Friday 3 October 2014

Paul Brickhill - Do not think of this as a goodbye

 On August 1 this year, Paul Brickhill wrote to me. One of the paragraphs which draw tears into my eyes is where he says: Do not think of this as a goodbye; I am sick but also just updating those friends who may not have known the dramas that unfolded over the last 3 weeks, from 24 July, and changed my life. 

My mother said almost the same when she died of cancer in 2012. I spoke to her over the phone the night before she passed away. I offered to come to Harare and see her. But she told me: Kana wakauya, ndiwe unoita sei? Ndichiripo. 

Rest In Peace Paul Brickhill. One of very few good men who meant well. If running this communication between Paul and I is in bad taste, I apologise in advance. I am sharing this to show how big Paul's heart was.

Paul Brickhill

Dear Wonder,
On Friday 1 August, after 8 days in intensive care diagnosed with strep pneumonia and laryngitis - I underwent emergency surgery to open an airway into my trachea after unexpected discovery of a tumour pressing my windpipe causing huge distress; a biopsy diagnosed anaplastic thyroid cancer, the least-known cancer, its causes unknown, and the most aggressive. I will soon head to home based care, the relief of sky, trees, flowers, birds, music, family (and real coffee!). I have started radiation therapy.
It was a close thing that night. I am lucky to be alive, thanks to quick thinking both by my brother Jeremy and the specialists who saw me that day.
A 33-year era has – for me – ended, abruptly and dramatically, the next journey of my life already begun. It all started as an outcome of the liberation struggle on our return home in 1980, I was 22 years, heady early days of independence, and promise of our future. Grassroots Books (est. 1981), transformed into the Book Café culture centre (1997) that paved the way for Pamberi Trust (2002), and in turn helped set up African Synergy in 2005. Related and memorable arts included Solidarity Band (a forerunner of the Bhundu Boys) and Luck Street Blues in music, and African Publishers Network APNET and ZIBF, and Anvil Press in books. 

Needless to say, Book Café and Pamberi Trust have united leadership , competent and dedicated management, and all will operate as normal. It is also not easy for my colleagues and comrades.  
Virtually my entire close and extended family was either with me or flew to Harare and mounted a 24 vigil at my bedside. Overwhelming really! I find it a little strange to be saying this, but it is true, I feel myself utterly blessed, and in many ways too; this extraordinary, rich life, an African life, so many wonderful, loved people and happenings, my life brim-full with goodness, love, beauty, music, books – and laughter!!! - a new sunset every night, and the majesty and enormity of Africa, place, peoples, and the “idea”, the strong, vital and decent people whom I have known, who bear all that life offers with grace, time longer than rope.
Now each day for me is lived simply as it should be, alive and happy to see what the day will bring, the miracle of life, it is not over!
I find myself so fortunate to have been in situations where I could do something. I fight on. Aluta continua! African struggles, emancipation and life itself!
And this I read just before I became ill: “Either everything is a miracle, or nothing is”, to paraphrase Albert Einstein. I am intrigued that a scientist could think like that, Einstein was clear the path he had chosen, life without wonder and imagination does not exist. The choice is ours. For me, everything that has taken place in my life appears to me as some kind of impossible, yet it happened, none more so than our beloved Book Café, its artists and life, histories and soul! 
Do not think of this as a goodbye; I am sick but also just updating those friends who may not have known the dramas that unfolded over the last 3 weeks, from 24 July, and changed my life. 
I wish you well.
With love,


I had forgotten my password to this account. Luckily, yahoo now has a mobile phone password checks.

I heard about your condition but nobody said what exactly it was. Glad, you made it.

We have a history going to back to the 90s, Paul. I learnt a lot from you.

I pray that you live longer to open up new paths.



Paul Brickhill

It’s good to hear back from you Wonder. Yes, we have that history, the respect is mutual; you have been the writer who, for me, set an uncompromising standard of integrity. I bumped into your music blog over the years; I wish it could reach the mainstream media (or maybe that is asking too much!!).
Years ago you asked a question as we sat in old Book Café that to this day I recall, which says much about your understanding of culture, and a searching attitude to journalism I admire (one we find, tellingly, more in sports than cultural journalism). To paraphrase, since I can’t recall word for word, you asked: “Paul, as far as The Culture Fund is concerned, could you tell me, amidst the millions of dollars disbursed, of just one ‘great’ or ‘notable, long lasting’ result, like an award winning film production, an award winning book, a cultural landmark of some sort, short term, like a production – or long term, like a programme, and so forth”. Naturally, the question could not then be answered at all, and perhaps not today. For sure I could not answer it easily; nothing obvious comes to mind. And how much has been disbursed. Not less than 10 million? 15?
I found the question said profound things about cultural development, the risk to cultural progress when the ‘populist approach’ or is it ‘political expediency’ overtakes a bold vision of what culture can undertake in society. I have often used it.
I am in Jozi now, receiving a battering of radiation. My cancer is inoperable and incurable, extremely aggressive; the prognosis is not good, months rather than years being the norm, but I am in good shape relatively and I have a positive outlook. The approach in my case is palliative from the start. I am happy with that. I had hoped for years to do more writing, and have now started the daunting task or writing my life’s work, in a format that is very different, more novel than autobiography. Ironically, I found it was the only way I write with absolute personal honesty, and greater accuracy.  
My warm regards to you Wonder.

1 comment:

max aronow said...

wow.... my friend is tom , the son of paul ... i found your blog via searching for my favorite sungura songs .... thanks for posting