By Melissa Mpofu
Afro-jazz musician, Dudu Manhenga, who was sent to prison in 2013 after being convicted for negligent driving and causing the death of motorcyclist Graham Martin Millward in 2010, has opened up about her experience.
She was handed down an 18-month jail term that was quashed a year later by Justices Francis Bere and Charles Hungwe, who said the penalty was too harsh and instead, slapped her with a wholly suspended sentence for the offence after establishing that the accident was not due to ‘gross’ negligence.
Speaking out about the incident for the first time in five years, Dudu who has been keeping a low profile since her release from prison, said she had taken a break from the limelight to focus on her family.
Chatting with Sokostina on Zimpapers Capitalk FM on the Inspired show earlier this week, Dudu said she was glad that she had recovered from the whole incident.
“The first step to recovering is to accept what has happened. I thank God I’ve always been the sort of person who quickly accepts things. This accident had happened in 2010 and in 2013 when everything was coming out, I was thinking ‘may this thing end already”.
“I prepared for the worst and there were so many disturbances in my life during that period,” she said.
And when she was convicted, Dudu said though saddened, she felt relieved as it had become annoying being in and out of court and having the police on her case.
Turning to her time in prison, Dudu said she did not feel at home.
“If I was to write a book about my experience in prison, the title would be, Not home, not hell. For me, being in prison was sort of a relief as I was like ‘finally, I can get this behind me because this case had hung over our family for a long time, the court procedures and all.
“It became more prison being out of prison than being in there.”
She said she met amazing women in prison whom she would always remember.
“These women changed my perception of life because of the conversations we had while sitting under the shade. Some shared their plans to better themselves which were all inspiring.”
But in all this, Dudu blamed the community for being judgmental.
“While in prison, I discovered that no matter what a person has done, there are some people who are in prison but are not supposed to be there. So people there need care and love and families shouldn’t abandon them as their time there is supposed to be correctional.
“The stigma against them shouldn’t be condoned,” said Dudu.
On her part, Dudu said corporates she used to work closely with abandoned her when she got out of jail as they cancelled her contracts despite her efforts to assure them that her voice was still in tune.
“Some company I worked with refused to go on with my contract when I left prison as they didn’t want to associate with me. But people need to know that someone who has served their time in prison has already gone through so much trauma and deserves a second chance,” she said.
She said when she attends some events now, she first breaks the ice by mentioning her prison encounter so that people stop looking at her in a queer manner.
Dudu, however, said her imprisonment for driving with a provisional driver’s licence and running over a person, had impacted society positively.
“Whatever it was, had its benefits as some woman I met said she had changed her behaviour on the road and vowed not to drive with a provisional driver’s licence because she learnt it’s illegal after following my case. This was because she had seen her role model go down.
“I looked back and realised so many lives were saved after that incident.”
On her decision to lie low after the prison encounter, Dudu who has four children, said she wanted to reprioritise things that matter to her and spend more time with her children.
“I thought to myself, if my children were to write a book about their mum, would it be the same as the public’s that will write good stuff about this great woman and all they’ll do is complain that they never had a mum as they rarely ever saw me.
“So, I took time to help my children heal and find their own space with their mum and assure them that mum is here. I needed to be close to family members as some times we run so fast and even run past goals we’ve set.”
Prior to being jailed, Dudu, who is now a pastor, had started attending Bible school.
“I was doing my first year in 2013 when I went to jail. When I was released, I completed my studies and graduated in 2015 and have been serving as a pastor for the past two years. Turning to her music career, the artiste who was born in Bulawayo said she would not be releasing an album anytime soon though she has composed a lot of songs.
“Recording costs a lot of money so for now, my focus is on mentoring and producing other artistes songs, especially those from my church. I’ve composed a couple of tracks but just haven’t had time to record an album,” Dudu said.
Other than music, Dudu has released an anthology of poems where she speaks about a number of things including her jail experience and the dynamics in her family.
On the head gear, which she has become synonymous for with some fans believing that she is dreadlocked like Winky D, Dudu said it was tailor made by her mother when she was young, not knowing it would become part of her brand.
“We had this big show happening in Bulawayo with regional artistes performing. The likes of Percy Phakela, Lovemore Majaivana and Busi Ncube were on the lineup and I was at high school then. I had ‘cooked hair’ so I thought to myself, “how will I stand there and be the person I want to be”.
“So, I went and bought this doily top which I felt wouldn’t look good with cooked hair so my mum and I decided to reproduce that Matabele hat they wear in SA like Brenda Fassie’s. But, we didn’t have the money so we bought a woollen hat and stuffed it with some cloth and I wore it. We also bought a metre of cloth and put it on top of the hat to accessorise it.
“When I went on stage, the MC said ‘here’s a young lady who has embraced being African’ and I loved the compliment. The next time I went on stage without the gear, I didn’t get that powerful introduction and it was as if I was a totally different person so each time I wore it, I felt beautiful as I’d get encouraging compliments. At home, I was never described as the beautiful one so this for me was a major endorsement of my beauty.”
Since then, Dudu has been donning the head gear when performing though she does not move around with it while conducting her day to day activities.
“When off stage, I don’t wear the head gear as it allows me to go through my duties as a normal person. Some think I’m dreadlocked so when they see me without the head gear in public, I can tell they don’t recognise me and I like it that way.“The Chronicle