Friday 23 September 2011

Simon Chimbetu was a closed box - intrigue

I fought in the liberation war and still think of my comrades who died in my arms. They never fought for their own families alone but they fought so that Zimbabweans can repossess what had been taken away from them by the whites. I look at the opposition parties across Africa, just as I look at all new things that come up, and I realise that they have no base. I am a revolutionary and what I see in most of our opposition parties is a group of people who have no foundation, they can’t think on their own. - Simon Chimbetu

Simon Chimbetu was an intrigue. Those who knew him well talk about a man who was like a picture album. There were parts of his life he never spoke openly about. Whatever secrets he haboured, they went with him into his grave.
He never made it a secret though that he was a staunch Zanu-PF supporter even claiming to have gone to Tanzania to train as a guerrilla.
It was for this reason that he included a song about the liberation war on every album. And most if not all such songs stand out even today. Who can forget Ndarangarira Gamba or Pane Asipo?
But come what may, Simon, who served a four-year jail term from 1990 till 1994 for car theft, never admitted that he indeed was guilty. His protest was even captured in the song Utete Ura Wangu where he asks why gondo uchibata mwana wangu/ muchecheche asina mhosva.
Simon also never spoke openly about his role in the liberation struggle. Indeed, there have been conflicting details on this although Simon was buried at Mashonaland West Provincial Heroes Acre in 2005.
His young brother, the late Naison with whom he started his music career could not say whether Simon went to war or not.
When Simon passed away and I was working on the story, I spoke to his brother-in-law who looked after him when he came to Harare. The brother-in-law said Simon was one of the pupils abducted from a school in Msengezi but was asked to return home because he was young. When Simon returned to Chegutu where his father worked on a farm, he was sent to Harare to escape the Rhodesian army.
Later Naison followed and the duo that stayed in Dzivaresekwa then started singing in bars until they were discovered by Chris Matema who sent them to see Zexie Manatsa. That was sometime in 1978 just when the war was drawing to an end. Once at Zexie’s, the brothers failed to find help and had to go back to Matema who then sent them to Mushandirapamwe Hotel in Highfield where Joseph Ngoyi and the OK Success were resident.
At the time, both Simon and Naison could not play any musical instrument although they had songs.
Once given a chance to prove themselves, Simon and Naison took over completely thereby making Ngoyi and his boys jealous. In the end, the hotel management had to ask Ngoyi to leave.
Left without a backing group, they went back to Matema who sent them to Domboshava where the Sungura Boys were resident. When they brought the Sungura Boys to Harare, once again problems emerged – the brothers proved too good for the backing group. It was at this time when John Chibadura was brought in to compose and sing for the Sungura Boys and counter the fame of the Chimbetus.
In the end, the Sungura Boys were asked to leave and then the Chimbetus recruited some boys and formed the Marxist Brothers.
This is according to Naison but Simon never confirmed it.
There is something else – Simon accused Leonard Zhakata of stealing his song Mugove. Remember, when Zhakata and his cousin the late Thomas Makion were starting out, they had a stint with the Marxist Brothers.
It is because of this that Simon and Zhakata were never close and Simon never apologised.
Simon loved the media. But sometimes, he would make you wait if it suited him.
Simon also never admitted that he ill-treated Naison by taking away the equipment when they split leaving him stranded. He also said nothing about the claims made by Naison that he did not share the proceeds of their album sales.
Neither did he comment on the rumours that he hated his brother because he had slept with his wife when he was in prison. In his last days, Naison’s mouth appeard as if he had been hit by a stroke and this brings me to the issue of a spirit that is said to haunt the Chimbetu family.
When I interviewed Knowledge Kunenyathi (see his story) who spoke about rampant use of juju by musicians, he mentioned Simon as one of the musicians who visited an n’anga in Chipinge. In fact, Kunenyathi said Ketai Muchawaya (leader of Kasongo and founder of The Simba Brothers) and Simon shared the same n’anga.
The family has, however, confirmed that they live in perpetual fear of a spirit that haunts and has been haunting them for decades.

