OPINION: Tuku’s death gives lessons to the politically incurable

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Lovemore Chimaliro

By Lovemore Chimaliro

When Zimbabwe’s history is finally and correctly recorded for eternity, records will show that January 2019 was indeed a month of high drama; firstly for the orgy of violence that characterized the “stayaway”, and secondly for the passing away and celebration of the life of singer, songwriter, actor, writer, philanthropist, human rights activist and entrepreneur, Oliver Mutukudzi, who breathed his last on 23 January 2019, and was interred in Madziwa, Mashonaland Central on January 27.

Ironically, the late national hero was died o the same date with his colleague Hugh Masekela, another music great!

My previous installment discussed the said stay-away, thus this article will dwell particularly on the passing on of iconic musician Tuku, who as it has turned out, is everyone’s hero!

The immense and intense gatherings at his Knowe home (Norton), the Pakare Paye Arts Centre, the National Sports Stadium, as well as at his Madziwa homestead bore testimony to the love and warm regard that Zimbabweans at home and abroad, as well as people from other nations, have for him. Social media went stratospheric with renditions of Tuku’s music by various individuals and groups. The most outstanding mark of respect is the #dhuku4tuku, in which womenfolk, and indeed some brave men, wore black clothes and doeks to celebrate his life. This contemplative, yet celebratory mood continues unabated today, which is a splendid indicator of how dear Tuku remains to all of us.

History will also record that Tuku is the first artise to receive National Hero Status, in a country where this honour had previously been monopolized by the political elite, as defined by the ruling ZANU PF’s all-powerful Politburo and the President of the Republic. In earning that accolade, Tuku may have inadvertently reopened a debate that has been simmering just below the surface. The major question that Tuku once asked in song remains poignant today “What (who) is a Hero?”

That has to be answered! It will be answered! Clearly, this question has gone beyond political questions.

In my humble view, narrow, politicised definitions of National Hero Status no longer apply. I, therefore, submit that sooner rather than later, the powers-that-be start refining such definitions. True, Tuku’s recognition indicates a readiness in the corridors of power to going beyond political limitations and embracing wider considerations for national honours.

It shows that the administration of President Mnangagwa has opened democratic space and undergone a major metamorphosis in the way government handles its business.

Which raises a secondary question, who decides Hero Status?

In one of his straight from the hip barbs, another of Zimbabwe’s foremost musical geniuses, Thomas Mapfumo said that the ordinary people recognized Tuku as a hero well before he was declared as such. That may have passed a lot of us as one of Mukanya’s lightning bolts. Mukanya was raising a very crucial point, albeit in his acerbic manner!

He has a history of a foul mouth and we must forgive him.

In announcing Tuku’s National Hero Status, the President of Zimbabwe, His Excellency Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, explained that the ZANU PF Politburo, Government of Zimbabwe, and himself in his representative capacity as Head of Government and State, had accorded Tuku National Hero Status. That is the status quo. At some point, as debate indicates, this may have to change. Conferment of Hero Status needs a rethink, and it may require setting up an apolitical body to replace ZANU PF Politburo in that equation. The involvement of the Government of Zimbabwe and the Presidency is not debatable. The argument is that an apolitical body will ensure that deserving Zimbabweans will be correctly honoured, regardless of their political affiliations or inclinations.

Away from the celebratory mood of the events surrounding Tuku’s funeral, an issue that cropped up with nauseating regularity, was the attempt by some uncouth political players to extract mileage from the events and use the various gatherings for grandstanding. What a shame!

Any student of political science will explain that “politics is ubiquitous”, it is omnipresent, prevalent, everywhere! Predictably, one should expect politicians to attempt to take advantage of any event or stage to propagate their narrow agenda and selfish pursuit of power, to make a statement. That was, possibly, the lowest point during Tuku’s funeral. With a bit of introspection, our politicians need to mature remarkably quickly and pursue politics characterized by “Unhu/Ubuntu”.

The easiest way of infusing Unhu/Ubuntu in our politics is, ironically, to learn from Tuku himself. Allow me, therefore, to draw a few lessons from Tuku’s almost sixty-seven years, and hope that we, particularly our leaders in the political arena, all learn! That said, it should be accepted that Tuku was not a saint. Like every other person, and because of human fallibility, he had his weaknesses and challenges, most of which have been ventilated adequately via various media platforms. This writer, therefore, is aware that Tuku the artiste and Oliver Mtukudzi the man, were never perfect.

The biggest lesson that our politicians, especially from both ZANU PF and MDC in all its guises, should learn is humility, that quality of modesty! Even in death, Tuku deservedly lays claim to fame. The congregations at his funeral attest to that fact. Here lay a man who did not coerce anyone to either his shows or funeral. Massive crowds converged to celebrate his music and his life. Contrast that with the haughty characters who populate our politics!! You would think they are gods. Disturbingly, when we expected them to pay respect to Tuku, some unscrupulous politicians sought to make his funeral all about themselves. Resultantly, much of the machinations surrounding Tuku’s funeral took on political colour and tone, with the main gladiators being personalities from the main rival parties. The speeches, attitudes and “security arrangements” merely sought to score political points, instead of burying a man, who by any standard, remains a better man than the duplicitous politicians.

