabwe Strive fought a 5 year legal battle with the government for an operating licence to launch the first mobile telephone company. He succeeded in the removal of state monopoly in the telecoms sector in Zimbabwe. Econet Wireless has gone on to become the market leader in telecoms in Zimbabwe and a blue chip company on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. For his determination and courage, Strive was listed on forbes.com in November 2011 as the 36th richest man in Africa with a net worth of about $280m.

Safirio Madzikatire- Comedian and Musician

He is Zimbabwe’s own Bill Cosby. While the world had The Cosby Show, we had Mhuri yaVaMukadota (Mukadota’s family). In my opinion, Bill Cosby might have been the richest entertainer at some point, but in terms of talent he had nothing on Mukadota. Unlike Cosby who could only tell jokes, Mukadota could also sing and play the guitar. After spending time as a musical journeyman, he was brought to prominence when his show Mhuri yaVaMukadota, backed by Lever Brothers and produced by former radio announcer and current information minister Webster Shamu, aired on the old Radio Two during the prime time 7.30pm slot. He became famous for his sketches in Surf washing powder commercials and his show evolved into a television sitcom. He opened doors for a other talented people notably Susan Chenjerai who starred as his wife, Mai Rwizi, in the sitcom and Elizabeth Taderera (Katarina) on the musical side of things. Sitcoms also became the first moving pictures to be produced by ZTV and a lot of other comedians have come through since including Parafini, Mutirowafanza, Gringo and lately Timi naBhonzo.

Edson Zvobgo- Politician, academic and legal guru

Some see him as a controversial political figure, but that is just one side of him. This was a man who attained the honour of becoming the first black Zimbabwean to graduate from Harvard University with a Ph.D. Not content with this achievement he returned to Harvard to teach law, another major feat. He rose to national prominence when he was engaged by ZANU (PF) to be their legal advisor at the Lancaster House talks. While he is blamed for drafting the contentious constitution that provided ‘executive powers’ to the head of state, he is celebrated in academic circles as being a legal mind without peer.

Miriam Mlambo- Radio Personality and Child rights activist

Popularly known as Mbuya Mlambo, this lady devoted her life to the well-being of children. For years she was involved in children related projects around the township of Mbare, having started off as a teacher. She became famous when in the 1960’s she winged a radio slot for the ever so popular children’s radio programme ‘Mitambo yevana vadiki’ (Children’s plays) which she presented with aplomb and warmth well in the 21st first century. The song ‘Itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini’ (originally done by Brian Hyland) was her signature tune and when it played at 1630hrs every Friday, kids around the country stopped playing and for 30 minutes we ate from the palm of this never ageing granny.

John Marange aka Johane Marange- African Apostle

Founder of the John Marange Apostolic Church in 1932, after he had received a vision instructing him to be an apostle of Christ. Raised and educated as a Methodist, after the vision John spent the rest of his life taking the word of God, mainly on foot, to many remote areas around Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa and as far north as the DRC. His followers are easily identifiable by their snow white robes, clean shaven heads, long beards (for men) and long hook-shaped walking sticks. His church is believed by many to be the original African apostolic church, commonly known as Mapostori. Many other churches have split from this church and formed their own versions of African Apostolic Churches, which include Johane Masowe, Johane Masowe weChishanu, Postori yekwaMugodhi and many others. John Marange’s contribution to evangelisation by Africans to Africans indeed should be celebrated and his legacy lives on.

Bhundu Boys- Musical Band

This was a group of 5 young men who literally sold everything to come and seek fame and fortune in the UK. Having made their name soon after independence in Zimbabwe by churning out hit songs like Chekudya Chese, Simbimbino, Babamunini Francis, and of course Hatichadanana naChipo (which my wife hates) H among a whole list. The group, through their producer in Zimbabwe where introduced to a budding musical promoter who had heard their music being featured by legendary BBC radio announcer John Peel on his show. In no time they found themselves eking out a living in pubs around Edinburgh and Glasgow. Their music and shows became very popular and the highlight for them was opening for Madonna at Wembley in front of 80,000 people and they did not disappoint. They were soon signed up by Sony Music and their music was being played all over the world. Despite the implosion within 10 years of going global, the Bhundu Boys took Zimbabwean music to the world. Their jiti (Shona folk music) based music and catchy lyrics endeared them to many folk, especially in Scotland, where I am told they are remembered fondly. Financial impropriety and power struggles between band leader Rise Kagona and charismatic guitarist and lead singer Biggie Tembo (born Mhosva Rodwell Marasha) are among the issues that led to the break-up of the Bhundu Boys.

Freddy Mukwesha- Ex-football professional

To many Zimbabweans the first black player ever to have played overseas was Moses Chunga, but that is not so, it is actually Freddy Mukwesha who signed for Portuguese Primera League team Sporting de Braga in the late 1960’s. Being a founder member of two time African Champions League finalists and Harare giants Dynamos in 1963, he was instrumental in Dynamos replacing Salisbury Callies as the top team in Harare. Prior to the formation of Dynamos, Salisbury Callies, a whites-only team, was the most successful team in the then Rhodesia. The tide changed with the formation of Dynamos. Initially a great rivalry was created, with many seeing Dynamos v Callies games as essentially blacks v whites. Talk in the football stands around Rufaro Stadium, Dynamos’ spiritual home-ground is that Dynamos’ dominance over Callies resulted in many ‘white’ sponsors pulling out of the game as they did not want Dynamos to win their money. Ultimately this lead to Callies folding. Little information is available on how Freddy Mukwesha performed at Braga. He was to return to Harare and cross the great divide by joining Dynamos’ arch-rivals CAPS United as a coach, grooming top players such as Shackman Tauro, Joel Shambo, Brenna Msiska and many others. Although it took a while for other players to find their way to top leagues in Europe, Mukwesha was the pioneer and needs to be recognised for this outstanding achievement. Subsequently we have had decent trickle of players to Europe the most high profile being Bruce Grobelaar, Chunga, Peter Ndlovu and lately Benjani Mwaruwari.

Byron Black- Ex-tennis professional

Born in the then Salisbury (now Harare) in 1969, Byron was introduced to tennis by his father and legendary tennis coach, the late Don Black. He would turn pro after attending college in the US and participated on the ATP tour. His highest singles ranking was 22 and as a singles player he made the quarter-finals at the US Open and at Wimbledon. He was to find more success though as a doubles player with his long-time partner Jonathan Stark as they won the French Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon. He also formed the core of the Zimbabwe Davis Cup team together with his young brother Wayne. They produced the country’s finest moment in tennis history by qualifying for the prestigious Davis Cup World Group. The marquee fixture was when Zimbabwe hosted the USA at the City Sports Centre. The US team had Andre Agassi and was captained by tennis legend John McEnroe. This raised the country’s profile as a tennis nation and opened the way for many young tennis talents from disadvantaged backgrounds. Byron won the Sportsperson of the Year award on numerous occasions. For his contribution to sport and tennis in particular, we doff our hats to Byron Black.

Feel free to add own your list of people who you think have done our country proud, especially those whose names have never been mentioned.

Happy Independence Day!