See Godwin Muzari’s story below:
Chimbetus Living in Perpetual Fear of the Underworld

They boast what could be considered the best music genealogy in the land but members of the Chimbetu family are living in perpetual fear of an alleged evil spirit wreaking havoc in the clan.
The family that has brought forth a line of talented musicians in the form of Simon, Naison, Briam, Allan, Sulumani and Tryson has reportedly been on the receiving end of the malignant spirit for some years.
Some of the family members last week confirmed that they were living in fear as mysterious happenings, threats and nightmares trail them day and night.
A source close to the family says the Chimbetus hold family indabas regularly to map strategies to counter "the horror".
Allan, the eldest surviving family member, confirmed that the family has been embroiled in a vicious fight with an evil spirit that has tormented most of the members.
Sulumani said that the song Horror from his latest album Reverse Deal, in which he talks of having serious nightmares, was a reflection of personal experiences.
Tryson said he was shaken by an accident involving his band members that destroyed his instruments and forced him to abort shows earlier this year.
Most of the members have diverted from their fathers' traditional religion to seek refuge in other religions that are believed to offer better solutions to their plight.
Allan has turned to an apostolic sect; Sulumani now attends Christ Embassy Ministries while Tryson has joined a Pentecostal church.
Allan gave an account of the family ordeal.
"It started with the late mukoma Simon complaining about strange things happening in his life. He had bad dreams and hallucinations and was afraid of travelling.
"He was involved in a number of accidents during the last days of his life and the strange thing is that all the accidents involved donkeys."
True to Allan's word, Simon confessed the strange happenings in his life to this writer in 2004 when he was explaining the song Kikiri Kikiri on his last album Ten Million Pounds Reward.
The song is the musician's plea to evil spirits to stop following him. Simon said the song was a true and sincere message to people who were casting spirits upon him and making his life miserable.
Less than a year after the release of the album, Simon died and Allan says the death was "mysterious".
It is believed in the family that the bad spirit was responsible for the death of Simon and other three elders within a few years.
"Our father died a few days after complaining about a strange object that was choking him and Simon also complained of a sore throat and passed away barely a month after father's death," Allan explained.
Although the family members believe Naison's death was natural since he had been ill for a long time, they raised questions about Briam's death. Briam complained of swollen and painful legs.
Allan admitted that these strange happenings had seen him leaving his fathers' religion to become an apostolic sect member.
"At my church we have what are known as angels of war that have the power to forecast any problems in one's life and help that individual fight the problems," he said.
"I have been told a lot of things about this evil spirit and I have waged serious wars against it victoriously. I was actually the next in line after Briam's death but I am still strong. I will only die by the will of God."
Although Sulumani could not reveal much about the "horror" that he sang about, the musician said he has visions of people visiting him at night.
"You can see faces of people you know coming to haunt you at night. Most of the time I just get paralysed. I fail to move or even shout. It is a harrowing experience but I believe it happens to many other people."
Sulumani has moved from one Pentecostal church to another but is now settled at the one whose leader is believed to be blessed with immense powers to cast away evil spirits and diseases.
In the same vein Tryson -- Naison's oldest son -- believes that God will protect him regardless of the prying spirit.
"I will not be affected anymore. My God will protect me through whatever situation," Tryson said. – The Standard

All these things went with Simon to his grave.

I fell in love with the Marxist Brothers’ music long before meeting Simon. Although he was popular before his jail term, Simon became a real super star when he returned. Then he would perform six days a week. At Boomerang, the Tube along Mbuya Nehanda, Mushandirapamwe and then Saratoga.
During the Jenaguru concerts at Gwanzura in the late 90s when Alick Macheso was rising, fans would wait for Simon to come from wherever he would be performing. At one such event, his Mazda 929 was almost lifted by ecstatic fans.
When I finally met him in 2004, his fame had subsided. He came for an interview for the Saturday Herald’s Star of the Week column. I had just joined the stable as a senior entertainment reporter.
For one thing, Simon had a taste for good clothes. And in one interview he says that when their music started selling well, they spent lots of money on clothes. So he came and we did the interview which centred mainly on why he included a song or two about the liberation war on his albums.
When I asked him about his war credentials, he was non-committal. I did not push further.
He then refused to have pictures taken then because he wanted a proper photo-shoot and he had to get a new suit and have his hair done. We had to arrange for the next day. He also chose Sunday Mail photographer, Lee Maidza, who is now with H-metro to take the pictures.
Indeed, he came the next day as per his promise. He had a dark pin-stripped suit and had his hair done the traditional Chimbetu style – bhibho cut.
Then we spent time scouting for a suitable site. The Africa Unity Square was not suitable, he said, too many people. The streets, he said no again. We had to drive to Masasa.
It took us about an hour to get the pictures right. Every time he would ask to see how the shots looked like.
The story was crucial for him then because it was a critical time. His shows rarely drew a huge crowd. People were shunning him ostensibly because of his album Hoko which spoke about State House being unreachable.