Secondly, Tuku left a legacy of achievement. In his sixty-seven years on earth, he produced sixty-six musical albums, a remarkable success!! The majority of these works were topical, relevant and exciting productions. Very few of our politicians can lay claim to such achievements. In fact, it can be argued successfully that the majority of the challenges we face as a country result from a lack of leadership by our politicians. I would have loved to see the report cards of the current Cabinet to date. That would make tragic reading. The same can be said for the past two decades. Time has come for our politicians across the aisle, to accept that cheap talk alone may win you an election, but delivery of service will keep you in office. It is nice to talk, but much more spectacular to walk the talk. Ordinary Zimbabweans are watching, and expecting politicians to produce results and deliver on their electoral promises.

Thirdly, and without doubt, Tuku cultivated and enjoyed intergenerational appeal!! All age groups enjoyed his music, all age groups found resonance in his lyrics, all age groups recognized his superior craftsmanship. In short, Tuku unified the old and the young, women and men, the elite and base, the militant and the pacific. Not so for our politicians!! Much of the dislocation in our society can be traced to divisionism and other isms propounded by our political leaders, some of whom have sought to encourage chasms along age, creed, class, history, religion, race and similar constructs. Surely, can we allow leaders who thrive on dividing us, who excel in destructive rhetoric, who are agents of conflict, to lead us on a road to nowhere? Time is now ripe for leadership that promotes national cohesion and direction, that promotes unity of purposes, that seeks to harness us for the greater good.

Fourthly, despite being immensely talented, Tuku was never a “know-it-all”. In fact, when his music became commercially successful in the late 1990s, it was because he had built around him an astute management team led by Debbie Metcalfe and a veritable team of instrumentalists and vocalists. Additionally, Tuku worked with musicians from other countries, all the time teaching and learning from them! Over the years, the Black Spirits line-up changed, with instrumentalists leaving and dying, and others coming in. His management teams also changed over time, to match the demands of the times. Yet in all that flux, the Tuku brand remained vibrant and consistent. Contrast this with the stubborn, unyielding and “resistant to new ideas” character of our politicians, then you will know why our current politicians do not inspire confidence. If anything, very few of them understand “Brand Zimbabwe”, so cannot be trusted to protect and advance the interests of the country.

Fifthly, Tuku’s interactions with young artistes such as Gary Tight, Mbeu and Toki to name a few,  marked him out as a true mentor. He was keen to invest in the youth, to nurture protégés who would advance the arts in Zimbabwe. I have had occasion to talk to, and work with the said artistes. All of them confirm the value of Tuku’s input in their careers! Once again, contrast this with our politicians who somehow monopolise the political and economic space, with very little investment in the youth! So where Tuku invested in enhancing the skills-set of local youths, politicians would choose to recruit such youths into militia and instigators of civil unrest. Stupidly, such politicians will die with their ideas, leaving Zimbabwe’s youth in a quandary. Tellingly, Tuku was regarded even by his contemporaries as a fountain of wisdom. None other than Alick Macheso and Nicholas Zachariah, both stellar performers, gave testimony to this aspect of Tuku’s character. I wish our politicians could learn from that.

Sixthly, a critical lesson would be the virtue of patience. Despite commencing his musical career in the 1970s, Tuku became a commercial success in the late 1990s!! It was never a smooth journey for him; he rose and fell, rose and fell, but remained dedicated to his craft. Ultimately, he reaped richly and died a successful artiste. The current Parliament has shown that we are in trouble, what with MPs who are bent on feathering their nests and acquiring life’s comforts, without breaking a sweat!! Politics has become a preferred form of employment, an avenue to quick riches, at the expense of national service!!

Seventhly, any summary of Tuku’s discography will confirm that his work was always topical and relevant. His music sought to address real issues and challenges in society. At times he proposed solutions. True to his African sensibilities, his art was at once revelatory and didactic; it sought to expose and to teach. He sang on key institutions; family, women’s rights, the girl-child, marriage, education, HIV and AIDS, love and peace, religion and spirituality……in fact, everything that self-respecting politicians should be grappling with

Frankly, I could go on and on, so rich is the legacy that Tuku left. While the lessons could apply to all of us, I chose to focus on our political elite for obvious reason. We elected them to lead, we expect a lot from them. A listening leadership works wonders for the people. A stubborn leadership leads us to death and destruction.

Rest in power, Tuku!!  

*Lovemore Chimaliro is a scholar, events manager,arts critic/promoter and businessman.He writes in his own capacity.