This is the story
Chimbetu true black fighter
Artist includes a song on the liberation struggle on every album
Most people make plans, set resolutions and enact laws. But not all of them carry out those plans; fulfill the resolutions and follow the law to the last letter.
Those who do so only show their commitment even in the face of difficulties and life threatening situations.
There is usually a set pattern in the life or work of such people. One can easily trace a distinct development that may start at an early age into adulthood.
This is the kind of pattern one sees when they look at the music of Simon "Chopper" Chimbetu. It's a pattern that established him as a fighter for black emancipation through music from the onset of his musical career.
As such, on every album that he has released over the years, Chimbetu includes a song that talks about the war of liberation.
"It's every musician's duty to remind the people, especially the young ones who never saw the war how it was like then. So whenever we perform at national events such as musical galas, we should not forget the message in the songs," Chimbetu, who denied that he was a spent force, said this week in an interview,
"The message on my songs, especially Hoko, led to a campaign aimed at bringing me down. Yes, there was a time when sales of the same album went down. People were afraid of attending my shows. Those who came did so under protest, but still they came.
"I do not know what was the difference between Hoko and all other earlier albums in which I included songs that have a war theme."
Calling his music Dendera and the type of their dance Njuzu, Chimbetu's music is indeed about the war.
His first album, Mwana Wedangwe, released in 1983 carries Ndiri Musoja and Patakatsika. The son in Ndiri Musoja bids his parents farewell and gives himself over to the cause of liberating the majority.
On Dendera Resango, his 1984 release, there is Africa, a massive song about pan Africanism. With Africa, Chimbetu evokes the spirit of Che Guevara, a South American freedom fighter who loved to see all the peoples of the world living freely,
Guevara's home became those countries where people 'still lived under oppression. In the 1950s he helped Fidel Castrol in Cuba before travelling all the way to wage war in the jungles of the then Belgian Congo.
In a way, Chimbetu's Africa also serves to show that exploitation of man by man is universal and that problems arising from such acts are common.
Rwendo Rurefu is found on the album Gomo Risina Muchero, which was a powerful album with evocative lyrics. The song Rwendo Rurefu itself narrates the trials and tribulations of the long and torturous journey the cadres undertook in order to arrive here today.
Offered on the 1988 album Boterekwa is Lisaidiye, which means help while Nguva Yakaoma (1990) carries Shingisayi Moyo.
In 1995, Chimbetu released two albums - Zuva Raenda and Survival. Zuva Raenda itself was about war while Survival has Pane Asipo.
Pane Asipo has turned out to be the song people longed to hear play when a hero or heroine passes away. It reminds people about those who never walked back home to enjoy and celebrate the way we do. And that void, no matter what we do, will remain open.
Pachipamwe was the 1996 album and the title song was the song about war. It simply meant that we still have the same problems. This was an apparent reference to the land that was still under the ownership of a few whites.
The reluctance by the whites to integrate with the majority blacks is the subject of a song now popularly referred to as KuBudiriro by Chimbetu's fans. Here he takes a swipe at the isolationist attitude of the minority whites who whenever blacks move into the neighbourhood, they change location. It's the same with schools, sport and industries.
Chimbetu says that while we think that we are Zimbabweans, the truth of the matter is that the whites are in their own country since they do not bother to be part and parcel of State functions. One does not see them at soccer matches,
"Can't they play'" Chimbetu asks. Maybe, we do not have to look far to see what he meant - look at cricket and you will understand.
But his 2002 album, Hoko that came at the height of the land occupations defined his future. The private media made mince meat of Chimbetu. He was ridiculed for his stance on land. But in the face of such difficulties and life-threatening situation, he stood resolute because he believed in the cause.
As usual, in what became a case of right over wrong, wrong prevailed and the album that celebrated the taking over of land by the majority blacks suffered poor sales as compared to all his previous albums,
"I must admit that Hoko was affected by the campaign by my enemies who encouraged people not to buy my music. I was told that some people even threw away or destroyed cassettes and vinyl they had," said Chimbetu, who was quick to add that the sales of the same album had since picked up.
"When I released the album, people did not understand it. The music seeks to educate and inform, not to encourage violence and such other things.
"I am glad that now people have seen the light. Even those who threw away my music are buying it back. I do not regret singing about land. I do it not for myself but for my country. What was done (taking land back) is right. Even the whites know that it's the right thing;" said Chimbetu, a resettled farmer himself, who believes that resettlement will eventually help the economy to regain its former glory
"When people get enough to eat, then they will able to sell the surplus. This way, the economy will not be overburdened." Chimbetu's resoluteness was also shown when he returned from jail in the 90s.
Instead of moaning and sulking over his misfortunes, he came back into the music industry with a bang. No show was a show without Chimbetu.
At Gwanzura during the Jenaguru Music concerts, fans would sleep in the turf while waiting for Chimbetu to have his turn on the stage.
At one time, it took him about 30min to drive from the vehicle entrance to the back of the stage at Gwanzura, a 30th stretch, when fans mobbed his car.
It takes real men to stick to what they believe. Many have wavered before but not Simon Chimbetu.

Hoko is a very brilliant album but most people missed the message just like any one would miss the message in any one of Simon’s albums.
The message was misconstrued as referring to the opposition parties and their leaders. So just like Andy Brown and Cde Chinx, Simon’s popularity plummeted. This also affected his last album $10m Reward. The only shows which guaranteed Simon huge crowds were galas.
This made him stronger in his beliefs and ideology and support of Zanu-PF. In one interview with Mduduzi Mathuthu he declared: “I fought in the liberation war and still think of my comrades who died in my arms.”

Read the whole interview below:
Chimbetu: 'I am a critic of foolish politics'

By Mduduzi Mathuthu

When we put a news flash on the website last week about our forthcoming interview with sungura music king Simon Chopper” Chimbetu, the floodgates to hell flung open.
New was now a Zanu PF mouth-piece, some of our readers shouted. Simon Chimbetu is the musician who has become embedded with the ruling Zanu PF party and has in fact boasted of evicting a white commercial farmer in Kadoma at the height of the infamous land grabs, we were reminded.
You got the feeling we had done or were about to do something treacherous by giving space to Chimbetu. But we remained determined to talk to Chimbetu. It has always been our policy not to judge anyone, but rather hear their story and present it to the court of public opinion.
So when I was ushered into Chimbetu’s dressing room just before he went on stage in Bradford, England, a picture of a militant war veteran averse to reasonable dialogue started forming in my mind.
“You are ex-Daily News and you now work for the dot com thugs? So what do you want from me,” I expected he would say when I introduced myself.
Much to my shock, and maybe disappointment (being mouthed off by celebrity is usually a good story), Chimbetu greeted me with a hug, then offered me a seat just adjacent to him.
“Every Zimbabwean is a friend,” he told me. “We all have different views about issues but we are Zimbabwean first and we should not forget that.”
Clad in jeans from top to bottom and wearing a huge smile, it was hard to believe that the man I was looking at -- a former music icon for many – is the war veteran credited with forcibly driving out farmers in Kadoma.
At 49, Chimbetu looks as fit as a fiddle. Memories of those sell-out shows that I used to watch at the Large City Hall in Bulawayo came flooding back. It was hard to believe that once Zimbabwe’s best seller, the man before me is currently fighting to stay afloat in the music industry after years of dominance.
I mentioned a call I had made to my sister who is by no means a music enthusiast. I had told my sister in Zimbabwe that I would be interviewing Chimbetu later in the day, to which she had responded: “Chimbetu is a nobody here….he now plays in the Growth Points like System Tazvida.”
The expression on his face was that of utter amazement and disdain. Chimbetu, who describes himself as a "critic of foolish politics" is a man of conviction and courage, as I later discovered during the interview. He intelligently picks his words, calmly spitting them out with much hand gesticulation.
“Yes I play at Growth Points, but is there anything wrong with that?,” he quizzed me. “How do you grow as a musican if you don’t play at Growth Points? I find that the most normal thing to do and it gives me much satisfaction to be among the people who got me to where I am today.
“I have never been a main to exclusively play in comfy surroundings,” he said. “I went to war and saw how my friends suffered, died and were buried in shallow pits. Their suffering and my own has caused me to detest luxury.”
The man might not be popular in Zimbabwe, but in the UK he was a hit. At least 2000 people attended his show at London’s Stratford Rex, and they were not disappointed. Oozing confidence and defiance, Chimbetu belted tunes from old and the recent past as the first artist on stage before Mzekezeke and Mafikizolo, and then returned to bring down the curtain.
But no public showing of defiance can cloak the fact that Chimbetu is currently news for what his fans rightly see as the wrong reasons.
Last month, two war veterans took him to court over a disputed farm in Kadoma which measures 500 hectares. Chimbetu is engaged in maize farming, milk and cheese production and cattle rearing on the farm.
"What I am saying to these two fellow war veterans is that they are my
brothers and I am prepared to share with them because we waged the Third
Chimurenga together in the district….,” Chimbetu told a Herald reporter.
The Third Chimurenga he refers to is the violent seizure of white commercial farms by President Robert Mugabe’s shock troops. Surely, that can’t be right for a musician who still wants to further his career, I put it to him.
“It will be difficult to convince me that what I am doing is wrong,” Chimbetu retorted. “We are correcting a part of history which for many years our younger generation did not learn maybe due to the education system, or they were simply not allowed to learn.”
By now I was feeling the political animal inside Chimbetu, as his face contorted with every sentence.
“I fought in the liberation war and still think of my comrades who died in my arms,” Chimbetu says as he warms up to his theme. “They never fought for their own families alone but they fought so that Zimbabweans can repossess what had been taken away from them by the whites.
“I look at the opposition parties across Africa, just as I look at all new things that come up, and I realise that they have no base. I am a revolutionary and what I see in most of our opposition parties is a group of people who have no foundation, they can’t think on their own.
“Such parties have no national interest but rather selfish ambitions and don’t deserve to lead the people and the people don’t deserve to be led by them. In fact we must not talk about them because they are already out of the game. That is why you are seeing revolutionary movements across Africa reinventing themselves and identifying with the people while the opposition is waning.”
Being a war veteran is not wrong, I reasoned with Chimbetu. But the accompanying violence that has become part of the Zimbabwean life must surely be something that he thinks about.
"I am against violence," he says. "If we fight, that's when the enemy will gain access to our minds and begin to control us....fighting among ourselves will make things worse."
Such is Chimbetu’s connection with the liberation war that he has named his farm and his backing band Dendera, after the Mozambican camp which the Chimbetu brothers called home during the revolutionary struggle against white settlers in the 1970s.
As a musician, Chimbetu, like many before him, found his footing in a band before heading out to pursue a solo career, first finding success in the Marxist Brothers.
The Marxist Brothers eventually dissolved in the mid-90s as the members left to pursue their own careers, while others joined Simon's backing band, Dendera Kings. This set the stage for Simon to assume the position of one of Zimbabwe's premier sungura artists.
Taking the torch from acts such as Jonah Moyo, Chimbetu hit stardom with albums such as Survival, and Lullaby. Compared to most Zimbabwe rhumba and sungura, Simon's songs feature guitar solos sandwiched between prominent vocal lines and repetitive guitar riffs. His music is similar to that of his earlier band, the Marxist Brothers, as well as popular rhumba musician Leonard Zhakata. His songs tend to focus on the working class and the poor; unsurprisingly, therefore, Chimbetu has come out in support of the recent land grab.
It is time for Chimbetu to go on stage. As I am ushered out, it is clear to me that Chimbetu will not change his views about the events in Zimbabwe. He is so convinced he is right that he will risk his career to hold on to his views. Brave man, I think to myself.
“When no-one likes Chimbetu anymore,” he says as I prepare to walk out, “tell them to remember the good things that I did.”

I last spoke to Simon after the accident he had on his way to Karoi a few months before his death. My colleague Garikai Mazara had accompanied him to Karoi. He called giving me the details of the accident and I spoke to Simon who said he was fine.
But a few months down the line, he was taken ill and died.
For the first time, most probably, a musician was given a national sent-off. When his body was taken from Mashfords in Harare in the early evening, the city ground to a halt. The block where Mashfords is was closed off to traffic as people jostled to get a glimpse of the man whose music spoke about their plight.
At least, this is what most people forgot about Simon’s music. Songs such as Zuva Raenda and Ndaremerwa are about the people’s plight.
Then from downtown Harare, the hearse went to Gwanzura stadium where a huge crowd was waiting. It was more of a celebration for a life well lived than a death so saddening.
Simon was then laid to rest.

Read story below

Fans pay last respects to Chimbetu

By Trust Khosa

Veteran singer Simon “Chopper” Chimbetu was on Wednesday laid to rest – Moslem-style – at the Chinhoyi Provincial Heroes Acre attended by thousands of mourners from a cross section of society.
The Dendera king, who died on Sunday at his Mabelreign home in Harare after a short illness, belonged to the Yao ethnic group that embraces the Islamic faith.
Speaker after speaker hailed Chimbetu as a great musician whose void would be difficult to fill, while stakeholders in the music industry said “Chopper” had left behind a legacy that should be kept burning.
Chimbetu was declared a liberation war hero on Tuesday and becomes the 16th person buried at the historic shrine.
In his eulogy, Chegutu MP and Cabinet minister Webster Shamu, said Chimbetu was not a ‘mercenary’ but a patriotic musician who had Zimbabwe at heart.
“Chimbetu has left behind an indelible mark on the music scene and he remains a pillar of strength as he was a true social commentator,” Shamu told the huge gathering.
“His love for the country saw him participate in the Third Chimurenga and he would accompany me wherever I held my campaigns,” he added.
Shamu, himself no stranger to the microphone considering his stint as a broadcaster for the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC) and later Radio Maputo, said musicians should take a leaf from Chimbetu, who, after building his career on the tradition of the protracted liberation struggle still remained focused by preaching the bitter lessons of the bush via music.
Mashonaland West governor Nelson Samkange echoed similar sentiments describing the late singer as a principled citizen who taught young generations about the values of the struggle through song.
Among the multitudes of mourners who thronged the cemetery were National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and Gramma Records officials as well as top musicians Alick Macheso, Nicholas Zakaria, Tongai Moyo, Last Chiangwa a.k.a Tambaoga, Cde Chinx, the Makombe Brothers and the pride of Chinhoyi, First Farai, to mention just a few.
Wife Angela and six children survive Chimbetu - Daily Mirror/
Chimbetu: death of a fine gentleman

By Foster Dongozi

WHILE on night shift, one Friday evening, I decided to go and cover a music show by Simon Chimbetu, whose blistering hit album, Lullaby had just taken the music industry by storm.
At the time, I was working for the State-run newspaper, The Chronicle, in Bulawayo as an entertainment journalist. Chimbetu’s album also featured the popular song, Dzandipedza Mafuta, whose video was also a hit on television. The music show, promoted by John Nguruve at Green Haven was the talk of the town and I naturally made a request to cover the concert, with the extra benefit of enjoying the fun for free of course.
However, despite a sell-out crowd, the PA system that had been provided was faulty and soon, the crowd became restive. Normally, the crowd would have become violent and stoned the stage but at that time, Chopper commanded so much support and respect that the crowd did not become rowdy.
After realising that the show had been called off, I drove out of Green Haven with the then chief sub-editor, James Chikwanha and it was while we were getting out that the man of the moment, Chimbetu himself, approached us and requested to be left at the Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel where he was booked. He said he had flown to Bulawayo and did not have a car to drive himself around. The soft spoken and shy looking king of Dendera music feared that if he hung around the area after the aborted show, angry fans would vent their frustrations on him.
In any case, it would not have been difficult for the disappointed fans to identify him because like the rest of his band members, he was spotting a box cut and a multi-coloured waist-coat which he and the Orchestra Dendera Kings had popularised. Before we left him at the hotel, Chopper thanked us profusely for coming to his aid. Upon parting for the night, I requested for and was granted an exclusive interview about his rise in the music industry, including his low points like his incarceration on allegations of stealing a motor vehicle.
That was to be the beginning of a relationship that would continue despite my crossing the floor to join newspapers like The Daily News and later The Standard, which were perceived to hold uncharitable views of the king of Dendera music. On Monday, while surfing the internet to catch up with news from back home, I was shocked to see a screaming headlines: Simon Chimbetu Dies. I quickly dismissed the story, assuming a sub-editors had made a mistake, probably following the death of one of Simon’s brothers. There was no way Chopper could have died. After all, before coming to Cardiff for my current studies a few weeks ago, he had invited me to one of his shows in Harare. During the break, and over some drinks, he had spoken about his up-coming tour of South Africa and plans to market himself in Southern Africa. He spoke animatedly about how preparations for last month’s Joshua Nkomo Gala were going on well.
Before we parted, he indicated that there was a possibility that we would meet in the United Kingdom as plans were underway for him to stage shows in the UK. We promised to hook up in Britain if he came for the shows. At that point, we parted because he was about to go back on stage. Last Friday, I tried to phone his number to find out if he was still coming to the UK but his number went unanswered. So, based on what had transpired before I left Zimbabwe, it was natural to dismiss the death story as a mistake but as I read the story, it became starkly clear that it was Simon Chopper who had indeed died. It was clear from the stories that the death was sudden and unexpected.
While the nation mourns one of its music icons, some journalists will remember him as a celebrity who was co operative and was free to grant interviews at the drop of a hat.
Since rising to fame, Chimbetu was one of the few musicians whose policy was that all journalists could attend his shows for free as long as they produced their press cards. There are some big names in the music industry who still insist that only journalists on duty can attend their shows for free. I also remember very vividly a few years ago when veteran journalist and former Herald political editor, Philip Magwaza died. While mourners were still coming to terms with his death, it was Chopper who ran around and ensured that there was food for the funeral wake.
A few weeks ago, Chopper had agreed to be one of the musicians who would perform at a music show to raise money to assist in the operations of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. He also spoke about how he had cared for fellow musicians, John Chibadura and System Tazvida during their last days.
Although we rarely discussed politics, on the few occasions that we did, he was never apologetic about his support for Zanu PF despite the fact that it had cost him a huge following.
“People just pretend not to like me for political reasons,” he would say. “They are still buying my music. And in any case, if I was that unpopular, why am I always being invited to the UK, where I sing liberation songs and Hoko?”
He always said he supported revolutionary parties with a liberation history because as a war veteran, he could not change his beliefs.
“I have always included liberation songs on all my albums so what I don’t understand is why some people would now think it is wrong to sing such songs.”
One of his favourite hangouts in Harare was a restaurant in the Avenues in Harare, patronised by journalists and political activists. One of the lasting memories that I have is of getting into the restaurant and finding him locked in a good natured political debate with MDC national youth chairman, Nelson Chamisa.
It is only with hind sight that on the day I attended his last show where he belted his golden oldies, the show ended unusually early at around 3am. Usually his shows would end at about 5am. He always said ending a show before dawn would expose his fans to attacks by thugs. Maybe he was not feeling well after a recent car accident. Rest in Peace Comrade.
Dongozi is a former entertainment journalist with The Chronicle newspaper. He is now a senior staff writer with The Standard newspaper and secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists –
See Alan Chimbetu and Naison’s stories.

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